JOHN PYNCHON commenced his mercantile career in trade with the Indians of the upper Connecticut Valley in 1652, a traffic that dominated the economic life of western Massachusetts for almost half a century after the first English settlement. He received all of his training from his father, William Pynchon, a founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who made the fur trade his principal enterprise from 1636 to 1652, when he returned to England, where he spent the rest of his life. The fur trade reached its height in the late fifties, and though it then declined, the son’s efforts to sustain it continued for more than a decade. The commerce of New Englanders in beaver and other peltry was of prime importance to the colonial economy, and until 1676 the Connecticut Valley was one of the few important fur-trading regions.

In the following pages it will be made clear that the story buried in the ledgers kept at Springfield by John Pynchon is of great significance, for it discloses the organization of the business of fur trading at all stages, from the collecting of the skins from the natives to their final shipment to London. For about two decades after 1651 the younger Pynchon’s transactions portray vividly the ups and downs of maintaining and expanding the traffic inaugurated by his father. During these same years he engaged in several new business ventures to increase his sources of wealth.

In discussing the Pynchons’ trading activities, it is artificial to separate the work of the father and the son, particularly from an economic point of view. Both of them had to meet similar contemporary circumstances: their location in relation to the Indians, their means of transport, and the framework of colony regulations to which they had to conform were all roughly the same. William’s career is clear because his prominence as an original member of the Massachusetts Bay Company resulted in a record of his activities in other sources. Although many more of John’s records survive, his business cannot be understood without a re-examination of the earlier fur trade. It is not intended, however, to review the dealings at Springfield from the beginning to the transfer of the enterprise to John. Such narratives already exist.2 In the following accounts of each phase of the trade of the younger Pynchon, brief references will be made to his father’s experiences in order to round out the story and reveal the continuity of development, as well as the changes that John made to keep pace with altered circumstances.


When the Bay Colony was founded, it was anticipated that its beaver trade would be a valuable source of financial returns, for the Plymouth Colony’s group of “undertakers,” or projectors, was already repaying the debts incurred in establishing that settlement by means of its control of the beaver trade. A number of individual traders had also succeeded in procuring skins from the Indians that sold for a good price in London. Consequently the officials of the Massachusetts Bay Company planned to keep this trade as a monopoly for the colony as a whole, but other counsels prevailed. The planters, who at first retained half of the trade and “liberty to dispose of their part of the beavers at their own will,” soon came to control it completely. Even individual settlers were permitted to buy peltry almost immediately after their arrival; William Pynchon was probably one of them. Although there seems to have been no plan on the part of the colonial government to limit the trade unduly, it was apparent that it meant to regulate it, for the Court of Assistants shortly ordered everyone trading with the Indians to pay a tax of twelve pence per pound on all beaver skins collected.

William Pynchon, then living in Roxbury and serving as Treasurer of the colony, recorded payments of this tax between 1632 and 1634. He himself paid the largest amount, £20, for a license giving him the exclusive right to trade in his town. If one calculates on the basis of one shilling per pound, this sum represented the handling of 400 pounds of beaver, and so the Roxbury man was at this time the largest trader in Massachusetts. The next largest trader was far below him with only 44 pounds. This particular tax was replaced in 1635, but it inaugurated a system of licensing and regulation by the colony that bears directly upon the Pynchons’ enterprises.3

The next move was designed to limit the number of participants in the trade; the General Court empowered the Council to select suitable persons to whom they would farm out, for three years, all of the Indian trade in beaver and wampum and require them to pay an annual rent. The names of the farmers do not appear in the record, but it is doubtful if William Pynchon was one of them. By moving to the Connecticut Valley and settling at Springfield in the spring of 1636, he came under the jurisdiction of the River Towns.4

The Massachusetts officials hesitated to allow unauthorized trade with the natives lest such chapmen furnish them with guns, powder, and ball, the sale of which had been forbidden. It was hoped that the restrictions would prevent the Indians from acquiring the wherewithal to resist further white settlement. When Pynchon and Jonathan Mayhew, another trader, applied to the Court of Assistants for permission to employ Indians to hunt with English weapons, the General Court, clearly expressing the community’s sense of danger, levied a fine not only upon the two men but upon the Court of Assistants for ignoring the public interest. After the Pequot War of 1637 reinforced recognition of the threat of English-armed Indians, the colony took occasional steps to punish persons defying its laws forbidding the sale of guns and liquor. Even the town of Springfield passed its own ordinance prohibiting the sale or loan of powder to the Indians.5

It was probably the ineffectiveness of such measures that produced the next attempt to restore order to the beaver traffic. In 1641 Lieutenant Simon Willard and two others named by the General Court, together with men from the smaller towns, were free to trade with the aborigines—except in guns, powder, and shot—provided they paid the Treasurer one-twentieth of all fur traded. The grant was to last for three years. Pynchon was not one of those mentioned by name, but on two occasions he was ordered to pay what he owed for his privilege; the second instance was “from the time of running of the line” between Massachusetts and Connecticut in 1642 by Woodward and Saffery. This occurred after William Pynchon’s break with Hartford and return to the Bay’s jurisdiction.6

Rivalries among the English colonies and their mutual need to devise a defense against the native attacks led to the formation of the United Colonies of New England (often called the New England Confederation). The Commissioners worked out a plan in 1644 to prevent abuses in the Indian trade. In it they proposed creating a large joint-stock company to combine the capital resources of the leading merchants of the several colonies. It was their belief that it would enable them to compete more effectively with those Dutch and French traders who appeared to be draining away the furs procured from the rich interior sources. Had the plan materialized, Pynchon would doubtless have been invited to invest and perhaps to furnish agents to extend the company’s trade westward to Fort Orange. Later on he did become associated with some of the adventurers, notably William Hawthorne, who had inspired the plan.7

When this intercolonial effort collapsed, William Pynchon continued as a licensed trader under the old system. There is, however, no mention of licenses in a fragment of his accounts, nor any trace of his granting sub-licenses to agents, such as those his son issued later.8

After Pynchon paid his license fees at Boston, he was apparently entitled to exercise complete control of the fur trade within the territory assigned to him. When Connecticut granted Edward Hopkins, a rich merchant formerly of London and closely connected with the Winthrops, “the benefit and liberty of free trade at Woronoco and at any place thereabout, up the river, and all other[s] to be restrained for the term of seven years,” Massachusetts defended Pynchon’s right to continue trading in those parts by outmaneuvering the Hartford authorities in the ensuing dispute over a trading post at Woronoco (Westfield) so as to secure it for Springfield.9

By setting up trading houses to the westward, Pynchon moved into the region the Dutch claimed lay within the orbit of Fort Aurania (later Albany), the seat of their flourishing peltry business. In 1650, during the negotiations between Peter Stuyvesant and the Commissioners of the United Colonies, the Dutch governor complained about the practice of the Springfield trader. The Dutch resented the fact that the Indians on their way to Fort Aurania were forced to abide by a recent law of Massachusetts prohibiting “foreigners” from dealing with them: this measure had been passed in conformity with the policy of the New England Confederation aimed at ending the sale of weapons and ammunition to the natives by Dutch traders. On their part the Commissioners tartly replied that they fully intended to stop “the mischievous trade of powder” but had no concern “by what rules the traders at Aurania Fort or Springfield walk.” Apparently the decision as to whether or not to permit contacts between the natives and the Dutch was to be left to William Pynchon.10

When John Pynchon assumed control of his father’s affairs upon the latter’s return to England in 1652, the licenses to trade for furs must have been among the assets. Just how valuable they were is a matter of conjecture. One estimate is the much-quoted statement of 1650 by Edward Johnson, himself a fur trader, that the traders at “Springfield . . . lying upon this large navigable river, had the benefit of transporting their goods by water, and also [were] fitly situated for a beaver trade with the Indians till the merchants increased so many that it became little worth, by reason of their outbuying one another, which caused them to live upon husbandry.”11 Johnson should have known whereof he wrote, but he may have been referring not to the beaver trade at Springfield alone but to that of the River Towns in general and to Pynchon’s competitors, among whom were the Hartford men who had been interested in Woronoco.

