As early as 1633, the English were spying out the resources and “trafficking” with Indians; Mr. Pynchon no doubt was one of these. He was the area's most prominent and successful fur trader. One day three Indians came to Roxbury with different kinds of fur, mostly beaver, wanting to trade with him. They told him about the Great River.
The invading Pequot nation had restricted trade up the Connecticut River and had driven many local Indians from their homes, but by 1636 the Pequots were decimated. Now the local indians were looking to the white men for protection, especially against their ancient enemies, the Mohawks (literally, “they who eat animate things”). They had already asked several groups to come and make settlements in the Valley. It may have been just such a motive, along with the opportunity to trade skins, that led the Indians to Mr. Pynchon’s door.
Pynchon wasted no time; competition was hot. The Dutch and French were trading in furs, too. Contacts far inland were necessary, a trading post nearer the suppliers of fur, the Indians of the middle and upper Connecticut Valley. Staying in Roxbury, his profits were highly subject to government scrutiny and control. He must move inland.
Pynchon went with some Indian traders on a tour of the valley. He had found a district “fitly seated for a beaver trade,” just north of the Enfield Falls where all travelling by water had to stop and negotiate the falls and transfer their cargo from ocean-going vessels to smaller.
The site he chose was due to its position along major trade routes, especially the Connecticut and Westfield Rivers. There, far from colonial authority, he would have near-absolute autonomy.
It must be added here that, during these first few years, bitter dissension and radical differences of opinion had arisen over the government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and many people were wanting to remove to other locations to get out of – or at least farther away from – the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Bay. So when the General Court granted them leave to remove, it was not only fur-traders who were wanting to go. But this is a subject much broader than what is here intended.
The Massachusetts Bay Company didn't like the idea of weakening its own holdings by new ventures. Bay leaders had told the Pilgrims that the place was “not fit for plantation.” Nevertheless, on the 6th of May, 1635, they gave William Pynchon, and other inhabitants of Roxbury, permission to withdraw, that is, “to remove their habitations to some convenient place they should think meet, not to prejudice another plantation, provided they should continue under the government of Massachusetts”. His associates had advised him, however, that “if any of the savages pretend right of inheritance to all or any part of the lands granted in our patent, we pray you endeavor to purchase their title that we may avoid the least scruple of intrusion.”
Scout the Land
In the Fall of 1635, William Pynchon, John Cable, and John Woodcock, sailed up the Connecticut River in “great shallops” to where it meets the Agawam river.
When they arrived at Agawam, they encountered a small band of Indians under the leadership of two natives whom Pynchon called “Commucke and Matanchan, ancient Indians of Agawam.” There were eighteen families in this nomadic group who might not have been there a year earlier or later.
They built a shelter or dwelling on the west side of the river in a meadow. Cable and Woodcock remained in the shelter keeping with them some cattle and pigs. Mr. Pynchon returned to Roxbury to prepare for the move in the spring. His scheme was considered a most daring one, for nobody knew just what were the risks and dangers of the “far west” along the unknown Connecticut.
He must have been a good talker and persuasive, for Cotton Mather wrote of Springfield’s beginnings:
In Spring of 1636, Mr. Pynchon, his family, and the others he had garnered to go with him, set out on The Bay Path. Armed scouts cleared the way, keeping an ever-watchful eye out for forest denizens of all sorts. Just as the picture of the famous Hooker wilderness trek shows, this group must also have made a colorful group. Mr. Pynchon in tall boots allowed only to men with estates worth $1,000 or more. The guides and fighting men would be wearing green jerkins, the women, hooded capes against the chill, with wide-eyed children by their sides. Swine and cattle were driven before them. There would be no loafers. Old people or invalids rode in horse litters. The healthy and strong walked or rode horseback, and all were assigned tasks fitted to their abilities and station.
The Bay Path led southwesterly, through now Framingham, Hopkinton and Grafton, to Woodstock, across the Connecticut line. There they used the Woodstock trail, striking through the forest to the northwest. On the 14th of May in 1636, they reached their destination after eighteen days of travel. There they sheltered in the big log hut which had been built to receive them on the “house meadow”, near the mouth of the Agawam, and near the present Springfield.
Governor Winthrop had just fitted and launched the first ship ever built in New England, called the “Blessing of the Bay”, whose first voyage was to haul the household goods, tools and supplies of William Pynchon’s colonists. Leaving Boston, the ship sailed around Cape Cod into Long Island Sound, and up the Connecticut to the falls above what later became known as Warehouse Point.
Agreement to Establish Springfield
On May 14th, 1636, Henry Smith wrote the agreement to establish the plantation of Springfield. Just eight men signed it: William Pynchon, Mathew Mitchell, Henry Smith, Jehu Burr, William Blake, Edmund Wood, Thomas Ufford, and John Cable. The agreement contained numerous articles for the future government of the settlement. The first order of business was to bring in a minister and this subject was addressed as follows:
Four of the fifteen by-laws adopted pertained to the control of the remaining pastures for the reason that Mr. Pynchon found, upon his return from Roxbury, that the cattle and pigs left behind with Cable and Woodcock had ravaged the Indians’ planting grounds and they “demanded a greater sum to buy their rights in said land”. They also insisted that if it happened again the English were to “pay as it is worth”.
Below the wording of the agreement, but before the signatures, Pynchon concluded the agreement: “We testifie to the order above said, being al the first adventurers and sub-scribers for the plantation.”
Allotment of Lands
Two days later – May 16, 1636 – the first allotment of lands was made to the eight signers and four others who had joined them. The original site on the west side of the river was abandoned on account of its exposure to freshets causing boggy ground and a new location for the town was selected on the east side.
