IN the collections of the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts, are seven volumes of the John Pynchon Account Books. Interest in them derives from the fact that they are one of the few surviving sets of business records for seventeenth-century inland trade. For many years their existence was known to only a few nineteenth-century historians. Sylvester Judd and George Sheldon incorporated material from them in their histories of Hadley and Deerfield; the late Harry A. Wright used some entries in his Story of Western Massachusetts (New York, 1949) but in a haphazard manner. Otherwise, knowledge of their contents has been limited to a few research students, and until now a complete knowledge of what they contained has not been readily available to the public.

When and how they became a part of the collections of the Springfield Library and Museums Association is conjecture. They probably were given to the City Library toward the end of the nineteenth century, but no specific information about the donor or the date of gift is found in the Association’s records. In 1927 they were part of the Local History Collection that was transferred to the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum when it opened. There they remained, though the Local History Collection was returned to the Main Library in the 1950’s.

Early in this century the Account Books were bound into seven folio volumes for the years 1654 to 1702. Because of its length Volume V was divided into two sections. Volume IV is more of a Day Book, and thus selections from it are not included in these excerpts. Indeed it may well have been part of another set of records. The hand-written numerals in the upper corner of each page had been added prior to binding. A new set of page numbers was introduced after the binding had been completed, and these are the ones that are used to identify the excerpts used in this volume.

Some of the Account Books have their own indexes at the start of the volume. They vary in form. The index for Volume V, for example, is alphabetical, beginning with the letter A and ending with T, while that for Volume VI is arranged by numbers that were added at the bottom of each page in brackets later. In these indexes are some settlers’ accounts that are included in the selections. It should be noted that some of the dates in all the volumes are not consecutive, while the years on the volume’s spine are not always accurate. For example, Volume III, according to its spine, covers the years 1664–1667, yet includes a document dated as early as 1638 and one as late as 1697. Another confusing characteristic of the Account Books is the fact that often part of one man’s account will be found under another man’s entry. Finally, there are two other Account Books which are separate from the original seven. One was kept by John Pynchon, Jr., when he acted as his father’s agent in Boston between 1669 and 1675 and is a part of the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum collection. The other was kept by William and John Pynchon for the years 1645 to 1650. Mostly in William Pynchon’s handwriting, it is part of the Judd Manuscript Collection at the Forbes Library in Northampton, Massachusetts.

The Pynchons, for several generations, were the most important family in the upper Connecticut Valley. William Pynchon (1590–1662) founded Springfield in 1636, and though he stayed in New England less than sixteen years, he was able, during that time, to lay the foundation of a profitable business. Toward the end of his career he became involved in a religious controversy, and in 1652 he returned to England, where he died ten years later. His son John Pynchon (1626–1702) remained to take charge of and to expand his father’s mercantile holdings. John Pynchon, Jr., played a minor role in colonial affairs and never attained his father’s status as a merchant. Both men made advantageous marriages: John Pynchon to Amy Willys, a member of a prominent Connecticut family; and John Pynchon, Jr., to Margaret Hubbard, the daughter of William Hubbard the historian.

In the 1950’s officials of the American Meat Institute of Chicago learned of the existence of the Account Books. Because they contained evidence of seventeenth-century meat-packing activities, a study was undertaken to determine if a complete transcription of their contents would be feasible. When the study revealed that the cost of this undertaking would be much greater than anticipated, the project was abandoned. The only thing to come out of it was a typed transcription of Volume III, amounting to over six hundred pages. Prepared by Ruth McIntyre and Juliette Tomlinson, this transcript was microfilmed and distributed to libraries and interested scholars. Since funds from other sources were not forthcoming to continue a complete transcription of all seven Account Books, it was decided that the best method by which to make the material available was to abstract a series of excerpts from the volumes and publish them with an introduction. In this way users would be able to have an idea of the variety of the material in the manuscripts. This volume, with some editorial modifications, incorporates the selections that were chosen.