The returns from the traffic may have been unprofitable in the opinion of one accustomed to Boston standards, but as late as 1657 John Pynchon thought it worthwhile to pay £20 for the annual license to deal in furs at Springfield and Norwottock, the second highest fee in Massachusetts. Only the Merrimack trade cost more, but as the Treasurer explained, Pynchon’s charge was less than usual because of “the present commotions among the Indians.”12 The license designated Pynchon as specially authorized to deal with the natives and stipulated that he should suppress all irregularities and not trade in liquor or firearms.13

The renting of privileges to key agents in Massachusetts continued for some years, and fragmentary evidence suggests that as long as John Pynchon was an important trader in furs, he paid an annual rent to the Treasurer of the colony. In 1658 he paid £18, a sum larger than the entire Springfield town rate. At “divers meetings” that year a government committee investigated conditions in the beaver traffic thoroughly.14 Pynchon paid his rents in kind. In 1662 he sent £15 12s. to Treasurer Richard Russell, but for 1662–1663 and 1664, the amount had fallen to £5.15

Several years later the General Court reversed its policy of unreservedly outlawing traffic with the Indians in forbidden goods. The system of prohibition had failed in Massachusetts as it had in New Netherland and other colonies. In 1667 everyone whom the Treasurer allowed to deal in peltry was also permitted to sell powder and guns to any Indians who were friendly to the English. One result of this shift in policy was that a trader had to pay a tax of 6d. per pound of powder sold and similar sums for other ammunition. The collecting of certain taxes, notably those on skins of beaver, moose, and other fur-bearing animals, was revived, and the Treasurer farmed out the task to Richard Way of Boston for three years.16 Inasmuch as payments formerly made to the Treasurer by individual traders were turned into the farm, there is no record of the dwindling fees paid by John Pynchon. Way had to seek an abatement of £100 per annum in 1671, and thereafter there is no further Treasury record connecting him with the fur trade. After King Philip’s War, 1675–1676, so little traffic with the natives existed that only insignificant payments were made to the colony for licenses.17

It is interesting to observe how the Massachusetts licensing system worked inside the area designated for John Pynchon. Within a few weeks after the passage of the measure of 1657 that tightened control over the Indian trade, he received a license giving him the sole right of trading at Springfield and Norwottock (Hadley). Very shortly he recorded the sale of trading rights to two men who had already been collecting beaver skins for him on a considerable scale in payment for trading goods. In the agreement of 24 August 1657, for £12 payable in skins, he gave Joseph Parsons, then of Northampton, the privilege of trading at Nalwottog (Hadley) and farther up the Connecticut River. He also promised to buy all of Parsons’ furs and to supply him with trading cloth at stated prices. A few days later, in Parsons’ behalf, the merchant agreed that John Webb, also of Northampton, would pay him £4 for the year; in return Parsons would supply Webb with 200 yards of cloth and other goods at a slightly higher price than Pynchon charged Parsons.18 Actually the latter paid £12 12s. 3d. in September 1658.

In succeeding years other agreements followed. For the year August 1658 to August 1659 Parsons pledged his word that he would pay £3 for the Northampton trade, but he was committed to pay only a just portion of £8 10s. more, depending upon the size of his dealings.19 Pynchon promised not to allow anyone except Edward Elmer to trade in the same area. Parsons was charged £13 for a license in 1659–1660, £4. for 1660–1661, and £2 5s. for 1662–1663. Between July 1664 and July 1668 he had to pay £3 10s. annually for the beaver trade, whereas Elmer paid £1 12s. in 1658 and £1 in 1659. Some licenses cost very little: Samuel Marshfield paid only 5s. on his beaver trade, and Zachariah Field of Northampton paid small flat sums amounting to 3d. per skin for specific quantities he acquired from the Indians in 1662 and 1663.20 David Wilton, who was a principal trader even when he lived in Windsor, paid nothing to John Pynchon for a license to trade there, but after removing to Northampton he paid about £4. annually.21

Beginning in March 1667/8 John Pynchon stressed his intention of enforcing the colony’s rules for the Indian trade. The terms of the license issued to Benjamin Waite, an early settler and recently a resident of Hatfield, specified that Waite should pledge “to shun all prohibited goods [and] not to trade in liquors.” Later that year when he learned that Richard Way had become the peltry-tax farmer, Pynchon abated half of the fee of £12 that Waite had agreed to pay him, “the trade falling into Richard Way’s hands.”22 There are gaps in Pynchon’s record of sublicensing, but it is known that Waite continued to trade after 1668, and in 1671 he compounded with Pynchon for a debt.

During Way’s period as the tax farmer, the Springfield merchant gave “liberty for trade with the Indians” to two inhabitants of the new settlement at Quabaug (Brookfield). Each man was to pay him in beaver skins or money at the rate of 6d. for each one traded, just as he must have paid Richard Way.23

After Richard Way’s contract expired, a new system apparently went into effect. John Westcarr of Hadley paid Pynchon £5 10s. for the two years ending in October 1674, but 10s. of this amount were to be subtracted “in case he have paid to Mr. Way till October 1672.” From the wording of the subsequent agreement that for £5 Westcarr should have “the whole trade with the Indians in all the benefit and profit of it from all persons in Hadley,” it seems that he gave this flat sum to Pynchon for collecting fines due from those men of Hadley who dealt with the natives. For anything above £5 collected in fines, Pynchon was to pay Westcarr one-half.24

This careful supervision of licenses in western Massachusetts was less important for what it contributed in fees to John Pynchon’s coffers than for the opportunity it gave him to control the fur trade of the region and to determine who should and who should not share in the traffic. Further advantages came from the fact that those who held licenses usually purchased their trading goods at Springfield, and also that Pynchon acquired at least a portion of the peltry that the agents collected from the tribesmen.

John Pynchon played a dual role in the enforcement of the regulations for the Indian fur trade. By making special agreements in the licenses with men of his own choice, he could control lawful participation in the traffic, and then in his capacity as local judge and, later, as magistrate for Hampshire County, he shared in the courts’ jurisdiction over violators. When cases involving men who had broken the law prohibiting the sale of liquor and firearms to Indians came before Pynchon and his associates in the local courts, the law was strictly enforced when the accused were found guilty.25

Three men who appeared in 1665 before Pynchon and two other Commissioners of the court for Springfield were accused of not observing the ban on the sale of liquor without a license. Robert Munroe, a Scot, was not only suspected of selling some bottles of strong waters to the Indians, but he compounded his offense by lying about the quantity he had brought to Springfield. Found guilty, he incurred a fine of £5 for the crime and 10s. for prevaricating. Simon Lobdell, who frequently carried Pynchon’s merchandise up the river, escaped more easily with a fine for deliberate deception; the authorities had found strong waters belonging to him hidden on shore before he could sell them. To the keepers of the tavern at Springfield, Robert Ashley and his wife, the Commissioners issued an order restraining them from selling “wine or strong waters to any Indians,” because it was “famously known how the Indians abuse themselves by excessive drinking.”

The Commissioners for Springfield and Northampton combined to hold courts alternately in those towns and extended their jurisdiction for the issuing of licenses for the sale of wine, cider, or strong liquors in both places. Such licenses implied selling only to inhabitants. This policy must have been generally observed, for the number of cases against drunken natives was relatively small. One such instance did occur in 1662 when two Indians from Pocumtuck were taken up by the watch at Springfield one night for being drunk and creating a disturbance.26

In that same year the Commissioners faced what they thought was a most serious violation of the law against trading for furs with the tribesmen.27 John Sackett had been presented to the court at Springfield in September 1661 upon suspicion of dealing in strong liquor. In the proceedings at Northampton in March 1661/2, he was fined 40s. for the offense, but additional questions had been raised. How, the magistrates asked, could a man of such small estate have in his house so large a quantity of Indian trading goods, among them trays, kettles, bear pelts, and deerskins? Sackett replied that he had bought them from the natives for corn and wampum, implying that he sold no liquor to obtain them. The court adjudged, however, that he had broken the law and stipulated full payment of the penalty of £100.28 When Sackett pleaded that the skins were acquired more than a year before, the fine was remitted, but he was sternly admonished to behave himself in the future or the present proceedings would be used against him.