The division assigned to each man a home-lot extending from the river to the town street, about “eighty rods”, and generally eight rods wide, about three acres. They also got a portion of meadow and upland of equal width. The town street of that day corresponded pretty much to today’s Main Street. There were also three narrow lanes leading from Main Street to the river, what are now Elm, York, and Cypress streets. The only road running east from the town street would be what is now State Street. The lots on Main, from Court Square to Cypress, were reserved for the gentlemen; those of Mr. Pynchon and a few others were much wider. Each family was also allotted ten acres of planting ground on the west bank, requiring a canoe for the crossing, about 300 yards to the other side.
The Purchase of the Land
Two months later, William Pynchon, Henry Smith, and Jehu Burr, made an agreement with the Indians for the purchase of land on both sides of the Connecticut. When they signed the deed of sale, the Indians reserved just about everything of value to them — their right to fish on the entire premises, to hunt deer, to gather walnuts, acorns, sasachiminesh (cranberries) and to have and enjoy all that cottinackeesh (kitkanakish, “plantation ground” or ground that is now planted), which were the cultivated fields where they raised their tobacco, corn, beans, pumpkins and squashes.
An Indian interpreter from the Bay explained the deed to the Indian signers. And thus it was that two of the "ancient Indians of Agawam," for themselves and eleven other Indians who claimed to be proprietors of the lands, conveyed to William Pynchon, Henry Smith, and Jehu Burr, their heirs and associates forever, a large tract of land on both sides of the river, including the greater part of the land now occupied by the city of Springfield. For this deed Pynchon and his associates paid a consideration which was satisfactory to the Indians, and of which they never complained.
THE INDIAN DEED
There wasn’t much to be excited about in Agawam. It was a far-interior settlement and the simplest of living conditions would prevail for a long time. But for many, the plainest existence was the more attractive for the freedom of thought and independence they had there. Other than the wide-flowing Connecticut River, large meadows, and some scattered wigwams in the area, there were no other signs of human life. How did they build their town, starting from scratch? This would be no romanticized novel or movie, where the actual work done is subsidiary to a plot and conflict between protagonist and hero. These were no actors in reality TV like Frontier House. PBS Link to Frontier House.
The early settlers constructed their homes, and set about creating their town. Old habits and opinions came with them, but they were flexible enough to forge their new government on an entirely new model. If you were to read the town records or court sessions, you would see a picture of their everyday life. They met each obstacle with debate and discussion in their town meetings. Jobs were assigned as needs arose. Fence viewer, surveyor, selectman, toll-gate keeper, etc. All were necessary for the operation and welfare of the town.
Mr. Pynchon had now positioned himself as the northernmost trader on the Connecticut River. He built his warehouse, and did business with the settlers for necessities such as various kinds of cloth, thread, spoons, salt and other scarce foodstuffs. He traded also with the Agawam Indians, giving credit on generous terms, so that they became regular customers. He supplied them with wool-trading cloth in blue, red and white, ready-made coats, knives, hatchets, tin looking glasses, tobacco boxes, scissors, brass kettles, mackerel hooks, needles, and pins in exchange for furs. This would have been a very rough-hewn general store, made of logs.
Independence and freedom had been tempting, but within just a few months, many “fell off for fear of the difficulties.” William Blake returned to Dorchester. Jehu Burr (Aaron Burr’s ancestor), left a few years later for Fairfield, Connecticut; John Cable somewhere close to Fairfield. Mitchell, Ufford and Wood seem to have remained only a few months. Only William Pynchon and Henry Smith (his son-in-law) became permanent settlers, both staying more than fifteen years, and it was Mr. Pynchon’s leadership that held the settlement together.
Springfield was always intended to be a commercial enterprise and the prominent commerce was the fur trade. Slowly the town grew in importance, with others coming every year. By 1639, Pynchon had fourteen settlers. In 1641, nineteen were established and they made a new division of land. It is unknown why it took so long for Mr. Pynchon to become a “freeman”, because he certainly was working in that capacity; nevertheless, it wasn’t until the 11th of August, 1642, that he became a Freeman of the Colony.
By April 1643, there were twenty-two new settlers and they got land allotments in another division. These divisions became the foundation of the permanent settlement.
Of course, the town needed carpenters, brick masons, tailors, weavers, smiths, and farmers and Mr. Pynchon’s English agents sent him young men, indentured to serve him for a term of years. He wanted talented craftsmen, either with resources of their own, or the ability to earn and pay others. Between 1643 and 1645, Springfield's population almost doubled as they brought in the artisans and tradesmen to make Springfield independent. They brought in coopers, John Matthews and Griffith Jones; a brick maker named Hugh Parsons. As late as January 1646, men were “appointed to do their best to get a smith for the town,” and on September 4th a contract was made with “Francis Ball for a shop for a smith.”
Pynchon also had his own scouts drawing recruits from other towns. In 1643 he wrote, “the Lord hath added some three or four young men out of the river to us lately.” He was writing of Thomas Cooper, John Harmon and Roger Pritchard, from the river towns of Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield. Pynchon’s son, John, would go out and look for worthy men to bring in. He wrote in his father's ledger, in 1646, “Nathaniell Browne came to my father’s the 21: of Aprill at night: He came from Hartford. I agreed with him at Hartford for £4, 15s for 6 months, viz, the 6 summer months from the 21: of Aprill to the 22 of October, 1646.”
Much later, on his return from a visit to England in 1650, William Pynchon brought four young men back to Massachusetts with him, and they were indentured to him, probably for at least five years, most likely to pay off their passage in exchange for labor. They arrived on the 2nd of July 1650. Just prior to his final departure for England, on the 9th of September, three of the boys were “set over” to others. Three of the contracts appear to be servile indentures with promises of “meat, drink, apperall and lodging with other necesssaryes during the term”; and at the completion of the term, “fifty shillings in money or true value in comodities.”
One was different, that of Samuel Terry.
Samuel Terry was probably related to a John White, whose family had connections with the Pynchons. Connections counted as much then as they do now, and it’s very likely that Samuel Terry got to this country because of them.
