John Pynchon

The prime mover in the beginning of Quaboag Plantation.

Springfield originally known as Agawam, was the fourth and northernmost English settlement on the Connecticut River. The town was established in 1636 by a small company from Roxbury. The Springfield settlement was initially a commercial enterprise of William Pynchon, a patentee of the Massachusetts Bay Company and a devout Puritan. Pynchon was a country gentleman from the parish of Springfield in County Essex and an associate of Massachusetts governor John Winthrop. He came to the Massachusetts Bay with Winthrop in 1630, and settled at Roxbury. Pynchon was treasurer of the colony between 1632 and 1634 and was active in the fur trade in the new England coastal region. He soon became one of the most prominent men in the colony. He dominated most of the town’s enterprises and the town government. Moreover, the General Court of Massachusetts appointed William Pynchon magistrate of Agawam with extraordinary legal powers. Until the erection of a county government in 1662, Springfield remained governed first by William Pynchon and then by his son John, after William’s return to England in 1651.

To call the determined band of settlers at Quaboag Pynchons Planters, in a possessive sense, would be no exaggeration. The broad influence wielded by John Pynchon over the lives and liberties of the colonists is part of the drama. Interwoven in their story are his roles as landlord, merchant, judge, counselor, banker, military commander, representative in the Colony Legislature, and tax collector to name a few.

But what of this man John Pynchon? Who was he and why should he have been so interested in Quaboag Plantation? John Pynchon was the eldest son of William Pynchon, one of the founders of Springfield, who, in 1636, had settled along the Connecticut River for the primary purpose of establishing facilities for fur trading with the Indians. William Pynchon was a shred businessman and lost no time in entrenching himself firmly in vital areas along the river–much to the advantage of his own personal fortune. He was also instrument in setting the stage for rapid colonization in this area. The natural easy traffic artery provided by the Connecticut River was a prime factor in the success of his ventures.

William Pynchon returned to England in the spring of 1652. This was the turning point in the career of son John Pynchon. He immediately assumed control of the business and estates of his father in the Springfield area and remained in firm command until his death at the age of 76, on January 17, 1702/3.

The primary sources of information relative to John Pynchon are found in the records he kept of his business and judicial dealings, and in his correspondence. His account books and the court records of Hampshire County, meticulously kept, are outstanding records of life in Western Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century. They provide us with insight into the personal dealings and problems of individuals, as well as an excellent factual account of Judicial procedure and customs of trade of the period.

The account books date from 1651 to 1710, the last few years’ entries having been made by John Pynchon Jr. They contain many pages of transactions between the merchant prince of Springfield and the people in the satellite plantations, and of particular interest to us, with the people of Quaboag. There are itemized accounts of day-to-day purchases of household items, farming implements, construction tools and materials such as nails, axes, etc., most of this bartered for with Indian corn, furs and labor. There are also agreements for lease of land and performance of services between John Pynchon and others. The court records contain many entries, good and bad, concerning Quaboag people, by which we gain some knowledge of the customs and prohibitions of the time. That Mr. Pynchon had more than passing acquaintance with the area prior to the settling of Quaboag Plantation is apparent by the entries in his account book dated November 9, 1658.

All of this general knowledge of conditions in the western part of the Colony placed him in a superior position as an advisor and councilor to his neighbors, near and far. It was easy for this giant of the commercial world to spread his influence so as to accomplish whatever he set out to do. The fact that he was to eventually subsidize the new plantation by putting up the entire purchase price for the land rights from the Indians, is strongly suggestive that he was the prime mover in the beginnings of Quaboag Plantation. John Pynchon bought the land outright and later sold to the planters at a good profit.

Source: Vital Records of Springfield, MA., from the introduction to Volume I & Quaboag Plantation Alias Brookefield, by Dr. Louis Roy

Copyright 2001 West Brookfield Historical Commission Last modified: February 02, 2010