During the time of John Pynchon’s active fur trading the most notorious and persistent offenders to appear before him came from the outlying towns. John Westcarr, who came to Hadley in 1665 and was licensed as a physician, entered into the forbidden trade with the Indians of the neighborhood. Westcarr acknowledged in 1667 that he had sold liquor to them and was ordered to pay £30, one-third to the informer and the rest to the county treasurer—John Pynchon in fact. Also some of the spirits seized by the court were to be sold for the benefit of the county. The stiff fine of £2 per pint was evidently some deterrent to Westcarr. He petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts for some abatement, and in 1669 the Hampshire County Court decided to take his “mean estate” into consideration and lowered the fine to £5.29

In spite of the fact that Benjamin Waite of Hatfield had received his license to trade for furs from Pynchon himself and that it specifically forbade dealing in prohibited goods, Waite was confronted by a general outcry of the natives against him and their “grievous exclaiming with their sachems.”30 Their charges, “so far as such works of darkness could be manifested,” had begun in July, and the damaging testimony of the natives during a reported lively exchange between Waite and his accusers served to furnish explicit details. He contended that he had disposed of a quarter cask to one Woodward, tavern keeper at Northampton, who agreed that he had received some liquor from Waite, but the court was not convinced that he had lawfully disposed of the 30 gallons and 1 barrel of liquor that he had brought home in the spring. Perhaps the magistrates were more than usually aware of the havoc wrought by drunken Indians, for a short time before, the Commissioners for Northampton had listened to charges of rioting against some of the natives.

The English trader hoped to discredit or intimidate the hostile tribal witnesses, but their stolid dignity proved more convincing to the court than Waite’s railing. One Indian, Wequanunko, answered Waite’s denial of forbidden sales with “Why should I an old man lie? That [which] I say is true, and says my wife knows it.” The squaw, when questioned, agreed with her man’s testimony except for the revising of the number of quarts she had seen him purchase from Waite, and the court was impressed. Testimony from other natives elicited the fact that Waite took beaver and other furs in payment for specified quantities of liquor. Stressing the testimony of Wequanunko, given in Waite’s presence, the court found him guilty of selling at least eleven or twelve quarts and fined him £44. The reasons for the judgment and for denying Waite the right to purge himself by an oath were carefully entered in the record. Among them was that a man of his small estate was “not likely to have so much to do with strong [waters] in a lawful way.” The judges were also swayed by the complaints against Waite and Westcarr, and by the fact that the “woeful drunkenness of the Indians cries aloud to use the utmost laudable means to prevent what may be of that sin among them.” When Waite appealed to the Court of Assistants, two sureties for his appearance were bound for £40 apiece.31

The case against Dr. Westcarr, heard in this same session of 1670, received similar, careful attention, with Indians attesting to their purchases of liquors from him, chiefly for peltry. One of Westcarr’s answers about his use of liquor was that he had disposed of part of it in preparing medicines. Testimony revealed that a large beaver skin was the usual payment for four to six quarts of liquor; one quart usually cost two fathoms of wampum, a price generally known among the Indians. Between July 1670, when the testimony was offered, and September, report had it that Westcarr had angrily threatened the tribesmen, even taking away the gun of one of those who had accused him—he said it was for a debt. The court fined him £40 for selling at least ten quarts of liquor, and took £40 each for the two sureties. When the appeal to Boston brought no results, the court at Northampton remitted all but £5 of the fine because of the expense he incurred in the trial. Nor did Westcarr lose the license that Pynchon had issued to him. It is likely that the physician-trader continued to sell liquor in the form of medicine, for when he appeared again in court in 1674 and 1675 to answer accusations by the Indians, the jury found him not “legally guilty.”32 At the time of his death in September 1675 an inventory of his possessions included furs and European goods valued at £50—really a very small stock for anyone actively engaged in trading with the natives.33

Sometimes enforcement of the law proved difficult, especially when the violators lived at a distance. The Springfield constable was sent by the Commissioners to chasten two traders of Hatfield who met him with such a rough reception that they were bound by the court to answer for contemptuous behavior, as well as for “illegal trading with the Indians.”34

Obviously the Massachusetts regulations under which the Pynchons conducted their business benefited them. While licensing prevailed and they were the principal licensees in westtern Massachusetts, their control of the Indian trade in this area was secure. Even if John Pynchon rented out shares of his privilege to leading traders, he profited by supplying them with trading goods and expected to receive in payment at least some of their furs. The legal restrictions upon dealing in liquor and weapons were evidently observed by Pynchon both in his official capacity as a magistrate and in his business with his agents. There is nothing in his accounts that suggests that goods suppled for the Indian trade included guns in large numbers; and the small amount of powder and shot that the subtraders bought seems to be no more than what they would want for their own use rather than for sales to the natives. The violations that came before the courts occurred during the time when the volume of the trade had begun to decline.

They were not numerous, and they took place in such towns as Hadley or Hatfield, which, though within John Pynchon’s jurisdiction, were not under his immediate purview. One concludes that much can be learned from Pynchon’s experience about the later years of regulation of Indian trade by the colony.35


The trading methods and organization by which the Pynchons managed their extensive wilderness business show that even with large amounts of capital tied up in trading goods and furs, their operations were carried on continuously and the processes completed. This involved the collection of the furs from the Indians, transportation of the pelts to a central place for packing, and, finally, shipment to their market in England. The period 1652–1664 embraces both the greatest volume and the most elaborate development of John Pynchon’s trade, with the exception of his attempt in the seventies to tap the Albany trade in a new way—a topic to be discussed separately.

Ironically enough, what is known about William Pynchon’s role in these matters can be dismissed briefly. John Pynchon’s voluminous ledgers permit intensive study of his business practices, whereas those of his father must be left mostly to conjecture. The late Samuel Eliot Morison concluded that there “is no reason to suppose that John Pynchon made any essential change in the manner of doing business before his father’s death” in 1662.36

This is not the same, however, as knowing with certainty what William Pynchon’s methods were before 1652 while he still conducted his business personally. These cannot be reconstructed in detail, but a few features do emerge. The accounts of the elder Pynchon between 1645 and 1650, neglected up to now, afford a little information even though they are but partial records. The work performed for Pynchon by individuals in Springfield, who bought small quantities of goods at retail, is the most common kind of entry; furs were rarely mentioned. Indeed, were it not for other kinds of evidence, one would be forced to conclude that he was a less active trader than his son proved to be later. This may be due in part to the fact that in these accounts William Pynchon listed what he sold and recorded less systematically what he received in payment, or that other account books, now lost but referred to, may have contained a more complete record of his peltry.

In any case there is no evidence that William Pynchon ever relied as heavily as did his son on collecting furs from such agents as Cooper and Parsons. That he was accustomed to using traders can be concluded from a canny letter of advice to John Winthrop, Jr., at about the time he established his post at Springfield. He urged employing inexperienced rather than “ould” traders who knew how to “save thenselves,” for “a trusty man that never was a trader will quickly find the way of trading and bring you the best profit.”37

It is clear that William Pynchon used Richard Everitt as a trader during Captain John Mason’s trip from Hartford up the river in 1638 to buy corn from the natives, but that Pynchon knew their language and bargaining habits and in turn was well known to them at first hand is not true. When the elder Pynchon first arrived in the Connecticut Valley, he did not understand the local Algonkian dialects and had to employ Ahaughton, a Massachusetts Indian, to interpret for him during the purchase of lands at Agawam. Within a short time he was able to conduct his own bargaining.38 His son-in-law, Henry Smith, and later his son John acted as his agents; both of them had apparently acquired the necessary knowledge of Indian ways and of the Algonkian dialect required for dealing with the natives.39 It was Smith, the second largest property-owner in Springfield, who bought more goods from William Pynchon than anyone else before 1653.40 There are no furs listed in the account of Thomas Cooper until 1652, though he did buy an Indian canoe.41 Francis Pepper was possibly an assistant to William Pynchon in the peltry trade, for not only was he supplied with an unusually large stock of goods, but he was also paid the large sum of £1 for accompanying the merchant on a journey. Goodman David Wilton of Windsor, on the other hand, later a prominent trader for John Pynchon, bought several striped coats that he probably sold to Indians, but if he traded them for beaver pelts, he did not send them to Springfield.42