The bond was entered in Pynchon's Magistrate Book on October 15, 1650, and begins “Know all men by these presents that I samuell Terry, with the consent of my present master, William Pynchon of Springfeild gentleman have put myself an apprentense ....” Terry would serve Cooley “three years, six months and some odd days,” much as a servant.
Terry was obligated to make payments to Mr. Pynchon, to satisfy his contract for passage. These were recorded and were due in April of 1651, £9.50s.; in April of 1652, 50s.; in April of 1653, 50s.; and in April of 1654, 30s., payable “at the house of the said Mr. Pynchon in good and merchantable wheat at foure shillings per bushell or in sound merchantable Pease at three shillings per bushell”.
The contract continues that Mr. Cooley would pay to Terry wheat and “pease” at varying but specific shillings-worth of value for each of three and one-half years. This provision seems obviously included so that Terry could pay Pynchon off. Cooley also would “find the said Samuell Terry meate drink and lodginge fitting as servants ought to have.” And lastly, would teach him the “trade of linnin weaving” ... “provided he will be willinge and carefull to learne it”. Weaving was Samuel’s trade the rest of his life.
Since he was the town magistrate, and actually held almost all official offices, Mr. Pynchon held the power to decide punishment for offenses, but he leaned more toward moderation than other Puritan officials. Nevertheless, strangers who came in could be “warned out” of town. This was common all over New England. If doubt existed about a person’s character, a bond was required, like the one posted when the deacon’s son, Henry Chapin, came to town in 1660, for £20 “to secure the town from any charge which may arise”. Even so, it seems well known that Pynchon maintained a very liberal attitude regarding allowing men into the town who had different religious views and other less-than-desirable habits. And so the town grew.
The matter pertaining to the claims and claimants of the area that is now Springfield is confusing and I don’t assert here that I understand it fully. The topic would be a lengthy study in itself. However, as I have read through numerous articles on the subject, it appears that at first, everyone thought the new settlement at Agawam (like Windsor, Hartford, Wethersfield – all river towns) was under the authority of Connecticut. The Misters Pynchon and Smith sat in the legislature at Hartford.
While the Boston officials had given Mr. Pynchon the authorization to settle there, the colony of Connecticut was claiming the east side of the river at Agawam. It didn't take too long for legal issues to surface. In 1637 the Connecticut Colony accused Pynchon of “sharp trading practices”, claiming he was forcing the local tribes to trade only with him because they feared him. They also accused him of building a monopoly in the beaver trade. Pynchon and Smith stopped attending the legislative sessions and the settlers opted to defy Connecticut authority.
In 1638, Massachusetts completed a more accurate survey of its boundary line with Connecticut, and determined that Agawam on both sides of the river fell within the jurisdiction of its patent. The Agawam settlers were left temporarily with no magistrate and at such a distance from the Bay as to be practically beyond the reach of the authorities located there. In the end, Massachusetts, and Pynchon, prevailed.
Mr. Pynchon, Magistrate of Springfield
On 14 February 1638/39, the Agawam planters met and voted Mr. Pynchon to be their first magistrate, with all judicial powers, until the General Court would order differently. The Indians called the settlers “Pynchon’s men”. On the 14th of April, 1641, the people voted to change the name of the town to Springfield in honor of Mr. Pynchon’s residence in England. In June that year he was officially commissioned by the General Court. The General Court recognized the town by as Springfield in 1641, and ever since then has recognized William Pynchon as the Founder of Springfield.
Connecticut’s disputes with William Pynchon, and Massachusetts, continued. They tried to establish a trading post north of Springfield, whereupon Mr. Pynchon registered a complaint to the Massachusetts General Court. The Court responded that Connecticut’s attempt to establish a trading post inside its patent “presented a distinct injury.” As tit for tat goes, Connecticut decided to force Springfield to contribute to the upkeep of Fort Saybrook at the mouth of the river in exchange for being allowed to ship goods all the way down. Wasting no time, Massachusetts said, if Springfield had to pay Connecticut for use of the river, then Connecticut had to pay Massachusetts to use the Boston Harbor, which was, of course, the shipping center of the English colonies in New England. Needless to discuss, Connecticut had to drop the matter — did Connecticut want free use of Boston harbor? or did she want a duty from Springfield for sailing up and down the Connecticut River?
Rev. George Moxon, a graduate of Sidney College at Cambridge, had been settled as the minister in 1637. He and Mr. Pynchon were personal friends, and he remained in Springfield as long as Mr. Pynchon was there. In 1639 a house was built for him upon a home-lot fourteen rods wide. He was given a salary of £40 sterling, which was raised by an annual tax. One account of the early days is that a “great drum” was used to assemble the people on the Sabbath; for which service the drummer was paid annually, by each family, one peck of Indian Corn or four-pence worth of Wampum.
In 1645 the first meeting-house was erected, which stood near the southeast corner of Court Square, not far from the site of the present First Church. It was a primitive log structure, forty by twenty-five, with one turret for a bell and another for a watchman, and was replaced in 1677.
The lifestyle and society available at Hartford was enticing to many, but the church’s influence was much stricter, even dominating. The founders of Hadley in 1659 did so primarily because of the church’s domination at Hartford. It was not so in Springfield. Many preferred the more rural and primitive conditions at Springfield. The cultural climate in Springfield is somewhat to be seen in some notes taken by Mr. Pynchon’s son, John. As a boy of fourteen, he kept a shorthand record of some of the pastor's teachings. For almost 300 years, his coded notes remained undecipherable. They were only recently decoded. Mr. Moxon drew on the New Testament and his sermons were of love. “We are in a new country,” he said, “and here we must be happy, for if we are not happy ourselves we cannot make others happy.” Not much hell-fire and damnation emanated from the Springfield pulpit in those early days. I wonder if the nature and tone of Rev. Moxon’s sermons were somewhat influenced by Mr. Pynchon, as he was doing his own theological writings. Perhaps it the other way around.
