Connecticut

William Pynchon Leaves Connecticut in 1637 and Takes a City With Him

William Pynchon Leaves Connecticut

Springfield, Mass., and the rest of Western Massachusetts, might well be part of Connecticut today if William Pynchon had not decided to leave Connecticut and join with Massachusetts in an acrimonious dispute in 1637.

Pynchon was one of the original founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, arriving with John Winthrop in 1630. Rather than staying by the coast, however, Pynchon moved inland. He purchased land in what was called Agawam from the American Indians and named it Springfield after his home in England.

Pynchon was somewhat out of step with his Puritan comrades in more than just the fine points of religion. He was more of a pragmatic businessman than a Puritan. He believed in trading with the local Indians, not fighting. One of his first acts when coming to Springfield was to make a deal with the local Indians. He procured land that they weren't using and compensated them for it. He made agreements to allow the Indians to continue to use the land for hunting and other purposes. Further, he agreed to restrict his raising pigs on the side of the river where the Indians were growing corn, since pigs from colonists invading Indian cornfields had been a problem for the Indians.

William Pynchon Leaves Connecticut

Puritans burning William Pynchon's book, The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption.

Pynchon's fellow settlers in Connecticut and Massachusetts had more fractious relations with the Indians - perhaps because they didn't live among so many of them. Springfield was placed under control of a government that was made up of the river towns of Hartford, Windsor, Wethersfield and Springfield. That government declared war on the Pequot Indians.

This left Pynchon in a precarious position. Springfield, which only had a population of a handful of men, was told that it could expect no defense in case of Indian attack. Nevertheless Pynchon received a war tax bill. When he balked at paying, he was hauled before the authorities at Hartford.

In the spring of 1638, when the snow receded enough for Pynchon to reach Hartford, he answered the charges (and probably paid the tax). While there he was also given a monopoly on fur trade in Springfield. The news did not sit well with Pynchon. He would have had a virtual monopoly on it anyway, and the new designation meant he had to pay a tax on every pelt he bought from Indians.

The river towns to the south of Pynchon also had a food shortage that year, the war having limited the colony's ability to focus on growing corn. So Pynchon was directed to procure 500 bushels of corn from the Indians near Springfield at five shillings per bushel. What Pynchon discovered, he would later report, was that the Indians wanted eight shillings. He was not authorized to pay that price.

The next move by the river towns was to send another man, John Mason, to Springfield to procure the corn. Mason was a hero to his Connecticut countrymen, having lead a deadly rout against Pequots at Mystic the year before. The Indians did not hold him in such high esteem, though they were not Pequots. According to Pynchon, he tried to broker a deal between Mason and the Indians, but the Indians were not willing to part with corn at the price offered.

Returning to Hartford, Mason charged that Pynchon was holding up any deal in hopes of profiting himself. The Puritan governments believed that the public good outweighed private profits and fixed the prices of essential commodities. To their thinking, because of the great need for corn the price should be, if anything, lower than it had been in the past.

Pynchon was again summoned to Hartford to answer charges of "unfaithfull dealing in the trade of corne" and for ignoring his duties as a magistrate of the colony. Pynchon was fined 40 bushels of corn for failing to deliver the Indian corn at the price of six shillings per bushel. The river towns then sent Mason again to Springfield, this time with a band of armed men, and threatened the Indians if they did not sell corn. The Indians agreed, but at a price of 12 shillings per bushel.

Despite Pynchon's protests, the Connecticut authorities went so far as to write to the church at Roxbury to undermine his reputation there. Later that year, the leadership of Massachusetts and Connecticut gathered to settle questions over the boundary of the two colonies, and Pynchon declared Springfield to be part of Massachusetts.

Despite some protests from the river towns, Springfield was officially added to Massachusetts by 1642. Pynchon, meanwhile, did not live happily ever after in Massachusetts. He continued his chafing against Puritan practices and beliefs. In 1650 he published a religious tract - The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption - which was the first book banned in Massachusetts.

Pynchon was accused of heresy and the colonies were beginning to get whipped up over witchcraft. Sensing the dire mood, Pynchon gave title to his lands to his son. He departed for England in 1652, where he lived the life of a wealthy man for the next 21 years.

Thanks to: William Pynchon, Founder of Springfield; Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. don cook

    March 8, 2018 at 12:33 pm

    It is of note that the people we, as children–and as adults–are told to honour, are the ones who preferred to steal from, murder, and rape the Native Peoples; the Good People who preferred not to, and lived in some forms of peace with the natives are not mentioned in the history books. We are shaped to hold in highest esteem, oppressors, and denigrate those who mitigated their aggrandizement … and that is the foundation of America.

  2. Pingback: River Gods of the Connecticut River Valley Create A World of Their Own - New England Historical Society

  3. Katrinka Greger

    March 13, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    Wow….so true. And alarming…..

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