Because most of the cargoes of furs had to go down the Connecticut River, William Pynchon erected a warehouse on the east bank just below the rapids known as Enfield Falls. This location (later called Warehouse Point) was so well known to the Dutch that it appeared on the Visscher map of 1650 as “Cleyne Val,” downstream from “Mr. Pinsers.”43 From this point the merchant sent off many a load intended for Boston, where his son-in-law, William Davis, apothecary and leading merchant, probably received most of them.44

Thomas Sewell, John Stebbins, Thomas Merrick, Roger Pritchard, and Hugh Parsons were all employed at different times to carry hogsheads of pelts down from Springfield to various recipients at Hartford or Boston, such as William Davis, Robert Codman, and Peter Sargent. Thomas Sewell, listed more frequently than any other freighter, used a long dugout-canoe, as did Parsons, to carry furs downstream and bring back European goods. John Trumbull, a coasting master whom the Winthrops often used, would take on goods in his sloop at Hartford and transfer them to Saybrook and on to Boston.45 When the buyers of trading goods were located at some distance, Pynchon arranged to have the merchantable beaver that he took in return delivered direct to Mr. Davis at Boston.46

In general the river served as the transport channel between the Connecticut Valley settlements and the seaports on the coast. Free passage up and down the river was the central issue in the bitter struggle with Connecticut in 1646–1647. Connecticut authorities planned to collect a tax of 20s. per hogshead of beaver going down past Saybrook. William Pynchon, as an inland trader, refused to pay anything for the maintenance of a fort at the mouth of the stream, and the authorities of the Bay Colony upheld the immunity of goods from Springfield, and the scheme was abandoned.47

It is not known how many beaver skins William Pynchon shipped to London between 1636 and 1652, but the estimate of one writer that it exceeded the quantity dispatched by his son after the latter date is doubtful.48 No proof can be adduced from the father’s accounts one way or the other. In contrast there is a mass of detail available in his son’s folio-sized business records. The first three books are particularly informative about the fur trade, and the double-entry ledger forms used set forth clearly most of his transactions.


The peltry traffic bulked large in John Pynchon’s operations, and he entered the receipts of furs in his account books under the names of the men who supplied most of them after 1652. These men were Thomas Cooper, David Wilton, and Joseph Parsons. There were other minor traders, such as John Webb, Edward Elmer, and Zachariah Field, who received regular trading goods for short periods in exchange for varying quantities of skins, and an insignificant number of pelts were collected from a few other men in payment for things they bought for their own use.

As the source of most of the furs, the operations of Cooper, Wilton, and Parsons may be analyzed first. Each man appears to have been engaged in traffic on a large scale from the time when the merchant advanced him small quantities of trading cloth and other goods. Thomas Cooper of Springfield bought his stock on 6 May 1652, the earliest on record. Wilton, perhaps in September 1652, and Parsons, at some time between 1654 and 1655, set up in business. Cooper’s purpose is stated carefully at the top of the list of his goods: “Sold him the commodities here following to be paid in beaver at current price or in good wampum some time within the year.”49

In William Pynchon’s records there is no proof that any of these three remitted furs to him; yet each one had a longstanding account.50 It is not improbable that these men had been trying to determine what method would be best suited for increasing their trade with the Indians. This could explain how Parsons’ first return of furs to John Pynchon came shortly before 14 June 1655, only three days after Parsons’ receipt of a large supply of trading cloth. His opportunity for increased trading evidently coincided with his removal that year from Springfield to Northampton.51 Wilton first lived at Windsor and opened his account of 1652 with £337 13s. 3d. still due, transferred from an earlier one in William Pynchon’s “old books.”52


Thomas Cooper’s account, the earliest and fullest, illustrates the kinds of goods used to attract the natives. The principal item exchanged for furs was cloth. A recent authority found that about half of the value of the stock of the average trader was in cloth and asserts that among the English-made goods included were shags and Manchesters.53 This is not surprising when it is recalled that as early as 1643 Roger Williams reported that Indians wore mantles of cloth and also used them when sleeping.54

If Cooper’s account with Pynchon between May 1652 and 1656 was typical, varieties of cloth took primacy in number and value of items listed. The fabric most commonly listed was called “Trading Cloth,” a woolen material; and again judging from Cooper’s records, blue was in the greatest demand: 1717 yards were blue, whereas 744 yards were red and white. Lesser amounts of other woolen materials—red serge, quince, light gray, nutmeg gray, red kersey, and scarlet broadcloth—were bought by Cooper in 1656. Large quantities of red, white, and blue shag cotton and red-napped cotton were also sold, presumably to the Indians, between 1652 and 1656. In fact the next largest sale of any item after trading cloth was 1112 yards of red shag cotton. In this period Cooper charged 7s. to 8s. a yard for trading cloth that usually came in pieces of about 40–48 yards in length. The shag cottons were cheaper, ranging from about 2s. 9d. per yard to 3s. 11d. Prices in 1656 were slightly higher than those of 1652.55

The lists for Cooper support our belief that some Indians were also wearing ready-made clothing provided by English traders. In Roger Williams’ vocabulary of Narragansett Algonkian terms appear a few items, such as coats, waistcoats, stockings, hats, and caps, which indicate the familiarity of the natives with English garments. John Pynchon himself had an account with Umpanchela of Hadley. In 1659 and 1660 he sold the sachem the following articles of apparel: coats, some red and blue shirts, breeches, and a blue waistcoat.56 These articles are also listed as a part of Cooper’s stock: 65 shirts, coats, several waistcoats, and also caps, white cotton stockings, thread, and leather laces. Worsted girdling, tapes, ribbons of several colors, and cotton and Manchester binding are listed frequently enough that one may conclude that Cooper perhaps sold them to people other than Indians. Pynchon must have doubted whether a parcel of 95 pairs of shoes would sell, because he promised to “abate for it,” if they did not, and in 1657 took back the parcel of shoes at the same price.57

The other goods most desired by the Indians can be classified as hardware. In one of the Algonkian dialects, Englishmen were at first referred to as “Knivesmen” because they used metal instead of stone tools for cutting. The natives particularly welcomed knives and blades for fashioning wampum, hatchets, and hoes.58 Their dependence upon tools and trinkets of European manufacture, which became a feature of life in New England well before King Philip’s War,59 is illustrated by Cooper’s purchases of large quantities of knives, large and small scissors, tin and brass looking glasses, brass kettles, tobacco boxes, brass tobacco pipes and tobacco tongs, mackerel hooks, needles, pins, thimbles, rings, and even Jews’ harps.60 These items, together with wooden and bone combs, made up the bulk of his stock of trading goods.

John Pynchon supplied Cooper with an initial quantity of wampum to use as money in the Indian trade in the amount of £194 4s. in white wampum and £152 2s. of the more valuable black shell currency. For a time thereafter the trader apparently used his own stock of goods to procure more wampum, though Pynchon did supply him with a large amount of it in 1656. Cooper’s agreement with the merchant stipulated that he would repay part of the cost of his trading goods in good wampum.

The dealings in wampum were connected directly with the Indian trade, because an ample supply of the shell money was needed to attract natives with skins for sale. William Pynchon had recorded numerous transactions with wampum, and a part of his early success at Agawam may be explained by the good supply he had in 1636. A prominent merchant of Hartford, William Goodwin, later paid him in wampum, as did many other men. The assembling and valuing of strings of wampum were of major importance for a trader, because the “blew” or black wampum was worth more than the white, and some wampum was inferior and unacceptable. A fathom, the length in which it was strung, varied, and its equivalent in English money or goods fluctuated according to supply and demand. Probably on more than the one occasion so clearly recorded, the Springfield merchant bargained hard over some “bad blew,” which he refused to accept at the value placed upon it by Stephen Day, who had sent it to him from the Winthrop mine at Tantiusque (Sturbridge).61

Umpanchela’s account with John Pynchon at his store in Springfield permits a comparison of the cost of goods charged to an Indian with those charged to Cooper. The price of cloth cannot be compared, because it was recorded in terms of wampum rather than yards for Umpanchela, but there were prices given for coats, waistcoats, and shirts. In 1652 a coat cost Cooper 15s.; in 1659 Umpanchela paid £1 5s. apiece for several coats. For a waistcoat, Cooper paid ys. 8d. in 1655, and the chief 12s. in 1660. Sixty-five shirts were sold to Cooper for 6s. each, but Pynchon sold one to the sachem for 10s.62 These differences may possibly be ascribed to the difference between wholesale and retail prices. Of course the quality and size of the articles may also have varied, but it seems clear that Pynchon’s prices to his agent left an ample margin for a profitable resale provided his costs for distributing the goods were not too heavy.

