William Pynchon was a committed Puritan and one of the first 12 founders of the Massachusetts Bay Company. He sailed to New England in 1630 with his wife and children. Pynchon first settled the town of Roxbury. He later moved on to the well situated and profitable land of the Agawam Indians.
Unlike other New Englanders who believed the land was the King’s and their’s for taking, Pynchon treated Indigenous people fairly and with respect. Rather than “claiming” the land that would later become known as Springfield (named for his home in England) he negotiated a contract with the Agawam Tribe. This acknowledged the land as being owned by the Agawams (Powers, 2017). The Massachusetts Historical Society Notes record that he chose where to plant based on the desire to “avoid trespassing on the Indians cornfields” (p. 77). The Notes further detail “a deed dated July 15, 1636, by which certain planting ground which they did not use, on both sides of the river were sold by the local sachems for 18 fathoms of wampu, 18 blanket-coats, 18 hatchets, 18 hoes, and 18 knives” (p. 78). Pynchon went on to allow that the Agawams should retain hunting and gathering privileges in the land, and that settlers would limit where hogs were placed in order to not interfere with the Tribe’s gathering. (Massachusetts Historical Society, 1930-1932).
Pynchon’s dealing with the Indigenous people in Massachusetts Bay were progressive indeed. He chose not to force them to sell corn at a lower cost in order to allow other colonies to prosper and did not participate in the Perquot War in order to retain good relations with Natives. He even included Agawam language in contracts and business dealings. (Powers). Whether these were just the decisions of shrewd businessman, or that he regarded the Tribes with true respect and tolerance, it was certainly an early example of his radical ideas that differed from his fellow New Englanders. It also paralleled his interest and understanding of there religions.
In addition to founding Roxbury, Springfield, and a prosperous fur trade Pynchon paid over half the taxes of the community. He retained minsters and sat over court proceedings. Notably, it is believed he proceeded over one of the first witchcraft trials of New England in 1646 which involved Mary and Hugh Parsons. Notes on this trial in his hand can be found in the New York Public Library archive collection. (Smith)
Finally, Pynchon chose to print his manuscript, one he knew would not be well-received in Puritan New England. He became the father of a long line of determined and radical thinkers who would demand their right to share ideas, stories, and art in printed form in America. When he chose to return to England, rather than denounce his work, he became representative to the many who would stand by their work despite censorship.
Pynchon went on to author:
- The Time When the First Sabbath Was Ordained : Ii. the Manner How the First Sabbath Was Ordained
- The Diary of William Pynchon
- The Meritorious Price of Mans Redemption, or, Christs Satisfaction Discussed and Explained