It Started in London

The quest for religious freedom was the first reason why a small number of dissidents were making plans to emigrate to the east coast of the “New World”. King Charles I implemented a special restrictive tax to be paid by non-Anglicans. As the head of the Anglican church, and supreme ruler of the land, he was not too happy when his subjects declined the rule of the Anglican Church.

John Winthrop was one of those affected by the new royal policies. He was a nobleman of a lower order, having held a not very important function at the royal court from 1627 to 1629. His main revenues were derived from his estate. He was a very strict Puritan from his youth and devoted many years to biblical studies. He believed God had chosen him to lead a life of sanctity. His own words on the subject were that “the life which is most exercised with tryalls and temptations is the sweetest, and will prove the safeste.”

Commercial opportunities provided an almost equal impetus to make the crossing, especially with the economic crisis that occurred around 1629. It has been said that “religion and commerce sailed the same ship.”

The Charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company

March 4, 1628/29

On March 4th, 1629, the King granted land from the Merrimack River to just south of the Charles River, extending “from the Atlantick and western sea and ocean on the east parte, to the south sea on the west parte”. This was to become the Massachusetts Bay Company and was funded by capitalists – merchants and landed gentry – from London and elsewhere. In the Charter, the king styled them the “Governor and Company of the Mattachusetts Bay in New England”. A few times, the document calls these investors “Adventurers”. Of the elected officers, one of the Assistants was William Pynchon.

graphic, William Pynchon

Mr. Pynchon was born in 1590 at Springfield, Essex County, England, the son of John and Frances (Brett) Pynchon. He became a man of wealth, education and piety, and was described by his contemporaries as a “gentleman of learning and religion” for he knew Latin, Greek and Hebrew. He was one of our ancestors.

The government of the company and the extent of its authority were clearly stated in the charter, which included an unwritten premise that the management of the company and thus the charter itself would remain in England. The King reserved one-fifth of all the gold and silver found within the vast domain governed under the charter.

At General Court, holden at London,
the 30th Day of April, 1629, by the Governor & Company
of the Mattachusetts Bay in New England

The future government of the Massachusetts Bay Commonwealth was derived from this document. Adhering to the guidelines set up in the Royal Charter, it established the offices of Governor, a Deputy Governor and eleven others to be the governing Council. They were to be selected by the Company once a year from among the residents of the plantation. All powers of government would belong to the majority of the office-holders, with veto power to the Governor. Capt. John Endecott was chosen and elected, by erection of hands, “to the place of present Governor in our said plantation”.

Three weeks after the Constitution was enacted, a codicil was added regarding the distribution of land. It specified that every “Adventurer” who bought £50 of stock in the Company should be allotted 200 acres of land plus a half-acre town lot. Upon further purchase of stock, the buyer would obtain land at the same rate. Non-stockholders who transported themselves at their own expense were to receive 50 acres or more, by decision of the Council. Any stockholder who paid for the transportation of another person would receive 50 acres on behalf of that person, the land at the disposal of the stockholder. This was similar to the “headright” system used for so many years in Virginia. The Council had power to dictate the allotment, and it directed the expansion of the plantation in broad terms, but the allotment was for practical purposes “first come first served,” which accounts for the very rapid settlement of the countryside around Boston. Even before the “Great Migration” began in earnest in 1634, sixteen townships had been platted out and settled.

26 August 1629

After the Charter and Constitution of the Company were established, the Governor and Company held Court again at Cambridge, England in mid-August. Twelve of the Company pledged to emigrate with their families to New England to establish and inhabit the plantation there. The group agreed to leave England before March 1st, 1630. Every day they remained past that date would cost them £3. Of the twelve signers, ten sailed with the fleet the next spring.

At the end of the document, it was written that “the whole Government, together with the patent for the said Plantation” shall go with them to the new settlement. This was a very important clause in that it established full independence of the plantation from any authority in England. Their foresight in taking the Charter with them to the new settlement proved crucial when later, in 1635, King Charles and Archbishop Laud sought to destroy it and force a viceregal dictatorship upon the settlers.