Witchcraft in Springfield
Everyone knows of the famous Salem witch trials occurring in the 1690s, but Springfield had its own problem with witches, and the bizarre activities took place nearly fifty years before those in Salem!
Mary Parsons, wife of Hugh Parsons, caused a lot of trouble when she circulated a report that a widow named Marshfield, who had moved from Windsor up to Springfield, was guilty of witchcraft. At this time, witchcraft was punishable by death. Widdie Marshfield turned around and began an action before Mr. Pynchon against Mrs. Parsons. Judge Pynchon found Mrs. Parsons guilty of slander, sentenced her to receive 20 lashes from the constable, or pay £3. Her husband paid the fine with 24 bushels of Indian corn.
Two years later, in February of 1651, Hugh and Mary Parsons were both arraigned before Mr. Pynchon on formal charges of witchcraft. One of the accusations was that Mary had “used divers devilish practices by witchcraft, to the hurt of Martha and Rebeckah Moxon”, daughters of the minister.
Because Mr. Pynchon hadn’t the authority to impose the death penalty, the trial was referred to the Boston Court. Mrs. Parsons was tried there but was acquitted for lack of evidence.
Then on March 4, 1651, the Parsons’s youngest child, Joshua, a five-month old infant, died. Mary now accused her husband of witchcraft. In a bizarre turn of events, she later declared herself to be a witch, and also confessed to her baby’s murder, for which she was convicted and sentenced to death.* Before that sentence could be carried out, however, she died in the prison at Boston. A truly sad story.**
Very soon after the tragic Parsons affair, Pastor Moxon was dismissed at his own request. Deacon Samuel Chapin conducted religious services, preaching alternately with Henry Burt and young John Pynchon, until Mr. Moxon’s successor, the Rev. Peletiah Glover, arrived in 1661.
With all of his other accomplishments, William Pynchon was a student of theology, and a writer. He knew Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. In 1650, on a visit to London, he had published, by James Moxon, a theological book, “The Meritorious Price of our Redemption”.
In this book, he opposed the Calvinistic view of the atonement, as set out by the Westminster Assembly, and taught by the ministers and leaders of the Bay Colony in Boston.
In the Puritan theology, a good person would go to Heaven, but not unless he was free of sin. Adam and Eve were banned from Paradise because of their sin. Christians knew of hereditary sin; i.e., every one was born into sin. Puritans had to find a solution regarding how to get rid of original sin so they could get to heaven. Their answer was that, after Jesus's death and before his resurrection, he was in hell and was punished, and suffered, for all the past, present, and future sins of mankind. Of course, one had to be a good Christian at the time of one’s death.
William Pynchon disagreed with this teaching. He said that Jesus in these three days did not go to hell to suffer for mankind. He died, instead, because he was obedient to God. Christ did not suffer in hell.
The book’s appearance in Boston astonished and offended the General Court. Some said the title page itself was sufficient to prove the heretical nature of the arguments. The Court passed a resolution on October 15, 1650, condemned the book, and summoned Mr. Pynchon to appear at its next session.
Copies of the book were burned the next day. Only four copies have survived, one of which is preserved at the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum.
In addition, a day of “fasting and humiliation” was proclaimed in order for the populace to consider how Satan had prevailed among them by “drawing away some . . . to the profession and practize of straunge opinions.” Satan's influence in the colony was growing and Pynchon’s book was the proof of that!
Mr. Pynchon appeared before the Court in May 1651. [This was the same session which had condemned Mary Parsons to death for witchcraft.] The case against Mr. Pynchon was discussed among the colony’s freemen, but because he was a powerful man of influence, he would be treated in a rather careful manner.
After meeting with three clergymen appointed by the Court, Pynchon retracted some, but not all, of his statements. He maintained that he had been entirely misunderstood. Because of his stature in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he was not then condemned but was sent back to Springfield in a “hopefull way” to reconsider his views and make a full retraction, and the case was continued until the next General Court to be held in October of 1651, when the Court would make its final decision.
In the meantime, the Rev. John Norton of Ipswich, was paid the great sum of £20 to write a counter-tract, or “answer”, to Pynchon's arguments. The title was “A Discussion of that Great Point in Divinity, the Suffering of Christ; and the Questions about his Righteousnesse (Active, Passive: and the Imputation thereof). Being an Answer to a Dialogue intituled The Meritorious Price of our Redemption, Iustification, &c.”
Mr. Pynchon did not give in, and he did not go to Boston on October 14th when the Court met. Ten days later, on the 24th, the following was entered on the records:
He was ordered once again to appear in May of 1652. Mr. Pynchon felt himself to be, and surely was, in some peril. He was a man with no fear of conflict, but now he was old and had no stomach for a huge legal battle. He stood to lose his fortune, his property, and be left in disgrace and ruin.
He quietly made his plans. On the 28th of September, 1651, he conveyed to his son, as a gift, all his lands and buildings on both sides of the Connecticut River. His grants from the town totaled about 280 acres and the conveyance made John Pynchon the largest land owner in the town. William also installed John as successor to his vast business interests.
In short order, though the exact date is unknown, William Pynchon and his wife, and Rev. Mr. Moxon and family, left Springfield and returned to England. His son-in-law, Henry Smith, was designated as his successor in the magistracy at Springfield, but followed Pynchon early the next year to England. None of them ever returned. It is unknown if the Bay Colony prosecution was dropped quietly, or if Pynchon’s departure was in continued defiance of the authorities. He never made a satisfactory recantation of his “errors”.
Only two of Mr. Pynchon’s family remained in Springfield: his son, John Pynchon, and his daughter and son-in-law, Elizur Holyoke. John remained at Springfield, taking on the magistracy which had been his father’s. He would stay out of dangerous discussions of theology for the rest of his life.
Mr. Pynchon established himself at the rural village of Wraysbury on the Thames, near Windsor, with his wife and one of his daughters, Anne Smith. Pynchon had married the Widow Frances Sanford, and her son, Henry Smith, was Ann Pynchon’s husband. Henry returned to England early in the next year.