The excerpts were taken from six of the seven books. Only Volume IV was omitted, because its entries were short and because it did not really belong with the other six. The largest number of selections deal with the trade in furs and with the West Indies, the latter being a unique example for the inland trade. In these excerpts are found Pynchon’s trading agreements with his agents and the amount of peltry he shipped to England. His West Indian contacts include the shipping of goods to Barbados and Jamaica, as well as his ill-fated attempt to establish a plantation on the island of Antigua. There are a number of land transactions comprising accounts of the settlement of the towns of Hadley, Northampton, Deerfield, and other valley areas, as well as rentals to individuals. The building of the Meeting House, the House of Correction, Pynchon’s own house, and various warehouses and barns gives an idea of the different types of construction in the settlements. They also spell out the dimensions and kinds of material used. Lists of goods, furnishings, and household items sold in the valley suggest that the settlers had a wider choice of things to buy than had been previously realized. The section devoted to Pynchon’s industrial ventures covers his different saw and grain mills and the lead mines at Tantiusque (Sturbridge). The Account Books contain little about Pynchon’s role as a colonial official beyond indicating how he was reimbursed for his expenses in this capacity.

The original ledgers are set up on a conventional credit and debit basis. In order to follow the balancing of individual accounts, it is usually necessary to examine credit and debit items that appear on opposite sides of pages in the original manuscript. The additions in the accounts are left as Pynchon added them, even when his totals appear to be incorrect. Throughout, every effort has been made to render transcriptions that reflect the original manuscripts exactly. We have, however, adopted a standard form for all dates and for all monetary transactions, the latter being expressed in pounds (li), shillings (s), and pence (d). When material was written and then crossed out in the original, it has been included in the printed text in brackets with an asterisk. The index at the end of the volume is of names only; when different versions of the spelling of an individual’s name occur, these variations are included after the main entry in parentheses.

To help the reader understand the text more easily, three glossaries have been prepared by Carl Bridenbaugh: (I) a list of abbreviations found in the Account Books; (2) a list of the different kinds of furs traded in by Pynchon; and (3) a list of the different kinds of fabrics traded in by Pynchon. The reader is urged to study these glossaries before starting on the text itself. The chronologies found in Volume I of The Pynchon Papers (xv–xxvi) should also be helpful in many ways. Brief introductions precede sections II to XIII of the selections; for section I on the fur trade, Ruth McIntyre’s important essay on that subject has been used as the introduction.

The editors’ intent in adding footnotes has been to identify as many as possible of the individuals whom John Pynchon dealt with. Some of the footnotes are explanations of obscure terms, puzzling parts of the text, and similar matters. The endpaper map has been drawn to show New England and New York in their geographical relation to Springfield, which is placed in the center. The frontispiece reproduces in facsimile a page from one of the Account Books so as to give some idea of the difficulty of reading the original manuscript.

It does not seem possible that this work started thirty years ago. During this time many people, too numerous to mention individually, have been interested in its progress. However, two of them should be acknowledged. The late Dr. William B. Kirkham, for many years President of the Springfield Library and Museums Association, never failed to show interest and consideration for the project that were most encouraging. Dr. Ruth McIntyre was involved in the enterprise from the beginning, and only illness prevented her from playing a more prominent role.

The editors’ purpose has been to make available to a wider audience a substantial portion of this seldom used historical source. It is hoped that these excerpts will serve as a challenge to students who wish to tackle the manuscripts themselves. The contents of the Account Books are of vast importance to anyone interested in the history of the English colonies during the last half of the seventeenth century, for sources for that period are unusually scarce. While Volume I of The Pynchon Papers contains a number of the letters of John Pynchon, that correspondence is mainly political and military in character and focuses on his career as a colonial administrator. As a complement to the first volume, Volume II provides an insight into Pynchon’s mercantile ventures, and is a mine of information about early New England, especially about the role John Pynchon played as the most prominent entrepreneur in the Connecticut Valley during the seventeenth century.



Providence, Rhode Island

Northampton, Massachusetts

June 1985