By 1 October 1656 Pynchon’s books revealed that the huge sum of £1000 was due from Cooper for goods supplied to him. This was the largest single sum of capital in the form of trading articles invested in a single individual at a given time. Cooper’s payments in furs will be discussed below, but it may be noted here that in July 1658 he appeared to be cutting down on his trading when he returned about £300 worth of unsold goods to the merchant.63 In February 1658/9 he agreed to take a parcel of goods that had cost £17 in England and engaged to pay for it by the following autumn to an agent in England designated by Pynchon. Whether this transaction was connected with a trip to Britain by Cooper or Pynchon is not now known, but Cooper arranged to pay the amount by January 1660/1. Early in that same year, after a dispute of some kind, Pynchon took over a large amount of wampum and some more returned trading cloth.64

Compared with the stocks of Thomas Cooper, those of David Wilton and Joseph Parsons were less varied and much smaller. The English goods that Wilton bought between 1652 and 1658, while he was living in Windsor, must have been intended for resale to his fellow settlers near that town.65 About 1660, in preparation for moving to Northampton, his purchases of Indian goods began to increase; prior to that he had taken only an occasional piece of trading cloth. Between 15 August and 7 November 1660, there was a gap in the entries of his account, and in all probability it was during that time that he moved to Northampton.66 Afterward he tapped a better source of furs by going upriver, and both his purchases and payments in peltry increased, while the variety of English articles became smaller. From late in 1660 through 1666, the substantial quantities of shag, napped cotton trading cloth, and striped colored duffels helped to swell Wilton’s debt to Pynchon to the sum of £729 3s. 11d.—the largest that he ever incurred.67

The career of Joseph Parsons of Northampton, the third of the important traders for Pynchon, has been covered in a biography; in fact large sections of his account with John Pynchon have been published. His biographer pointed out that in 1655, just after he moved from Springfield, where he had been a retail customer buying only small quantities, he acquired a stock of trading goods. During that summer he purchased his first trading cloth and made his first sizable payments in beaver skins. Parsons was most active in the Indian trade between 1656 and 1658. More than either Cooper or Wilton, he relied upon duffels, red, white, and sad deep blue, in color. He also bought small amounts of packing canvas for wrapping furs, as did the other traders. Several kinds of glasses were charged to him: some in wooden frames, book glasses, tin-box glasses (probably mirrors), boxes with burning glasses inserted, and burning glasses. On one occasion he got 48 dozen knives of assorted sizes and later 12 dozen knives with iron hafts, “gilt.”68 One piece of red shag cloth he shared with Wilton, each of them receiving his half on 6 April 1663.69 The largest sum that Parsons owed at any one time was £693 16s. 11d. on 29 June 1661, but a constant flow of furs seems to have kept his dealings with the merchant well balanced, for on that same day he was credited with paying off £567 10s. of the debt.70

In sum, it seems that the Indians of the upper Connecticut Valley had advanced well beyond the state of trading described earlier by Roger Williams, when wampum was the principal incentive for which “the Indians bring down their sorts of furs, which they take in the country both to the Indians and to the English, for this Indian money. This money the English, French, and Dutch trade to the Indians . . . for their furs.”71 After the mid-century, the quantities of wampum used by each of these traders were insignificant when compared with the value of the varied English goods available for them to purchase.

From the credit side of Pynchon’s ledgers, one may learn how the three traders repaid him for the goods (credit) he advanced. Inasmuch as they settled mainly in furs, he entered the quantities and kinds of pelts that they brought to Springfield or to one of the other Pynchon trading houses. It is possible to trace both the prices and the numerous transactions that slowly contributed to the large accumulations of furs sent on to Boston and eventually to London.


During his long apprenticeship under his father, John Pynchon had become an experienced judge of the kinds and quality of furs that would command the highest prices. In Parsons’ license, for example, he described the beaver he wanted in such terms as good, bad, spring, winter, and stag. In all of the payments in beaver that he entered, the only additional descriptions are coarse, small, old, summer, and Mohawk beaver. He listed a few beaver coats and beaver cods, which came in pairs. These bare designations are in general self-explanatory.

A more precise statement of the requirements of the trade was given to John Winthrop, Jr., in 1632 by the English merchant to whom he was to send his returns. Francis Kirby wrote: “Note that there is great difference in beaver, although it be all new skins, for some is very thick of leather and thin of wool, which is best discerned by laying your fingers on the middle or back of the skin. One pound of deep-wooled skins may be worth two pounds of thin-wooled skins. . . . Also note that the old [Indian] coats are better by a third than new skins are, partly for that they generally dress the best skins for that purpose, partly for that the leather is thinner and so consequently lighter by dressing, and partly for that the coarse hair is part worn off from the wool. . . . You may know the otter skin from the beaver partly by the fabric, for the otter is more long though the tail be off, and the wool is more short and of even hair, the glossy hair not much exceeding the wool in length, but the coarse, glossy hair of the beaver doth more overtop the wool and is more straggling and wild.” Because most of the beaver was used for making felt hats (castors or demicastors), the coat beaver, which had been worn by the tribesmen with the fur inside and therefore had become soft and supple, was as much in demand as new skins.72

The pelts listed as ready for shipment to England were already dressed, for Cooper and the others had helped to prepare them.73 Pynchon often recorded the number of skins that he took in but, more often, set down their weight, which was the deciding factor in valuing them. For his own information the merchant added the descriptive terms especially good, rich, better than the rest, and pelts scraped thin as opposed to those that were thick and heavy.74


Table 1
Prices Paid Cooper for Beaver, 1652–1658
Price Number of Pounds



9s. 6d


9s. 4d




8s. 6d














2s. 8d


These amounts are scattered through Cooper’s accounts, previously cited, in John Pynchon, Account Book. Fractions in totals which are ½ or above are counted as 1; less than ½ are not counted. Obviously, different qualities of skins are represented here.

The prices that John Pynchon set for the beaver skins brought in by his traders naturally varied, yet a certain range is discernible during the 1650s. In the agreement with Parsons in 1657, what Pynchon would pay was fixed in advance at 8s. a pound for winter beaver and 9s. a pound for spring beaver, excluding stag (prime male) and small skins. Between 1652 and 1658 Cooper brought in pelts ranging in price from a high 10s. down to 2s. 6d. per pound; the largest quantities yielded 9s. or more (see Table 1). In conformity with the agreement, and even before it was made, Parsons usually obtained 8s. or 9s., but his inferior skins produced only 4s. to 7s. 10d. The distribution of the returns and prices between 1655 and 1664 was such that there was apparently no change in price levels throughout the decade. Twice Wilton was able to get the top price of 11s. for small lots of beaver from Northampton that he took to Springfield in 1661 and 1663. A beaver coat was worth £5, but most of the pelts ran between 8s. and 10s. during 1653–1664.