With an ample fortune to support himself, Mr. Pynchon was able to spend the last ten years of his life pursuing theological study and writing, which were his passion. Oddly, now back in England, he was acceptable to the Church of England. In 1655, he revised his book, The Meritorious Price of Man’s Redemption, or Christ’s Satisfaction discussed and explained, with a rejoinder to the Rev. John Norton’s “answer”. Other works of Mr. Pynchon include “The Jewes Synagogue” (1652), “How the First Sabbath was ordained” (1654), and “The Covenant of Nature made with Adam?” (1662).
Mr. Pynchon died October 29, 1662 (aged 72) at Wraysbury, Buckinghamshire.
In October 1652, the General Court appointed three commissioners as magistrates to govern Springfield: John Pynchon, Elizur Holyoke, and Samuel Chapin. They had jurisdiction for the trial of all civil or criminal causes, except those criminal cases of so grave a character as should be tried before the General Court at Boston.
The fertility of the Connecticut Valley soil drew many of the original settlers to the area, but it had been money generated by William Pynchon’s prosperous fur-trading endeavors that stimulated Springfield’s growth and also provided the necessary capital to establish other towns north along the Connecticut River.
In May 1653, the commissioners were appointed by the General Court to lay out two new plantations. By 1654 they had laid out one plantation on the west side of the river, which became Northampton. They reserved land on the east side of the river for another plantation, when required, which later became Hadley.
By 1662, Northampton and Hadley had been laid out, and those towns, along with Springfield, were set off as a county named Hampshire; Springfield was the county seat, or shire town. The three commissioners were authorized to hold courts, both at Springfield and Northampton.
The powerful Pynchons – William and his son, Major John Pynchon – were the first of the Connecticut Valley's “River gods”, the title given to the men of wealth and influence whose vision and ambition shaped the future of the country. The town records style John Pynchon “The Worshipful Major Pynchon”, and, later, “The Worshipful Colonel”.
Incited by King Philip’s successes, on October 3, 1675, the Hadley sachem, Wequogan, noiselessly and with great stealth, led 80 of his warriors along winding pathways right on into the Indian fort on Long Hill (see map), south of Springfield. The walls of the fort hid them, and the twenty or so local Indians, from view. They waited an extra day as Wequogan’s scouts were trying to get hostages back from Hartford that the Springfield people had incarcerated there. It was during that day’s journey that the native scouts told their secret to Totoe, who lived with a white family at Windsor.
Totoe was no slouch. In the dark of night, October 4, 1675, while the villagers were sleeping, he ran on moccasined feet through the hamlet of Longmeadow north to Springfield to warn the townsmen because of “the great respect and many kindnesses he had received and for the love he bore” the English.
Immediately upon the tip-off, a messenger was sent to the garrison commander, Major Pynchon, who, with his soldiers, had gone the day before about 20 miles up river, to Hadley, to check on hostile demonstrations there.
For the most part, the people scrambled to the three fortified houses. One of these, at the lower end of the town, was the home of Jonathan Burt; another was the house of Widow Margaret Bliss. And then, still further north, was the impregnable home of John Pynchon, later known as the “Old Fort”. It was to the Pynchon house that Rev. Pelatiah Glover carried his library for safety.
The attack was delayed. Most of the people thought the danger was past and some went back home. Mr. Glover took his library back to his house, later entirely lost. Major Pynchon, later referring to Glover’s loss, stated in a letter: “He had all his books burnt; not so much as a Bible saved; a great loss, for he had some choice books and many.”
Lt. Cooper has been trading with the Indians for a long time and knew every Indian in the region. He and Thomas Miller went on horseback to “parlay” with them. As they approached Mill river, within less than half a mile of the fort, the Indians fired upon them, killing Miller instantly. Cooper’s horse, with him astride but mortally wounded, galloped back to town and stopped in front of Major Pynchon’s house, where the lieutenant fell off, dead. Just after this, the Indians started setting houses and barns afire. John Mathews’ wife, Pentecost, was shot and killed in the south part of the town, and her house was set on fire and burnt to the ground. Edmund Pryngrydays was severely wounded and died soon thereafter.
Thirty-two houses and twenty-five barns were burned, including Major Pynchon’s corn-mill and sawmill. Jonathan Burt set down the number at “twenty-nine houses and barns”. His is the only eye-witness account of the attack. By February 1676, he was a Selectman and wrote his account on the flyleaf of the third volume of the town record book where it remains.