Perhaps the most important meetings of the group in London were those held to discuss the question, if the government of the Colony should be conducted in England or be transferred to New England. A consensus was not reached, and they adjourned until seven the next morning, when all 27 members were present, including William Pynchon. Debate continued as it had the day before, and a vote was finally taken, and it was decided, and so appeared written in the Charter, that

before the last of September next, the whole Government, together with the patent for the said Plantation, be first, by an order of Court, legally transferred and established to remain with us and others which shall inhabit upon the said Plantation.

This last step was taken to assure the settlers that they would retain control of company management.

William Pincheon’s receipt for his stock in the Massachusetts Bay Company is preserved in the archives of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Recd the 29th of August 1629 of Mr. William Pincheon the Summ of twenty five poundes for his adventure towards Londons plantation in Massachusetts Bay in New England in America for which a Summ a Division of Lands and an adventure of Stock is to be allotted to him as to every of the adventurers proportionable to each man his underwriting as shall be concluded and agreed upon. I say received the sums of [25] £. [Signed by] Mr. George Harwood, thres. [Treasurer]

They had been meeting several times a week for more than a year, perfecting their plans for transportation and settlement. John Winthrop's main task was to gather a number of ships. Mr. Pynchon’s duties prior to crossing were to find enough weapons and ammunition. The price for ship’s passage was set at

five pounds for a person and 4 pounds a ton for freight. Sucking children not to be reckoned; such as are under 4 years of age 3 for one; under 8, 2 for one; under 12, 3 for 2, and that a ship of 200 tons shall not carry above 120 passengers.

The Ocean Crossing

Information differs regarding the sailing of ships in what is known as the Winthrop Fleet. One account states that the first of the two flotillas included the ships Arbella, Talbot, and Jewel, and sailed from Cowes Harbor on the 8th of April, 1630, arriving at Salem on the 12th of June. A second account states only that the first flotilla left England on March 29, 1630.

Yet another account states that the first five ships sailed April 8 from Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, and arrived at Salem June 13 and following days. The other half of the fleet sailed in May and arrived in July at various dates.

The Winthrop Society recognizes William Pynchon as one who sailed in 1630 with The Winthrop Fleet. I have seen it stated that he sailed on the ship Ambrose, and which ship was one of the Winthrop fleet. However, the Society doesn’t mention this ship, nor do we know exactly when it sailed, or its Master. It is very possible, even likely, however, that he sailed with John Winthrop in the Arbella, bringing with him his wife and three daughters. His son, John, crossed later.

One third of the emigrants died in the crossing. They were considered martyrs of the faith. Half the cattle also perished.

In a letter sent to supporters in England, Thomas Dudley wrote about the Puritans’ arrival in Massachusetts in the summer of 1630.

In April 1630 we set sail from old England with four good ships. And in May following, eight more followed, two having gone before in February and March, and two more following in June and August, besides another set out by a private merchant. These seventeen ships arrived all safe in New England, for the increase of the plantation here, this year 1630.

Our four ships, which set out in April, arrived here in June and July, where we found the colony in a sad and unexpected condition, above eighty of them being dead the winter before, and many of those alive, weak and sick. All the corn and bread among them all hardly sufficient to feed them a fortnight, insomuch that the remaining of 180 servants we had the two years before sent over, coming to us for victuals to sustain them, we found ourselves wholly unable to feed them.

But bearing these things as we might, we began to consult of the place of our sitting down, for Salem, where we landed, pleased us not. And so to that purpose some were sent to the Bay to search up the rivers for a convenient place; who, upon their return, reported to have found a good place upon Mystic; but some other of us seconding these to approve or dislike of their judgment, we found a place we liked better, three leagues up Charles River.