No noticeable changes in the range of beaver prices appear in the accounts of the less important traders or in the scattered, small amounts of beaver brought in occasionally to Pynchon as payment for goods. Yet the price was subject to some fluctuation depending upon the market, both in Boston and in London. When he made agreements to sell goods, Pynchon often specified that his customer pay in “beaver at current price,” or “current beaver.”75

Comparisons of prices paid by the Pynchons for beaver skins with those paid elsewhere indicate that both father and son paid roughly the same as buyers in Massachusetts. For example, William Pynchon’s corn contract of 1638 with the Connecticut Colony provided that the exchange value of a beaver was to be at 9s. per pound. In 1646 he had a small number of skins credited in his accounts at the rate of 8s. The price table computed by William B. Weeden, while unsatisfactory, informs us that some beavers were worth 8s. a pound in 1640—a sharp drop from their earlier value—and 10s. as late as 1672.76

What quantities did the traders who supplied most of John Pynchon’s supplies of skins bring in to his store at Springfield? Over a long period of trading, between 1654 and 1667, Joseph Parsons turned in the largest volume, 3493 pounds of beaver. Next was Thomas Cooper, whose 3490 pounds of skins were collected over a shorter time, between 1652 and 1658. David Wilton fell well behind the other two men with only 1111 pounds, the greater part of which came in after 1660, when he moved from Windsor to Northampton.77


Nearly every year after 1652 John Pynchon added up in the back of his ledger the amount of furs packed and shipped abroad.78 The skins that had been collected he then had tied in bundles, packed into hogsheads, ready for shipping, and labeled according to their destinations in England. Just where the final cargoes were assembled for packing cannot be determined precisely, but much of the packing took place at Springfield and Hartford. Some must have been done in Boston because Pynchon mentioned that some beaver sent from New England by James Rogers was packed at Boston, probably in the warehouse of his brother-in-law William Davis.79 On another occasion he paid the freight on a hogshead of furs shipped to Boston, which shows that some hogsheads had been packed before arriving there. At Springfield in 1664, a cooper assembled hogsheads and packed pelts in them. The warehouse of Jonathan Gilbert in Hartford was used ordinarily for the storage of goods Pynchon imported from Europe, via Boston, and for provisions that he sent down from Springfield. In it also were stored hogsheads of beaver and moose skins. Pynchon once accepted pelts at Hartford in payment for goods sold to a man in Windsor, and other stores collected in this way must have been packed at Hartford.80

Although an exact record was kept of freight charges paid to canoemen for transporting barrels of wheat and peas downstream from Springfield to Hartford, entries for carrying furs are rare, considering the volume of skins shipped.81 It may have been that the highly valuable loads of furs were taken down to

Table 2
Dates of Packing and Shipping of Furs by John Pynchon and John Pynchon, Jr., 1652–1674
Year Date Packed Date Shipped


July 19


July 27


August 9


April 27


May 12

July 20


June 5


June 12

June 23


August 2



May 29


July 28


July 24


August 1


May 26


July 28

October 8


August 15



June 27



September 26


July 12


August 19


June 10


July 5


May 20


May 22

July 22

October 13


[Pynchon in England]


August 26






August 6



June 9


June 19

part in 1669


May 13



July 6


September 7


December 11




January 3


August 3

Hartford—and even to Boston—by the merchant himself. This would not have been difficult, because the packing of the skins and the shipping of them to London went on with some regularity during these years. From late in the spring to August the packing was carried out, and shipments to the British Isles from Boston, when recorded, took place in September, October, or December (see Table 2).

The contents of each hogshead once packed were carefully recorded by Pynchon. Ordinarily one held about six bundles of beaver skins and sometimes a parcel of other furs. The average weight of a hogshead containing only beaver ranged from 254 to 325 pounds.

A notation in the margin of the ledger gave the names of the captains whose cargoes included Pynchon’s goods. That they were from Boston demonstrates the Bay town’s great importance as the point of transshipment. In October 1652 Digory Carwithen, who died soon after the voyage ended, took on board the earliest of the shipments recorded.86 Pynchon’s cargoes of 1652 and 1653 were taken by James Garret. The crossing of the latter year proved to be an ill-fated one, for Garret’s ship was captured by the Dutch and John Pynchon lost six hogsheads of beaver and some moose skins. Both Pynchon and John Hull, who risked £120 worth of furs in the same vessel, made note of this incident.87 In another shipment in 1654 Pynchon divided his cargo between Garret and John Cutting. After the First Dutch War ended, he seems to have used the vessels of Netherlanders who called at Boston or else dispatched his goods to Manhattan to be “sent by the States ships” to some port in Britain.88 The skins packed in July 1656 were shipped under the care of Jonas Clarke, Master, in October of that year.89

Less is known about the vessels that carried Pynchon’s furs in the sixties. He used Captains Woodgreen and Benjamin Gillam in 1660, and lost to the Dutch some goods sent in care of Plumb in 1666.90 Captain Christopher Clark brought over from London the articles Pynchon purchased while he was there as a visitor.91

During the next decade, John Pynchon, Jr., then established in Boston as his father’s agent, must have made all the shipping arrangements. In 1671 he began by placing goods in the ship Supply, John Fairweather, Master, Blossom, under Richard Martin, and Blessing, commanded by William Greenough. These vessels in which the Pynchon furs and other goods were taken to England were also used as carriers by John Hull. In 1674 dissatisfaction on the part of the owners caused Greenough to be discharged as the master of the Blessing.92

This evidence of shipments makes clear that though John Pynchon traded to England on his own account, he either did not seek, or was unable to invest capital in, shares of ownership of ships in the transatlantic trade that linked the colony and the British Isles. Instead he hired cargo space in the holds of vessels belonging to reputable sea captains well known at Boston who made regular crossings. They were natives of the Bay town, not of the mother country, and sailed under orders from local merchants, such as Hull, who owned shares in them.


It was exceptional for a trader situated as far inland as Springfield to have direct relations with London merchants, but the account books contain valuable proofs of the connection between the sources of supply in Massachusetts and the market for furs in England. The fact that John Pynchon’s father, the founder of the business, chose to return to his homeland to live out his old age may account in part for the close tie his son had with the mother country. It made it possible for one member of the family to attend personally to details of trading that could best be settled in the metropolis of London and to make connections there, similar to those that the merchants of Boston and other seaports usually made. John Pynchon left his home in New England at least twice and crossed the Atlantic, once on a visit and again to settle William Pynchon’s estate. These and possibly other journeys afforded John Pynchon opportunities to strengthen old ties and to make new ones.

In the ten years before his death in 1662, it is evident that William Pynchon, while leaving the managing of the fur trade in his son’s capable hands, retained some financial stake in it. One writer has suggested that the elder Pynchon left New England because his business had grown sufficiently to require a “resident manager” in Britain.93 Of this there is no real evidence, however. What the Pynchons were doing was merely conducting trade through the family in the traditional medieval manner.94 A few entries in the ledgers indicate a continued interdependence of father and son. Some shipments of skins in the first year of William Pynchon’s absence were consigned “for my father” to the merchant who customarily received the Pynchon furs. Through William Davis, the English father of William’s son-in-law at Boston, William Pynchon was credited with a bundle of beaver that his son John had shipped in 1653. From the returns of the shipment of 1657, William Pynchon was to be paid £60, and the next year most of a hogshead of beaver went to him. The son kept a running account with his father, who received £11 in money in 1659—the last time he is mentioned in the peltry accounts.95

John Pynchon probably found it convenient to have his father sign certain business papers and, perhaps, to oversee the filling of his orders for English goods to be sent across to Springfield. On occasion the father could supply credit, as in 1654 when he lent John £104, an amount still unpaid at the time of his death.96 Thus did William Pynchon retain an investment with his son that, in turn, was paid off in furs or services. When William Pynchon died, a new authorization was needed to enable even Henry Smith to act in his father-in-law’s stead.97

Neither William Pynchon nor Henry Smith ever actually received or sold the skins that John Pynchon shipped to London. For these services the New Englander required a correspondent, such as a London merchant experienced in marketing pelts who, in turn, could venture trading goods in Massachusetts. Most frequently mentioned in this role was Thomas Manwaring (or Mainwaring), to whom John Pynchon shipped most of his hogsheads of beaver from 1652 to 1660. Manwaring probably handled several other New England accounts if he is the man of the same name described by John Winthrop, Jr., as a dealer “for this country” then living near Ludgate Hill.98

Each of the hogsheads sent to England was labeled “T. M.,” followed by an appropriate number, with the exception of two designated “J. Pynchon,” and a few destined for other merchants. Parts of a cargo were occasionally to be credited by Manwaring to other individuals in England, as in the cases of William Pynchon and Henry Smith.99 Sometimes John Pynchon noted that a hogshead was to be divided between Manwaring and himself. The Londoner’s account of a shipment Pynchon had made in 1658 reached him in May 1659, and he expressed satisfaction with his examination of it. The furs that John Pynchon had assigned to Manwaring evidently were returns for nearly £100 worth of “goods of Mr. Manwaring and partners which he adventured . . . into New England” as early as 1657. Pynchon charged him half of the cost of conveying a hogshead of furs from Springfield to Boston and thence to England, and itemized the several amounts for lightering, wharfage, warehouse storage, and freight up the Connecticut River for bales of goods that Manwaring had sent over.100