Major Pynchon, upon hearing the news, immediately brought his troopers to the rescue, so to speak, but he found his town in ruins. Almost immediately, he wrote to the Rev. Mr. Russell, dated at Springfield, Oct. 5, 1675:
REVEREND SIR: –
The Lord will have us ly in ye dust before him; wee yt were full are emptyd, But it is ye Lord & blessed be his holy name: we came to a Lamentable & woefull sight. The Towne in flames, not a house nor Barne, except old Goodman Branches, till we came to my house & then Mr. Glovers & John Hitchcocks & Goodman Stewarts, burnt downe with Barnes, corne & all they had: a few standing about ye meeting house, & then from Miricks downward, all burnt; two garrison houses at the lower end of ye Towne, my grist Mill, & corne Mill, Burnt downe; with some other houses & Barnes I had let out to Tenants: All Mr. Glovers library Burnt with all his corne, so yt he hath none to live on as well as my selfe, & Many more yt have not for subsistence; they tell me 32 houses ye Barnes belonging to ym are Burnt & all, ye Livelihood of ye owners & what more may meete wth ye same stress ye Lord only knowes; many more had there estates burnt in there houses, So yt I believe 40 familys are utterly destitute of subsistence; ye Lord shew mercy on us. I see not how it is possible for us to live here this winter, & If so the sooner we were holpen off ye Better. Sir, I Pray you acquaint our Honored Governor with this dispensation of God. I know not how to work, neither can I bee able to attend any Public service, the Lord in mercy speake to my heart, & so all our hearts is this
Reall desire of
Under date of October 8, Major Pynchon wrote to Governor Leverett: –
I desire to give you an account of the sore stroke upon poor distressed Springfield, which I hope will excuse my late doing of it. On the 4th of October our soldiers which were at Springfield I had called off, leaving none to secure the towne because the Commissioners orders were so strict. That night a post was sent to us that 500 Indians were about Springfield intending to destroy it on the 5th of October. With about 200 of our soldiers I marched down to Springfield where we found all in flames, about 30 dwelling houses burnt down and 24 or 25 barns, my corn mill, saw mill and other buildings. Generally men's hay and corn are burnt, and many men whose houses stand had their goods burnt in other houses which they had carried them to. Lt. Cooper and two more slain and 4 persons wounded. That the town did not utterly perish is cause of great thankfulness. As soon as said forces appeared the Indians drew off, so that we saw none. Our endeavors here are to secure the houses and corn that are left. Our people are under great discouragement and talk of leaving the place. We need your orders and directions about it. How to have provisions, I mean bread, for want of a mill is difficult. The soldiers here already complain on that atcount, although we have flesh enough. Many of the inhabitants have no houses, which fills and throngs every room of those that have, together with the soldiers; indeed it is very uncomfortable living here. But I resolve to attend what God calls me to and to stick to it as long as I can. I hope God will make up in himself what is wanting in the creature, to me, and to us all.
To speak my thoughts – all these towns ought to be garrisoned, as I have formerly hinted. To go out after the Indians in the swamps and thickets is to hazard all our men, unless we know where they keep, which is altogether unknown to us.
People were wary; watching and sticking pretty close to home for many weeks. Eventually, though, they had to go out. Because their grist mill was destroyed, the townsmen had to carry their grains ten miles to Westfield for grinding. And so it happened that just three weeks later, on October 27, 1675, tragedy once again visited Springfield. The diary of Westfield’s Rev. Edward Taylor states that
our soil was moistened by the blood of three Springfield men, young Goodman (John) Dumbleton, who came to our mill and two sons of Goodman Brooks (John, aged 18 and William, aged 20) who came here to look after the iron ore on the land he had lately bought of Mr. John Pynchon, who being persuaded by Springfield folk, went to accompany them but fell in the way by the first assault of the enemy.
And so, the winter progressed and the town experienced a state of siege. Springfielders brought out tools long put away and ground their grains by hand. Much of their provisions, however, stored in barns for winter’s use, had been destroyed, and many townsmen wanted to leave. Imagine the debate in their meetings. Wiser heads prevailed and most remained. They used the ashes to fertilize the Indian corn and their potatoes and other crops and eventually rebuilt all that was lost.
Spring of 1676 brought renewed confidence. On Sunday, May 20th, John Keep, wife Sarah and their six-month-old son, Jabez, started out for Springfield. This was their first try to take their young son out for his christening, since he was born barely five weeks after the Springfield disaster. They made it through the street of “longmeddowe”, passed the last house – Benjamin Cooley’s – and hurried through the dreaded narrow pass. Approaching the bridge over the Pecousic Brook (near the present King Philip’s Stockade), shots rang out and they were all killed.
King Philip died in August 1676, and after that, life quieted down in the Springfield valley. The Indians left and few were seen there, even though once in a while, for several years, they continued to visit the area and perpetrate violence upon the settlers as they found opportunity.
The hardships endured throughout the Indian raid and subsequent trials may have caused the deaths of three old-timers. Deacon Samuel Chapin died November 11, 1675; Nathaniel Ely on Christmas Day; and Elizur Holyoke, February 6, 1676. The Angel of Death also picked off Lawrence Bliss, the son of his brave mother, Margaret Bliss, at Longmeadow. John Leonard, February 24; Pelatiah Morgan, March 1; and William Hunter on July 4th.
Springfield’s early settlers were laid to rest in the ancient “burying place” by the river, west of the church. Stone markers were not placed in Springfield until the next century. But one stone was set in the early burial place for one early settler – Mary Holyoke, who died in 1657, said to be the “very paragon of her sex”. It was set there at a later date. Mary was the daughter of Springfield's Founder, William Pynchon, and was the wife of Elizur Holyoke.
The ancient burial-ground on Elm Street had become overcrowded by graves clogged with trees and shrubbery. The new railroad tracks also had been laid across the grounds. In Spring of 1848, the town began to exhume and remove the remains and monuments to the new Springfield Cemetery also known as the Peabody Cemetery, begun in 1841. The oldest know burial dates to 1657 and is that of Mary (Pynchon) Holyoke. The earth with the remains of 2404 bodies, and 517 markers, were moved. Dr. Joseph C. Pynchon had charge of the exhumation of the Pynchon bodies, and had this to say:
Beneath the Mary Holyoke stone, dated 1657, deep in the white sand, six feet below the surface, were found the remains of two, lying side by side, with no others in close proximity. Is it too much to conjecture that these were the remains of Elizur and Mary Holyoke? The sand was discolored and some few pieces of the skulls and other bones were found while even the nails of the coffins were wholly destroyed, their places being marked by the rust only, while no other vestige of the coffins remained. The few remains were gathered, which soon crumbled to dust on exposure to the air, and with the surrounding earth, deposited in the new cemetery.
Most of the bodies had disintegrated leaving no trace. Not even buckles or buttons were found which strongly suggests that corpses were wrapped in winding-sheets or shrouds. Such items have frequently been found in Indian graves of the same age. Even though the ancient burial ground was in a damp area by the river, one might expect to find some fairly indestructible items, or parts thereof, if such had been on, or buried with, corpses where they were buried. But clothing, shoes, buckles, ornaments, all were very valuable. Almost any last will and testament contains mention of the testator making a bequest of items of clothing to sons, daughters, and even grandchildren.
