HOW WILLIAM PYNCHON BLAZED THE BAY PATH.
About the time that William Bradford was a small
boy at his English home in Austerfleld, while John Winthrop
was a small boy at his English home in Groton, there was another small
boy in a big manor house in the pleasant hamlet of Springfield in the
county of Essex, forty miles or so from London. His name was
William Pynchon, and he was destined to play a
part with those other boys, when they had all grown to manhood, in the
making of Massachusetts.
William Pynchon’s family were people of
consequence in that section of England. The boy was well educated, for
the times; he was sent to college at Cambridge, and later became an
enterprising business man who liked to interest himself in great
Such an enterprise, he believed, was to be found in
the colonization scheme of the Massachusetts Bay Company, and as he
was one of those who stood out sturdily against the selfishness of
obstinate King Charles, he joined himself to the Puritan party,
although he himself was a warden
of the established church of England.
He became interested in Governor
and came across the sea with that
excellent man in one of the four ships that led the exodus to Massa
chusetts Bay. He was one of the men to whom the king
granted the charter for colonization and governing; and when the
Massachusetts Bay people were settled in their new home in and about
Boston, William Pynchon built his house in Roxbury, and, because of his
integrity and business ability, was made treasurer of the colony.
But the men of the Massachusetts Bay colony were not
all such great-hearted men as John Winthrop. Some of them were hard and
stern, like Dudley, who succeeded Winthrop as governor, or bigoted but
brave, like Endicott who cut the cross from the flag of England, because
he considered it a "symbol of idolatry." These men, and others
like them, wished to have things in their church so peculiarly their own
way that they made it very
uncomfortable for those who disagreed with them.
William Pynchon differed from them, both as to method
and manner. Things did not exactly suit him, and as he looked off toward
the forest-fringed Milton hills or toward the distant Wachusett ridges,
he thought of the freer life in the west, beyond those hilly barriers,
and longed to try it, if others would join with him.
In his trade with the Indians for beaver skins and
furs, he had learned of the fair and fertile lands that lay along the
broad Connecticut River, and he felt that opportunities for successful
business and for more agreeable home life were to be found in those wide
green valleys through which the great river ran southward to Long Island
So one day in the year 1635 he set out with two
Indian traders on a sort of prospecting tour, and was so well pleased
with what he saw in the Connecticut valley
that when he returned to Boston he prevailed upon the
company to grant him leave to lead a new colony into the western lands.
By that time the Bay colony had grown considerably.
New people kept coming across the sea to join it, and an increasing
number of settlements dotted the curving shore of the big bay, or ran
just a few miles inland.
William Pynchon’s scheme was considered a most
daring one, for nobody knew just what were the risks and dangers of the
"far west" along the unknown Connecticut. The company did not
like the idea of weakening their own holdings by new ventures, but they
finally gave William Pynchon "permission to withdraw;" and in
the spring of 1636 he set out, with his own family and other Roxbury
people, to follow the Indian trail, and blaze a path through the
wilderness to the desired lands along the Connecticut River.
The trail led southwesterly, through where are now
the towns of Framingham and Hopkinton and Grafton, to Woodstock, across
the Connecticut line; then, turning, it ran northwesterly to where
to-day Springfield sits upon the banks of the fast-flowing Connecticut.
Governor Winthrop had just launched and fitted from
the stocks on his big "Ten Hill Farm," in the present city of
Somerville, on the Mystic, the first ship ever built in New England. He
called it the Blessing of the Bay, and the Blessing’s earliest
voyage was to sail with the household goods of William Pynchon’s
colonists around Cape Cod into Long Island Sound, and up the Connecticut
to the settling point at the mouth of the Agawam.
But the colonists themselves went by the Bay Path,— that Indian
trail through the Massachusetts forests which William Pynchon blazed out
for them and for civilization. It was a bold and
hazardous thing to do. The way was long; it was beset with dangers and
perils, the unknown ones seeming the worst of all.
But William Pynchon was a brave-hearted man. Day by day he led the
way along the winding path from the
bay, with that sturdy determination that marks the
Englishman, and that unfaltering faith in God’s direction that
inspired the Puritan.
Day by day that little band of a dozen families
followed their wise, strong, hopeful leader. The old people or the
invalids rode in the horse litter; the rest went on foot or on
horseback. Their droves of swine and cattle were driven on before them.
And so, with confidence in their leader and hope in the future, they
pushed their way through the wilderness in the
changeful days of a New England May, seeking their new horn e.
We catch a glimpse of those pioneers of Massachusetts
civilization as we read their story. Preceded by an armed outpost, who
cleared the path and kept a watchful eye for the dreaded beasts of the
forest and still more dreaded Indians, they were a picturesque cavalcade
in sober Puritan tints,—the green-jerkined guides and fighting men,
the primly dressed, hooded women, the demure but wondering children, and
the tall, grave figure of the indomitable leader in his long great
boots, allowed only to those worth a thousand dollars or over.
He cared for his people well. Escaping all dangers,
meeting the Indians in friendly fashion, without loss of life or
property by attack or raid, the pioneers followed the Woodstock trail,
and then, turning, struck through the forest to the northwest, and on
the 14th of May, 1636, reached their destination after eighteen days of
travel. There they found shelter in the big log hut which had been built
to receive them on the "house meadow,"
near the mouth of the Agawam, just below the present
city of Springfield.
Home-building soon began. A church was established,
planting grounds and house lots were apportioned, lands were bought from
the Indian owners, and the home life of the settlement began.
William Pynchon was a wise director. He was judge in
disputes, adviser in worry or trouble, officiating minister until one
could be secured and settled, farmer, ~.
builder, boatman, hunter, magistrate, and business
man, —for he kept in view his main purpose, to
carry on a far-reaching and profitable trade with the Indians.
His dealings with these "Sons of the
forest" were just and wise. He was faithful
to his promises, a true friend and good neighbor,
and the safety of the settlement was largely due to his honorable and
upright conduct toward the red owners of the soil.
Other families soon joined his settlement at the
mouth of the Agawam. To the little hamlet was at last given the name of
William Pynchon’s boyhood home in the English county of Essex, for it
was called Springfield.
This was the beginning of English life in central and
western Massachusetts.’ Other settlements sprang up, and
Hadley and Westfield and Deerfield. The Bay Path, shortened into a more
direct route between the Connecticut and Boston,
became the regular highway for western travel, dotted with scattered
ham1ets, until at last the whole Connecticut valley was brought into
touch with the Bay, and finally joined to it in
But William Pynchon, as is often the case with pro..
motors and organizers of great enterprises, came at
last into disfavor with those whom he had favored. He would not
subscribe to certain forms and doctrines laid down by the strict
Puritans of Boston; he even wrote a book which they deemed wrong and
harmful in its religious teachings, and they took the brave treasurer of
the colony so sternly to task that at last, disheartened and
discouraged, he turned his back on his forest home, and returned to
England, never again to see the growing and prospering colony which his
ability had organized, his wisdom planted, and his courage protected.
Certain of his descendants, however, notably his
eldest son, remained with the colony, growing with its growth, so that
in Springfield and the region roundabout the name of Pynchon—which
Hawthorne, too, has immortalized—is remembered and honored as that of
the founder and first developer of that fertile and prosperous section
of Massachusetts along the Bay Path, from Worcester to the Berkshires.