It was decided, for our present shelter to plant dispersedly, some at Charlestown which stands on the north side of the mouth of Charles River; some on the south side, which we named Boston, some of us upon Mystic, which we named Medford; some of us westward on Charles River, four miles from Charlestown, which place we named Watertown; others of us, two miles from Boston, in a place we named Rocksbury; others upon the river of Saugus, between Salem and Charlestown; and the western men, four miles south from Boston, at a place we named Dorchester.

Upon Arrival

Upon their arrival, the governor and emigrants soon settled in Boston and the various towns round about. It is thought that Mr. Pynchon settled first either in Dorchester. From April to December in 1631 a scurvy epidemic devastated the region killing about 200 of Dorchester's citizens, including Mr. Pynchon’s wife. She died even before the ship that brought her could begin its return journey. This period proved to be so hard for the newcomers, about 100 of them returned to England. Those who stayed were glad to see them leave for there was not enough food.

One who stayed wrote:

bread was so very scarce that sometimes I thought the very crumbs of my father's table would be sweet unto me, and when I could have meal and water and salt boiled together, it was so good – who could wish better?

Mr. Pynchon removed his family to Roxbury Massachusetts where he was a founding member of the town and also of its first church. From 1633 on, conditions improved. Most of the emigrants knew how to work fertile ground and the number of colonists was steadily growing.

Mr. Pynchon was already a wealthy man and very soon, having entered the New England fur trade, he operated an extensive trading network out of Roxbury. As a patentee of the Bay Colony, the General Court granted him special privileges – he was allowed to trade with the Indians for beaver, a privilege given to only eight persons in Connecticut. Of course it helped that he had learned and became fluent in the language of the local Indians. The census lists of the period indicate that he was well off as he paid nearly ten times the taxes of the second on the list. A trader with the Indians had to pay a 12 pence tax per ounce of fur. William Pynchon's assessment was £20 (which means 400 ounces of beaver skins). The next highest assessment on the same list was £2 4sh (indicating only 44 ounces of skins). The collection of taxes may have been the source of Mr. Pynchon's first conflict with the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Beaver in New England

Everyone knows that New England’s original settlers were seeking religious freedom. What is not as well known is that the fur trade was the primary cause for the London “Adventurers” to fund the undertaking of founding settlements in North America. Above all, they sought beaver skins. Bartholomew Gosnold had made a voyage in 1602 and traded here and there for furs with the Indians. Sailing along New England’s shoreline in 1603, a Martin Pring reported seeing animals “whose furs may yield no small gain to us”. Captain John Smith (remember Pocahontas?) reported: “With eight or nine others, ranging the coast in a small boat, we got for trifles, near eleven hundred beaver skins.”

The English merchants and bankers financing the many colonizing enterprises needed to protect their interests and encouraged men to get into the fur-trade. The demand for beaver skins was increasing rapidly in the early 17th century. Beaver fur was finer and softer than wool, and cost less as the beaver were drawn from nature. Beaver hats were preferred by the higher classes in Great Britain, so much so that the English parliament, in 1638, passed a law prohibiting the making of hats from any material other than “beaver stuff and beaver wool.” And so a monopoly was born which lasted more than 200 years.

Soon the traders needed more and better beaver pelts. At that time, beaver abundantly populated all the streams flowing into the “great river” – the Connecticut River. And the entrepreneurs were ready to fill the ships with skins. As many as 200,000 beaver skins a year were shipped to England.

The Dutch had first informed the English about the excellent planting and fur-trading possibilities in the Connecticut River Valley. They also taught them about the value of wampum* in the Indian trade.

* There are some very interesting websites where you can learn about wampum:

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:

The fame of the Connecticut river, a long, fresh, rich river, had made a little Nilus of it, in the expectation of the good people about the Massachusetts bay, whereupon many of the planters, belonging especially to the towns of Cambridge, Dorchester and Roxbury, took up resolutions to travel an hundred miles westward from those towns, for a further settlement upon the famous river.

The Move

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:

Wee intend by Gods grace, as soon as we can, with all convenient speede to procure some Godly and faithfull minister with whome we purpose to joyne in church covenant, to walk in all the ways of Christ.

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.