Another merchant who dealt extensively with the Pynchons was John Wickins, a member of the Girdlers Company of London and later its master. As a special executor of the will of William Pynchon, Wickins proved the instrument in 1662 and helped Henry Smith with Pynchon affairs. Before John, the executor, could cross to England, he had Wickins ship goods to him for the year 1663.101 The merchant was well accustomed to supplying goods for Pynchon’s Indian trade, as he stated when he offered to furnish John Winthrop, Jr., with the same kinds of “knives and awls, and fish hooks and lines, and hatchets and other things” peculiar to it.102 Winthrop had difficulty in paying Wickins for the goods, and as late as 1677 still owed £14, plus forbearance charges. Wickins begged him to pay this debt to Captain John Pynchon, asserting that the recent Great Fire of London had cost him many thousands of his estate.103

These connections notwithstanding, Pynchon repaid Wickins with only a small proportion of the furs he sent over to Manwaring. A single hogshead is all that he set down as having shipped to Wickins in 1663. On the other hand his son, John Pynchon, Jr., began to turn the old family connection to account in 1671 by consigning to Wickins a hogshead of beaver from Boston, marked “No 1 W 1.”104

Between 1657 and 1661, while his dealings were chiefly with Manwaring, several hogsheads or bundles of beaver skins were marked “N G,” which stood for Nicholas Grigson. He is mentioned along with Henry Ashurst and must have been the latter’s partner in these ventures with Pynchon. On 24 July 1657, John Pynchon wrote to explain why he had to pay such a high price for beaver pelts lest Grigson think he had “given dear for it.” Although the price in England was running rather low at the time, he had been forced to pay 9s. to 10s. a pound in order to get any and to be “punctual in returns . . . according to . . . [his] promise.” That year he had taken only £50 in goods from Grigson and asked that £60 of the total value of more than £150 in returns for his shipment be paid to his father. Some of the beaver skins supplied by James Rogers of New London and packed in Boston were shipped to Grigson in 1660.105

Another London partnership that had an account with John Pynchon was headed by a “Mr. Bridge.” He must have received some beaver through Thomas Manwaring, because what Pynchon sent to him in 1661 was marked “T M” with a “B” inserted. The remainder was directed to “B - D.” Henry Smith conferred with the Bridge partners soon after the death of William Pynchon, but they refused to release any of the Pynchon funds for goods until they received new orders from New England. In 1662 and 1663, in addition to the beaver, fox, otter, and musquash (muskrat) pelts specified for Bridge, a substantial quantity of moose skins was shipped to his group.106

During 1664, while the New England trader was himself in England, his fur business appears to have been at a standstill, for there is no record of any shipment that year. It is also probable that failure to make returns may be explained by the same situation of which John Winthrop, Jr., complained in a letter to John Wickins; he blamed the “bad time of trade” for beaver on the intertribal wars among the Indians that must have curtailed the collecting of pelts.107

When John Pynchon was in England, he purchased a bale of goods and some iron kettles worth £104 13s. Iod. from Bartholomew Collier of London. Upon their arrival at Springfield, he charged Collier £3 15s. for freight on the voyage from England to Boston and £2 12s. 6d. for what it cost to carry them to Springfield. At another time goods from this same merchant arrived by way of Barbados and were received in June 1666.108

One result of John Pynchon’s trip to England was the formation of a different set of London connections from those of the preceding decade. Captain William Mead, Edward Meriwether, and Alderman (later Sir William) Peake were thereafter the merchants to whom he sent his returns. These three men, the first of whom, along with Wickins and Bridge, had acquired part of the beaver and moose skins packed in 1665, henceforth took most of Pynchon’s dwindling shipments. Lesser consignments to John Reeve and Samuel Sedgwick were also made during this period.109

About 1669 a new turn of events radically altered the nature of John Pynchon’s dealings in England; he concluded that an inland merchant needed an agent, resident in Boston, to handle exports to England. In October and November of that year, he set up his son, John, Jr., as a merchant at Boston, and the latter began receiving small quantities of furs from his father. Although only part of the necessary evidence remains today in the account book of the younger Pynchon for 1669–1674, it does make clear that the capital for this important step was furnished by the father to the son. The size of his account with his father dwarfs all others.

On 1 November 1669 Captain John Pynchon bought from Secretary Edward Rawson some property fronting on the road to Roxbury consisting of a large dwelling-house and land, including an orchard and gardens. The purchase of a larger tract and the same house for £1050 superseded the original transaction on 26 October 1670. In the deed it was stated that John Pynchon, Jr., was to be given possession of the premises.110

The principal responsibility of John Pynchon, Jr., in the family business was to forward to London the furs shipped to Boston from Springfield and to receive the English goods imported on his father’s account. It was in this capacity that he entered in his account with the senior Pynchon items concerning three Londoners, Meriwether, Mead, and Peake.

Edward Meriwether appears to have been the least important to the merchants in Massachusetts. Some of the goods he sent over must have reached Boston in 1671–1672, when the younger Pynchon paid the freight and customs on them and took a commission for his father for handling the goods, as well as some for Captain Mead. Probably he retained a portion of the goods for himself and allowed his father an advance of about 42 percent (5d. on 12d.) in the price above their cost in England.111

Relations with Captain Mead dated back at least to 1665, when the Londoner had received at least one hogshead of beaver skins from the senior Pynchon, together with a token beaver skin for Mrs. Mead. When John Pynchon, Jr., took up his duties as an intermediary for his father, he credited his father with £199 worth of English goods sent over by Mead and with approximately £83, which represented the advance of 42%, but he also recorded sending a sum to Mead for his father’s account. He also paid the fees for shipping some hogsheads of furs, presumably to Mead.112

William Peake, a clothier, later Alderman and Lord Mayor of London, had engaged in dealings with New Englanders even before William Pynchon’s return to Britain. By 1656 he had an account with Theodore Atkinson, a feltmaker of Boston and dealer in skins, and later with John Hull, who sent moose and beaver to him and his son, John Peake, and ordered returns in cloth.113


The record of furs that John Pynchon shipped out year by year was kept at the back of his ledger. The volumes provide a fairly complete series of the quantities he sent to England on his account, which were first summed up by Sylvester Judd in 1857.114 When they are supplemented by the records of John

Table 3

Total Quantities of Beaver Shipped by John Pynchon and John Pynchon, Jr., 1652–1674


Year Hogsheads Skins Pounds







1 bundle




13 2 bundles





1 pack





3 bundles


2127 (No. 4 read: 329)







2 bundles









3 bundles





1 bundle





1 pack









Bottom of page destroyed; thus there were probably more hogsheads.


Year Hogsheads Skins Pounds


[Pynchon in England]





1 bundle

















1 bundle







221 +



1 barrel

3 packs


1 barrel









* Figures partly missing on damaged pages.

**Obtained from John Pynchon, Jr., Account Book.

***John Pynchon, Jr., recorded one hogshead sent abroad 3 January 1673–1674.

John Pynchon listed one hogshead weighing 306 pounds.

The calculations for this table were made as follows: In a final figure, ½ or more was counted as I; less than ½ was not counted. Beaver cods are omitted. In counts of skins, pieces of beaver and coats are omitted. A pack is counted as a bundle. Lesser furs are not included.

Pynchon, Jr., even though the latter lack the clarity of his father’s, they afford a valuable tabular view of the volume of the Pynchon trade in peltry between 1652 and 1674. The decade of the fifties produced the greatest volume of furs; and 1656 was the peak year. After 1657 there was a sharp decline in the shipments of beaver pelts, and only in 1662, 1663, 1667, and 1671 do quantities in excess of one thousand pounds appear (see Table 3).

These calculations present several problems. Ordinarily Pynchon noted the number of hogsheads, the number of bundles and skins, and the weight in pounds of each annual shipment. Occasionally, however, some of the categories of this information have faded or at least are missing, with the result that the set of figures is incomplete. The quantities, if totaled for the entire span of 1652–1674 (the years that Judd chose), are therefore misleading. Furthermore there were no shipments in the year 1664, and, in the decade following, both shipments and the Indian trade decline.

