People > John Conant

John Conant

John Conant was born in Stow, Massachusetts, January 20, 1790, the son of John and Huldah (Hobart) Conant (see genealogy, Volume II). We know nothing of his early education and but little of his life before his coming to Jaffrey in young manhood. His father, who was a man of wealth for the times, gave him at the age of eighteen a mortgage of $1,500 on a farm in Acton, Massachusetts, and he soon came into possession of the farm, which was covered with valuable timber. By cutting the wood and timber and drawing it to Boston, where he was able to get a good price for it, he doubled his first capital and then sold the farm. In 1816 he came to Jaffrey and bought the former Thorndike farm, at present owned by Ernest McCoy, which was then in a high state of cultivation. This was the year of very short crops that has been called in New England history "the year without a summer." The price of hay was extremely high, and the sale of the product of his farm that year was equal to a large portion of its valuation. With this income he built the substantial house still on the premises.

John Conant became a prominent man in town affairs. In 1828, 1831, 1832, and 1833 he served as selectman; for twelve years he was moderator of town meetings; and for three terms, 1834, 1835, 1836, he represented the town in the State Legislature. He was also much employed on various important town committees. He was president of the Monadnock Bank in 1851. But it is not for his public offices that Jaffrey remembers him best.

Early in life he became a man of means. He bought books and publications on everything relating to scientific research and agriculture, and, being a man of progressive ideas and a pioneer in the cause of scientific agriculture, he applied the knowledge derived from them to his own farming. In this way he made the rocky acres of his hill farm yield him an annual increase, which with his own simple life and saving and wise investment accumulated into a fortune. He joined the Cheshire County Agricultural Society and became its president. In the fall of 1841 he offered his farm to the Society for the purpose of establishing an agricultural school or college in Jaffrey on condition that $4,500 be raised by the first of October, 1842, for "erection of buildings and meet other expenses necessary for establishing a farm or teachers' school." The farm was accepted, but for some reason the school was not opened. In 1850 he sold his farm and moved into East Jaffrey village, where he built the house now opened and occupied by James H. Fitzgerald, in which he passed the remaining years of his life.

The Conant High School, first called the Conant Free High School, owes its existence to the beneficence of John Conant, who perhaps did more to honor his town and benefit mankind than anyone else up to his time within the borders of Jaffrey. Having been blessed with a competency of goods, through a talent for accumulation and an executive ability that in a wider field and later time would have ranked him high among the men of wealth and influence in any community, he felt the full responsibility of his stewardship, and while yet alive disposed of the bulk of his possessions with thoughtful care for those who should come after him. It was said by some that he was parsimonious, but as his years drew to a close his desire to do good to others became more and more manifest. He had no children to whom he could leave his money. To what better purpose could he put it than to give it away where it would do the most good? It was a responsibility he would not evade. The Conant High School was established on his gift of seven thousand dollars and is our permanent memorial of him. By the terms of his will he made it the residuary legatee, believing that a further sum would be available, but during the depressed years following the Civil War his fortune had shrunk so that, after all demands upon his estate were met, the residue was not what he had thought.

Actuated by his belief that agriculture was a science, he devoted $70,000 to the establishment of a school of agriculture at Hanover, which is now a part of the University of New Hampshire at Durham. The documents of some of his proposals to the State of New Hampshire reside in the University of New Hampshire archives.

His other gifts to the town of Jaffrey were: A fund of $3,000 for the aid of indigent families; a fund of $1,000 to the Baptist Church of Jaffrey, of which he was a member; a fund of $1,000 to the Congregational Church at Jaffrey Center; and a $1,000 repair fund to keep the old Meeting-house in permanent repair. He also gave us the beautiful cemetery which bears his name.

Walter Heath

John Conant, for whom Jaffrey High School is named.

Name: John Conant
Born: January 20, 1790
Place of Birth: Stow, MA
Died: April 7, 1877
Place of Death: Unknown
Occupation: Farmer, Banker
Place of Burial Conant Cemetery, Jaffrey, NH