Agaam, alias Agawam, This fifteenth day of July, 1636.

It is agreed between Commucke and Matanchon, ancient Indians, & in particular for & in ye name of Cattonis, the right owner of Agawam & Quana, & in the Name of his mother, Kewanusk, the Tamaham, or wife of Wenawis & Niarum, the wife of Coa, to & with William Pynchon, Henry Smith & Jehu Burr, their heirs & associates for ever, to trucke & sel al that ground & mucke of quittas or medow, accomsick, viz., on the other side of Quana; & al the ground & muck of quittas on the side of Agaam, except Cottiwackesh or ground that is now planted, for ten fatham of Wampam, Ten coates, Ten howes, Ten hatchets & Ten knifes: also the said ancient Indians with the consent of the rest & in particular wth the Consent of Menis & Wrutherna & Napompenam, do trucke & sel to William Pynchon, Henry Smith, & Jehu Burr, their successors for ever, all that ground on the East side of Quinneticut River called Usquasok & Nayasset, reaching about four or five miles in length, from the north end of Masaksicke up to Chickuppe River, for four fathoms of Wampam, four coates, four howes, four hatchets, four knifes: Also said ancient Indians Doe wth the Consent of Machetuhood, Wenapawin, & Mohemoos, trucke & sel the ground & muckeosquittas & grounds adjoining called Masaksicke* for four fatham of wampam, four Coates, four hatchets & four knifes.

And the said Pynchon hath in hand paid the said eighteen fatham of wampam**, eighteen coates, 18 hatchets, 18 howes, 18 knifes to the said Commucke & Matanchan & doth further condition wth the said Indians, that they shal have and enjoy al that Cotinackeesh, or ground that is now planted; And have liberty to take Fish & Deer, ground nuts, walnuts, akornes & sasashiminesh, or kind of peas, And also if any of our Cattle spoile their corne, to pay as it is worth, & that hogs shal not goe on the side of Agawam but in adorne time: Also the said Pynchon, doth give to Wruththena*** two Coates over and above the Particulars expressed, & in Witness hereof the two said Indians, this present 15th day of July, 1636.

* Masaksicke. At a later court at “Northampton, March 1661/62, Joseph Parsons testified on oath that he was a witness to this bargaine between Mr. Pynchon & the Indians.” The deed was entered into the county records on July 8th, 1679, in the handwriting of John Holyoke, then the recorder. He added the notation that “Masacksic is what the English call the Long meadow, below Springfield, on the east side of Quinecticot River.”

** One fathom was nearly two meter.

*** Evidently, the composition of his name – Wruththena – indicated that he was a “prince in embryo”; hence, he received two extra coats.

The deed was signed with the marks of Menis, Kenix, Wesai alias Nepinam, Winepawin, Cominuk, Macossak, Wenewis, Cuttonis, Wrutherna, Coa, Keckusnek and it was written “that they understood al by Ahauon, an Indian of the Massachusetts,” who came from the Bay as interpreter.

New Beginnings

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 Settlers

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.

Almost Hand-Picked

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.

The above was extrapolated from the full text of the contract at Debbie Jeffers’ Rootsweb site on her Terry family. Her site also contains other interesting notes connecting the Terry family with the Pynchon family.

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.

Jurisdiction Changes

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?

The Minister

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.**

* Oddly, it was at this same court session that Mrs. Parsons’ former prosecutor, William Pynchon, was now being questioned regarding his “heretical” doctrine of atonement. See “William Pynchon’s Disgrace”, just below.

** The above was highly condensed. For a more complete rendering of the story, including some examples of the absurdity and silliness of some of the gossip and accusations – from adults! – that flew from house to house, please click:

Witchcraft in Springfield – Hugh and Mary Parsons

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.

William Pynchon's “Disgrace”

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”.

(Click on this picture to see a larger view.)

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.

