Day By Day in a Colonial Town


For years William Pynchon paid over half the taxes of Springfield and ruled his growing settlement with the aid of a “cabinet” consisting of his son and two sons-in-law. Eventually he had the temerity to write a theological treatise that was denounced by the clergy and publicly burned in Boston, whereupon he returned in 1652 to England, leaving his wilderness empire to his son, twenty-six-year-old John.

His son, the land speculator

JOHN PYNCHON CONTINUED and extended the fur monopoly, establishing additional posts in the Connecticut and Housatonic valleys and building up extensive interests in the West Indies, where he traded with his own fleet of ships. In addition to his trading enterprises, he was an early and successful real estate operator. As settlers pushed into the fertile valley, he would buy tracts of land from the Indian sachems who were supplying him with furs, giving them credit at his trading posts to the extent of the price agreed upon, and sell the land to the colonists at the same price, having made his profit on the goods which the Indians took in payment.

One example of John Pynchon’s land operations—his purchase of what is now the town of Hadley—has already been mentioned. Another was his purchase of additional land for Hadley on the west side of the river—what is now the town of Hatfield. For this land he paid the sachem Umpanchala three hundred fathoms of wampum, charging the settlers an equivalent amount, which he computed at seventy-five English pounds. His account books show that Umpanchala took up the full amount of his credit in trade within one year, buying no fewer than fifteen coats for an average of five fathoms of wampum each; two pairs of breeches and a waistcoat for four fathoms and nine “hands"; a gun for six fathoms and five hands; also 134 fathoms of wampum and various miscellaneous articles, leaving a credit of two fathoms of wampum, which was canceled by the entry “For your being drunk"—evidently, says Judd, a fine that Pynchon, as magistrate, had imposed upon him.


John Pynchon’s account books were kept in fathoms and hands of wampum. (Fathoms he wrote fadams. He computed ten hands of wampum as equal to a fathom of six feet, making his hands a little over seven inches instead of the usual four. The white wampum he valued at five shillings (in 1660) a fathom. At his death in 1702 he was worth about five thousand pounds, a vast estate for that place and time.

Wolves, wildcats, and Indians

AMICABLE THOUGH the relations were between Indians and whites in the Connecticut Valley during the first quarter-century, the abyss that separated the two civilizations was too wide to be permanently bridged. In 1675 years of peace were shattered by King Philip’s War when Indian treacheries and torturings led to reprisals. Perhaps the most chilling example is a terse note scribbled on the margin of a letter in which the captain of a troop of soldiers in Springfield forwarded to the governor in Boston information that had been extorted from a captured squaw. The note reads, “This aforesaid Indian was ordered to be tourne to peeces by dogs, and she was so dealt with.”

From the beginning the Great and General Court set bounties on wolves, wildcats, and other predators. During the long terror of the French and Indian Wars in the first half of the eighteenth century, the largest bounty of all was set on Indians. Ten pounds was paid for each Indian scalp taken by a soldier or one hundred pounds if taken by a volunteer; later the amount was raised to forty pounds to soldiers and three hundred to volunteers for Indian braves and twenty pounds for squaws or children under twelve. Men of the Connecticut Valley ventured into the wilderness on scalping parties, and Judd reports that the accounts of the treasurer for Hampshire County during 1757 and 1758 show that he paid bounties of fifteen hundred pounds for five scalps.