In one case, a family member attending the exhumation of his grandparents (buried 45 and 55 years earlier), noted that a remnant of his grandmother’s coffin was found, i.e., a metal plate on the coffin lid, with name, age, and time of decease. Also, some portions of her sepulchral dress were well preserved, especially a dress wig with curls, and also some of the coffin trimmings.
The following quote demonstrates the Victorian fascination with the grisly accounts of anything to do with death. I found this account to be a real hoot!! [Source]
While digging over the old burying-ground in Springfield it was found that the roots of willows, elders, &c., had penetrated decayed Coffins. Such was the condition of exhuming the remains of Major Adre, at the head of whose grave, some sympathising lady had planted a sprig of Willow, which, at the time of exhumation, had grown to the size of a tree, and the roots had penetrated and sought nourishment from the head and body. A grave was dug in Northampton cemetery, near an Elm tree, and being opened afterwards to remove the remains to a distant town or city, the whole body was found enveloped by a fibrous coat of roots like a matting. Such an effect of trees near graves, needs no comment.
On October 13, 1684, Massachusetts ceased to be a chartered colony, and found herself without a single one of the rights to which she had clung so tenaciously, until the new charter of 1691.
Under the old charter within the body of enfranchised voters, there was only the religious test, with no distinction between rich and poor, no social question. Were you in the established church, or not? When they abandoned the religion test, substituting qualification based on property, the question became a social one. This opened the way for the Revolution a century later. The colonies could never have united on a question of religion, or even of trade. The basis had to be wider, appealing to the most people in all colonies, and must encompass the demand for the abolition of privilege and the extension of democracy.
To many in the colony the change from the old charter form to the new seemed a loss of independence. The former governing element felt that their control had been vastly weakened. The church party anticipated that the End was near when the Congregational church no longer legally controlled the elections.
On the other hand, there were very substantial advantages under the new regime. The colonists had never really possessed anything like the rights which they had claimed and exercised under the old charter. The whole system of town government, for example, had been extra-legal. The infliction of the death-penalty was illegal, and there was no question that the colonists had exceeded their rights in taxing the non-freemen.
With the new charter created in 1691, all the false reasoning and sophistries that the settlers had indulged in, trying to prove the old charter adequate as the basis of a government, were no longer necessary. Massachusetts at last had what she had never possessed before, a written constitution, which clearly set forth her form of government, and validated, to a very great extent, those institutions which she had cherished. New England’s largest colony was forced out of the position of defiant isolation which her former leaders had chosen for her. The new charter definitely marked the end of one era and the beginning of another.
This change was more than political and economic. The power of the clergy had been felt in every sphere of the colony’s life: in the pulpits, schools, colleges, censorship of the press, the legislature, the councils of war and the courts of justice. An incalculable influence. Although the charter of 1691 had definitely ended the legalized control of the Congregational church, the organization desperately struggled to retain its power, and it did maintain a privileged position until 1812.
The above on the charters was mostly paraphrased from The Founding of New England, by James Truslow Adams (see under References).
The last of Springfield’s three most prominent gentlemen, John Pynchon, outlived Deacon Samuel Chapin and Elizur Holyoke by 27 years. He died in 1703 at about 80 years of age. Probably no man, before or since, had so great an influence in the affairs of Western Massachusetts, especially in the Connecticut Valley, as Major John Pynchon. He was the commander of the military forces here. He was chief judge of the local courts of the old county of Hampshire, a member of the court of assistants at Boston, and often employed as a commissioner to negotiate and adjust affairs of importance with the other colonies.
In 1723 a court-house was built. It was a plain two-story wooden structure, and was for years the only public building in the town. It was a quaint little building. It was written: “it would seem that our venerable ancestors, who arranged the room, attempted to indicate, in the different grades of the floor (of which there were at least half a dozen), the relative rank and importance of the occupants of the place, from judge and jury down to prisoner and public.” In those times the judges appeared in the old English style, attired in robes and wigs. Nearby stood the whipping-post.
In the first half of the 18th century, the threat of Indian attack continued to keep the settlers wary, while the religious controversies resulting from the Great Awakening affected congregations in Springfield and throughout the Connecticut Valley. Both George Washington and General Henry Knox, en route from Fort Ticonderoga with cannon destined for Boston, passed through Springfield in 1775. Each noted the town's suitability as a location for a federal arsenal, with its nearness to the Connecticut River and major highways and, based on their recommendations, one was built there in 1777 to store arms for the revolutionary cause.
In 1787, Springfield’s courthouse and arsenal were the sites of the agrarian insurrection of Daniel Shays and his followers, who sought to close the courts with weapons seized from the arsenal to prevent further foreclosures on their farms. General William Shepard led the successful defense of the arsenal and dispersed the rebels. This action has been known as Shay’s Rebellion*.
In 1812 Hampden county was divided out of Hampshire counties, and Springfield was the county seat. By 1820 the town had evolved from its agrarian beginnings into a manufacturing town, which included the U. S. Armory.
Springfield’s first bridge over the Connecticut River was built in 1805. Canals followed. Steamboating increased commercial traffic to new markets. By the late 1830s, railroads had eclipsed the importance of the Connecticut River for Springfield's economic future. In 1839 the Western Railroad, originating in Boston, connected Worcester to Springfield. Very shortly, railroads running east-to-west and north-to-south brought Springfield the distinction of being “the crossroads of New England.”
Climb the Arsenal tower and view the countryside. Southward is the church spire of Longmeadow which contains the ancient bell that “rung the Lexington alarm, and echoed the Declaration of independence”. That bell was rung so vigorously at the peace of 1814 (after the War of 1812), that it was cracked and had to be recast.