The Courte, having had the sight of a booke lately printed under the name of William Pinchon in New England, Gent., doe judge meete, first, that a protest be drawen, fully and cleerely, to satisfy all men that this Courte is so farr from approoving the same as they doe utterly dislike it and detest it as erronjous and daingerous; secondly, that it be sufficjently answered by one of the reverend elders; thirdly, that the sajd William Pinchon, gent., be summoned to appeare before the next Generall Courte to answer for the same; ffowerthly, that the sajd booke now brought over be burnt by the executioner, or such other as the magistrates shall appointe, (the party being willing to doe it,) in the markett place in Boston, on the morrow immedjately after the lecture.

graphic, burning william pynchon's book
Boston officials burning Mr. Pynchon’s book.

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:

The Court doth judge it meete and is willing, that all patience be exercised toward Mr. William Pynchon, that, if it be possible, he may be reduced into the way of truth and that he might renounce the errors and heresies published in his book, and for that end, doe give him time to the next Generall Court, in May, more thoroughly to consider of the said errors and heresies in his said book, and well to weigh the judicious answer of Mr. John Norton, and that he may give full satisfaction for his offence, which they more desire than to proceed to so great a censure as his offence deserves. In case he should not give good satisfaction, the Court doth therefore order, that the judgment of the cawse be suspended till the honorable Court in May next, and that Mr. William Pynchon be enjoyned under the penalty of one hundred pounds to make his personall appearance at and before the next Generall Court, to give full answer to satisfaction if it may be, or otherwise to stand to the judgment and censure of the Court.

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.

New Governance

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”.

The First Lord of the Valley

John Pynchon ran a very large business as a merchant and fur trader. He bought furs from the Indians and others, and sent them down the river to his warehouse at East Windsor, called Warehouse Point. From there the furs were shipped south to Hartford; and then on to Boston and England. He owned and was part-owner of several vessels. In future years, he visited England several times in connection with his father's estates, and left an immense landed property.

Built in 1660, his was the first brick building in Springfield, the bricks having been made at Northampton. It was built to connect with the older wooden house of William Pynchon, which became a wing of the new brick one. The carpenters and masons were from Windsor. The building was 42 feet long, and 21 feet wide. The walls, thick and solid, rose about 22 feet from the ground to the eaves. The roof was very steep, and the ridge was about 22 feet in perpendicular height above the garret-floor. It was intended to be a fortified house, and was actually used as such during the Indian war, and was known as the “old fort”. This building remained in the Pynchon family until it was moved in 1831, to make room for a more modern house. In 1831, it was removed to Cross Street, where it served as a house and laundry. It was again altered in 1883, at which time there were still marks of antiquity about it.

William Pynchon's house
(Click on this picture to see a larger view.)

Interim of Peace

For quite some time, the Indians lived in peace and indolence, being guarded against their own ancient enemies, the Mohawks. With the English tools they now had, their daily tasks were made much more comfortable. And so they lingered there where good relations with the whites existed until the year 1675. William Pynchon and his son John had frequent and friendly relations with them in the way of trade. The Indians sold their beaver and other furs to the Pynchons. The Indians bought from them the kinds of goods as were kept in store and which were suited to their needs. The only prohibited articles were firearms and ammunition.

The handful of Indians were much in evidence on the street and in the houses. Real estate speculation was rife. People wanted to obtain allotments so they could barter it away. The more permanent residents bought tracts from their neighbors. Grants were being made in the swamps where they now and again tried to drain the land. Just as today, there were ditches all over the meadows, but the result was rather negative. Today, the swamps are much as they were in the days of the Indians. At least then they produced cranberries!!

An example of notable efforts to drain the marshland were:

    In 1683, Benjamin Cooley, in one of the last acts of his life, dug a ditch “a little above his house that he might lay dry that low and wet land behind his house.” He was forced to give a bond to provide security against any damage it might cause. A vestige of that ditch is visible today.

    In 1695, Ebenezer Parsons and Henry Burt gave a bond in connection with a similar drain in another section of the meadows, but it was more or less a failure.

