William Pynchon, the Indians, and the First Book Banned

(and Burned) in Boston

Puritan Era Scholarship

Who was William Pynchon?

Title page of Pynchon's book --

The Congregational Library, Boston, MA

William Pynchon (1590-1662) was the entrepreneur founder of Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1636.

Arriving in New England with the Winthrop fleet in 1630, Pynchon plunged into the import-export business, and also service as Massachusetts’ “Mr Treasurer,” 1632-34. Seeking more beaver pelts to trade in England, in 1636 he moved closer to the source of furs on the Connecticut River frontier.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Pynchon believed in treating Native peoples pragmatically, with caution and respect. Taking every possible measure to avoid escalating irritations into conflicts, he sought to understand Native cultures. For instance, his 1636 deed to Springfield included Algonquian words, names of women in the Agawam tribe’s matriarchal society, and specific rights the Indians requested.  Those features, unique at the time, became hallmarks of deeds crafted by him and his son John.

But Pynchon’s wholly unexpected book was his undoing. Though a layman without a university education, he considered himself a skilled theologian. Yet his maverick treatise on the Atonement was problematic. When copies of the book arrived during the Massachusetts legislature’s meeting, Pynchon was caught in a political bind; his book was instantly condemned. He tried to defend himself, but felt forced to retreat to England in 1652. There he wrote four more books, two of them increasingly lengthy tomes which were largely on his original theme.

My biography puts Pynchon’s life in context by covering his “before” and “after” life in England, his magistrate’s court, his plantation’s development, a witchcraft trial, Springfield’s controversial break from Connecticut, and the Springfield Church.