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William Pynchon Buys Land for Springfield
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      ...in 1636, William Pynchon received the deed giving him title to most of what is now Springfield, Longmeadow, and Agawam. In exchange, he paid the local Agawam Indians 18 fathoms of wampum, 18 coats, and a quantity of hoes, hatchets, and knives. A devout Puritan, Pynchon left England for Massachusetts Bay in 1630. A shrewd and ambitious businessman, he moved a few years later to the still-wild Connecticut River Valley. He established Springfield as a center for fur trading; other ventures followed. Because he badly needed labor, he welcomed settlers who were impoverished, whose behavior was unruly or irreligious. As a result, early Springfield was an unusually diverse, tolerant, and commercially-oriented Puritan community.

William Pynchon was one of the English Puritans who uprooted his family and joined the Great Migration to Massachusetts Bay in 1630. His choices once he reached the New World remind us that many Puritans were also businessmen.

William Pynchon was among the original 12 Puritan leaders who met in Cambridge, England, in August of 1629 to form the Massachusetts Bay Company. He invested 25 pounds in the venture and the following spring, sailed with John Winthrop to New England. When he arrived in Massachusetts, he settled first in Dorchester, then helped establish the town of Roxbury.

Although a deeply religious man, Pynchon was also an ambitious merchant and trader. He chose to make his fortune fur-trapping. Furs were no longer plentiful near the coast, so in 1636 he moved with his family and eight other settlers to the Connecticut River Valley. When he founded Agawam — later renamed Springfield in honor of his English birthplace — in 1636, it was the westernmost town in the Bay Colony.

From the beginning Pynchon exhibited shrewd business sense. He settled just above Enfield Falls where people traveling up the Connecticut had to disembark and transfer their goods into smaller vessels that could navigate the river's narrower upper reaches. The location had another advantage: it would be the northernmost trading point on the Connecticut. His would be the first merchant traders bringing furs down the river would encounter. He immediately built a warehouse and a general store.

Pynchon realized that good relations with native people were essential. He reportedly learned the local dialect and became adept at dealing with the local Agawam Indians. He allowed the Indians to continue their traditional hunting and gathering activities on the land he had "bought" and the cultivation of fields they had already cleared. Since native peoples understood ownership of land to extend only to the use of an area, they were satisfied with the terms of the "sale." Pynchon also gave credit on generous terms, so that the Indians became regular customers for the cloth, knives, hatchets, looking glasses, and metal wares he sold.

His success also depended on his ability to attract settlers to the new town. He needed men to transport furs down the river to Hartford. He needed farmers, since the fertile land along the Connecticut turned out to be the best wheat-growing soil in the colony. Another Pynchon enterprise was raising beef for export to the West Indies, and this required more labor — herdsmen, coopers, blacksmiths, butchers, and boatmen.

Pynchon pursued several far-sighted strategies to build Springfield's population. He purchased the indenture contracts of skilled Scotsmen, who had been taken prisoner in Cromwell's war and brought them to Springfield. He welcomed poor men whom other towns had "warned out" for fear they would become a burden on the community. And he took in and tolerated those with "ungodly" habits, such as drinking and gambling, violent tempers, and little respect for religion.

Since he held almost all official roles in town, including that of magistrate, Pynchon had the power to decide how, or if, offenders would be punished, and he exercised more forbearance than most other Puritan leaders. Early Springfield was far from a pious rural village. It was a vibrant, contentious, even strife-ridden settlement of Elizabethan Englishmen whom a Puritan like Pynchon could only hope to "cure of their distempers."

Ironically, it was William Pynchon's religious views that eventually cost him his leadership position in Springfield. On a visit to London in 1650, he published a book that expressed theological views his Boston brethren considered to be "erroneous." On returning to Massachusetts, he discovered that he had unwittingly started a new tradition: his book had been banned in Boston. In 1652 he was compelled to leave the colony again, this time permanently. His 26-year-old son John stayed behind; he and his descendants would dominate life in Springfield for generations to come.

Sources

Labor in a New Land: Economy and Society in Seventeenth-Century Springfield, by Stephen Innes (Princeton University Press, 1983).

Springfield 1636-1986, ed. by Michael F. Konig and Martin Kaufman (Springfield Library and Museums Association, 1987).

"The Pynchons and the People of Early Springfield," by Stephen Innes


 
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