Nearer is the site of the old Indian fort, written of above. To the east is the “Indian leap”, where King Philip spent the night with 600 warriors after the town burned. Westward lies the old common of West Springfield, on which ground camped two British armies. Gen. Amherst encamped here while on his march to Canada and Gen. Burgoyne's captive army was halted for a rest of two days as it was being marched to Boston. Several English soldiers deserted and settled here and their descendants were well-known families in the vicinity. Gen. Riedesel, the Hessian officer, stopped with Parson Lathrop in the old parsonage on the green. One could not speak English, the other could not speak German, so they conversed in Latin. Here afterwards a detachment of Shay’s rebels encamped and drilled, waiting to form a junction with the main body from the east for their attack on the Arsenal.
To the left across the river, on the rich meadow lands of Agawam, is the “House Meadow”, where John Cable and John Woodcock built the first house of the new colony. And at the feet of the Arsenal tower lies the Bay Path, running along through Benton Park and the Armory grounds, the location marked by a rude stone. So much occurred in Springfield.
And what it boils down to now, in 2007, is this: Springfield, Massachusetts, is one of 16 cities of that name vying for the Premier of the Simpson’s Movie!
Statue of The Puritan in Springfield
Adams, James Truslow. The Founding of New England (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1921). Regarding the Charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company, see: Chapter 15: “The Loss of the Massachusetts Charter”; and Chapter 17: “The New Order”. See specifically pg. 448 for the New Charter in 1691.
Armytage, Frances, et al. The Pynchons of Springfield: Founders and Colonizers, 1636-1702 (Springfield, Mass.: Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, 1961).
Barrows, Charles H. The History of Springfield in Massachusetts for the young: being also in some part the history of other towns and cities in the county of Hampden (Springfield, Mass.: Connecticut Valley Historical Society, 1921).
Burt, Henry M. The first century of the history of Springfield: the official records from 1636 to 1736, with an historical review and biographical mention of the founders I (Springfield, Mass., 1898-99) pp. 129-134. At Salt Lake City (Utah) Family History Library, Call No. 974.426/S1 N2b.
Chase, Levi B. The Bay Path and Along the Way (Norwood, Mass.: The Plimpton Press, 1919). See chapters 2-3.
Drake. The Town of Roxbury: Its Memorable Persons and Places (1878) p. 12.
Elliott, Charles Wyllys. The New England History, from the Discovery of the Continent by the Northmen, A. D. 986, to the period when the colonies declared their independence, A.D. 1776 (Trübner & Co., 1857). Available to read or download at Google Book Search.
Gill, James D. King’s Handbook of Springfield (Mass.) (Springfield, Mass.: James D. Gill, 1884) pp. 9-19. At Salt Lake City (Utah) Family History Library, Call No. 974.426/S1 H2k.
Green, Mason A. [History of] Springfield, 1636-1886, etc. (Springfield, Mass.: C.A. Nichols, 1888). At Salt Lake City (Utah) Family History Library, Call No. 974.426/S1 H2g.
Massachusetts Charter: see Colonial Society Massachusetts Publications, Vol. II, pp. 7ff.
McIntyre, Ruth A. William Pynchon. Merchant and Colonizer 1590-1662 (1961) pp. 10-11, 21.
Morison, Samuel Eliot. “William Pynchon: The Founder of Springfield.” Vol. 64 of Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Oct. 1930-June 1932) p. 67.
Smith, Joseph H., ed. Colonial Justice in Western Massachusetts (1639-1702): The Pynchon Court Record. Legal Studies of the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1961).
Stearns, Charles. “Memoir of William Pynchon”. New England Historical and Genealogical Review 13 (October, 1859) 287.
Tower, James E., ed. Springfield Present and Prospective, etc.. (Springfield, Mass.: Pond & Campbell Publishers, 1905). Section entitled “The Story of Springfield” by Alfred M. Copeland and Edwin Dwight.
The Romance and Tragedy of Pioneer Life. Augustus Lynch Mason. Chicago, Ill.: Jones Bros. and Co., 1883.
Hampden County, Massachusetts – American Local History Network (ALHN) hosted by USGenNet. Webmistress Kathy Leigh.
Burning of Springfield by the Indians – October 1675
The First Century of the History of Springfield; The Official Records from 1636 to 1736; With an Historical Review and Biographical Mention of the Founders, by Henry M, Burt; Vol, I; Pages 129-34. A good rendering of the Indian attack.
Witchcraft in Springfield – Hugh and Mary Parsons. Also from Burt’s book.
History of Early Springfield and Longmeadow, Massachusetts, by Harry A. Wright. A wonderfully written account. (See page 4.) From The Cooley Genealogy. M. E. Cooley. Rutland, VT: The Tuttle Publishing Co., 1941.
Hampden County History .com – Primarily a website for Western Massachusetts history and research, includes links to history of several western Massachusetts counties including Hampden, Hampshire, and Berkshire. Webmistress Laurel O’Donnell.
Day House, Springfield, Mass.
The Day House, has a cradle in it, known as “the Pynchon cradle”. It was imported from England, and was in the Day Family for over 200 years. Day was a relative of the Pynchons.
History of City of Springfield. Clarence E. Blake. Original published in New England Magazine, 1894.
Memorial Hall Museum Online – American Centuries: view from New England.
Western Massachusetts History. com – Laurel O'Donnell
Other Massachusetts USGenWeb Project Websites
Hampden County – Dawn Newton, Hampden County Coordinator.
Boston, Charlestown, Dorchester and Roxbury, Massachusetts – a good starting point for the history and records of these towns.
Moving the Old Burial Ground in Springfield – Interesting.
Soldiers in King Philip’s War – Soldiers In King Philip's War From 1620-1677, by George Madison Bodge, 1906. An online book. It draws from the ancient accountbooks of Mr. John Hull, Treasurer-at-war of Massachusetts Colony, from 1675-1678. Webmistress Debbie Jeffers, a USGenNet website.
West Springfield, Mass. – a brief history from the official town website.
The Terry Family website. Terry’s apprenticeship bond and much more interesting stuff. The webmistress is descended also from William and John Pynchon.
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