Records show that in January, February and March of 1666, numerous grants were made of “ponds” next to lands owned by several individuals. In the case of the Widow Margaret Bliss, her grant was “so much of the pond as is at the end of her lot.” All of these grants were in the long-meadow and all were made with the provision that “the Indians be not wronged in their pease.” “Pease” referred to cranberries, the “sasachiminesh” that they had reserved in the deed of 1636. What it amounts to is, that the grantees were getting cranberry bogs. It appears in the language of then, a bog was called a pond.

Way back in 1648, William Pynchon had said of the Indians, “Until they have fully subjected themselves to your government, they must be esteemed an independent, free people.” Mr. Pynchon’s wise influence, long after his removal to England, still guided the town. The rights of the natives were long respected. As late as February, 1673, the wording of one grant stated that the recipient was “granted so much of the pond as is against his land in the Long Meadow, provided the Indians be not hindered gathering pease in the pond.”

The Indian Raid – 1675

October 5, 1675. The raid didn’t “happen” over night. It had been brewing for quite some time. People were generally unafraid of the Indian with his bow and arrow, but once the Indians had “powder and ball”, there was some threat to the matter. Colony law disallowed the selling of guns to the Indians, but that law wasn’t taken seriously. For instance, Widow Thomas Horton, in 1640, was hauled before Mr. Pynchon for “selling her husband’s piece to the Indians.” She argued that she only “lent it to an Indian because it lay spoiling in her cellar. The Indian is suddenly to bring it again and he left about six fatham of wampum in pawn for it. She knew of no order against it and doth promise to take it home again. She cannot tell the Indian's name but it is an Indian of Aguam.” She was ordered “to get it home again speedily or else it would cost her dear, for no commonwealth would allow of such a misdemeanor.” Nineteen years later, in 1659, the Worshipful Major John Pynchon, a magistrate, hesitated not to write in his ledger that he delivered a gun to Umpanchela, the Indian chief, in exchange for land. A few years earlier, in 1656, John Pynchon included in a list of his personal tools at the shop of John Stewart, the smith, a “tool for making Indian hatchets.”

The Indians had built a fort of their own in the south part of the town, and no one seemed too concerned of, or frightened by, it. The Indians freely visited the houses of the whites. There seemed to be no problems in the mixture of these races and cultures. Their wigwams and their planting grounds were on both sides of the Connecticut. The Indian population in the town and immediate vicinity was probably 200 or less.

In 1675 Philip, chief of the Wampanoags, began causing disturbances in the southeastern part of Massachusetts.* These disturbances gradually spread west until reaching the Connecticut Valley. It is said that Philip visited the Agawam Indians and induced them to join the confederacy against the whites.

* This activity with King Philip in 1675 is known as King Philip’s War. For more on the subject, please see at Wikipedia King Philip’s War.

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.

A photograph of the Glover-Baldwin Chair – believed made in Springfield, was first owned by Peletiah Glover II, (1665-1737) of Springfield, Mass., son of Springfield’s second minister Rev. Peletiah Glover. Peletiah II deeded extensive properties to his sons, and the inventory lists three great chairs.

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.”

October 5, 1675

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:


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
Yours, etc.,

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.

Renewed Confidence

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.

Springfield Buries Her Dead

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.

Out With the Old Charter, In With the New

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).

A New Century

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*.

* For more on the subject, see the following web links:

Shay's Rebellion.
Scroll down to the last paragraph (just before the photo of Parsons’ tavern). This is page 3 of Clarence E. Blake’s History of the City of Springfield presented on Laurel O’Donnell’s fine history of Hampden County website.

See also Wikipedia’s article on 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.”

If You Visit

Map of Springfield, Massachusetts

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


Thomas & Hannah Warriner Noble

William Warriner

John & Amy Wyllys Pynchon

William Pynchon


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.

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.

Memorial Hall Museum Online – American Centuries: view from New England.

Western Massachusetts History. com – Laurel O'Donnell

Other Massachusetts USGenWeb Project Websites

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 WarSoldiers 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.

The Pynchon Family

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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