A better understanding of the rise and fall of the fur trade will be obtained by breaking the Pynchons’ shipments into two periods. The first was between 1652, the date when John Pynchon took over his father’s business, and 1663, the last year he recorded shipments before crossing to England to settle his father’s estate. Although these circumstances were accidental, they, in fact, coincided with the tapering-off of the New England fur trade, which was due in part to disturbed conditions among the Indians that continued into the late sixties.115 The second period is for 1664 to 1674. The omission or loss of the senior Pynchon’s records for 1671–1673 may be partly replaced by the brief notes in the accounts of his son at Boston, which are included in the table. After 1674, though an effort was still under way to continue the trade successfully, the cargoes for England were apparently not of sufficient size for John Pynchon to set down yearly shipments.


The proficiency of the Dutch as fur traders during the first half century of colonization is widely recognized. In founding New Netherland the officials of the West India Company and the colony’s government were less interested in settlement than in securing furs from the natives. This aim even governed their choice of sites for towns. Fort Aurania (Orange), the future Albany, situated well up the Great North or Hudson River, was designated as the receiving point for the peltry collected by the Iroquois. The result was that Fort Orange became the most important fur-trading post south of the Great Lakes, a fact that explains the determination of the Dutch to maintain a monopoly in which only their agents could share. The Dutch officials watched anxiously every attempt by foreign traders to deal with the Indians close to this post.116

To understand the Dutch policy it is necessary to recall the situation of the Indians living near or in the upper Hudson River Valley (see the Endpapers). When the Netherlanders first arrived, the Mohawks, one of the Five Nations, were closest to Fort Orange on the north. It was they who came to supply the rapidly increasing demand for skins, which were then available in their own well-watered beaver-producing country, during the first decades of the trade. The Dutch, however, quickly exhausted the supply of beavers in Iroquois territory; in fact one authority asserts that this had happened by 1640. Meanwhile the natives were coming to depend not only upon European cloth and hardware but more and more were seeking guns and powder that reached them despite stringent Dutch prohibition of the sale of firearms. The best sources of the beaver skins, with which the Indians paid for manufactured goods, lay inland to the north and west of Fort Orange, a region of vast waterways effectively tapped by the Huron traders who supplied the French. In 1642 the Iroquois, particularly the Mohawks, began a series of wars against the interior tribes, which were usually backed by the French. Some writers have concluded that the Five Nations were motivated largely by their desire to act as middlemen between the Dutch traders and the Indians of the interior. The Mohawks permitted no other tribes, not even the four other Iroquois, to go to Fort Orange, nor did they allow Dutch traders to venture inland to the source of the furs.117

By working with the Mohawks (French: Maquas), however, the Dutch at Fort Orange continued to obtain the much-desired heavy beaver pelts that came from the interior. The traffic was so managed as to benefit only the Mynheers and keep it away from other Europeans. By 1664 they were so eager to prevent interloping that they even secretly persuaded the company’s officials at New Amsterdam to lift their ban on the sale of guns; the traders reasoned that the prohibition had prevented them from matching the offers for pelts made by the French, English, and Swedes.118

In an attempt to monopolize another valley and waterway, the Dutch traders tried to claim the control of the Connecticut, which they named the Fresh River. The English thwarted them, however, first with fur traders and subsequently by establishing several permanent settlements from Massachusetts Bay along the river’s banks, thereby ignoring the Dutch presence at a post near Hartford. William Pynchon, in 1636 the chief dealer in furs in Massachusetts Bay, by erecting a trading post as far up the river as Springfield was regarded by the Dutch as an interloper who was encroaching on their rightful monopoly of the Indian trade in the Connecticut Valley and as far westward as the Hudson.

As William Pynchon spread his trading area toward the Hudson, the Dutch grew ever more concerned about the English competition. The patroon Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, who had great land holdings just outside of Fort Orange, warned Governor William Kieft “that the English on the Fresh River,by corresponding with the Mahicans lying about two leagues below Fort Orange, and through these in turn with the Maquas, draw everything away from us overland.” Warning that the English ventured too far up the river and too near the fort, he suggested that his holdings as a patroon be extended from the Hudson to the west bank of the Connecticut so as to hold this territory and force Mr. Pynchon to “retreat across the Fresh River.”119

Some ten years after the founding of Springfield (1636), the Directors of the Dutch West India Company wrote to Governor Peter Stuyvesant of their mistrust. They asked him to learn more about the English trading house ten leagues east of Fort Orange, which had been located on land bought from the natives. This may have been Woronoco (Westfield).120

Peter Stuyvesant stated vigorously his countrymen’s resentment at William Pynchon’s advance when he visited Hartford in 1650 to negotiate a treaty about boundaries and other matters at issue with the New Englanders. Stuyvesant accused Pynchon not only of usurping lands on the Connecticut River but also of penetrating beyond the boundaries of Dutch control. He also charged Pynchon with offering the Indians higher prices for beaver than they were receiving from the Dutch. In the opinion of the latter this was undervaluing and subverting their business.121

Stuyvesant made this complaint to the Commissioners of the United Colonies and coupled it with a protest against the recent prohibition by Massachusetts Bay of Dutch trade with the tribesmen living inside its jurisdiction. The Commissioners took no action to restrain Pynchon’s business activities. Instead, scattered evidence suggests that the English continued to make attractive offers for Mohawk furs, and the Dutch came to fear lest they lose the friendship of that nation.122 The importance that the Dutch attached to the western trading post of the Pynchons was evident when Jasper Danckaerts located it on his map of 1650 as “Mr. Pinsers handel huys [Mr. Pynchon’s trading house],” even though the entire course of the Connecticut River was depicted as lying within New Netherlands123


Only from official records is it known that by 1652 William Pynchon posed a threat to the Indian trade with the Dutch at Fort Orange. The only evidence that John Pynchon had tapped the rich sources of beaver controlled by the Mohawks lies buried in his account books. They show that he must have instructed his agents to try to procure furs from the Maquas either through their exchange with the Indians of western Massachusetts or by means no longer known. The first of a series of shipments called “Mohawk beaver” was mentioned in 1654. The younger Pynchon’s shipment of that year to Manwaring included half of a hogshead of “rich Mohawk beaver,” containing 177 skins. Another bundle of Mohawk beaver contained “several rich black skins.” This seems to have been a part of the 180 skins of Mohawk beaver weighing 238 pounds brought in that summer by Thomas Cooper, who was paid the high price of 10s. per pound for it.124 No similar transaction by Pynchon with his subtraders occurs in his accounts or in his record of shipments during the fifties. Either he did not get any Mohawk pelts in the next four years or, more likely, he ceased to note them specifically in the records kept for his own purposes. Perhaps he could recognize them by the high price he had to pay.

A move closer to the region where the Mohawk beaver could be had was clearly desirable, however. Such an objective undoubtedly prepared the Springfield merchant to cooperate with a group of Boston and Salem traders in what is usually termed “the Hawthorne venture.” John Pynchon’s participation may also be explained by the fact that after reaching a high point, the volume of his shipments of furs to England fell off remarkably in 1658. Although he had ascribed the fall to commotions among the Indians in his application to the General Court for a new trading license in 1657, the decline must have forced Pynchon to conclude that he ought to seek out some new source of supply. As abortive a scheme as “the Hawthorne venture” proved to be in fact, the plan of the Massachusetts traders to establish a post within a short distance of Albany was a daring and well-thought-out effort to cut in on the fur trade of Fort Orange.125


In 1659 some adventurers of Boston and Salem headed by Major William Hawthorne, a Salem merchant interested in seeking out new sources of furs, joined to form a company to develop an overland trade route to the upper Hudson River Valley.126 Recognizing Pynchon’s valuable experience in the Connecticut Valley, his convenient location at Springfield on the way to Fort Orange, and his knowledge of Indian affairs in western Massachusetts, the projectors included him in their partnership. They proposed to settle a small plantation about 50 miles east of the Hudson and 40 to 50 miles west of Springfield that would ostensibly raise cattle to supply the Dutch at Fort Orange. In August 1659 Captain Pynchon accompanied Major Hawthorne on an exploratory journey to Fort Orange to broach the scheme to the Dutch authorities.127

For two or three weeks before presenting the plan the two New Englanders surveyed the area near the post with great care. Pynchon probably furnished the horses for the trip, and he himself traveled and sent messengers on his horses several times to Fort “Aurania” as he called it. Alarmed, the officials at Aurania referred them to Governor Stuyvesant at Manhattan for an answer. Then the Englishmen returned to the Bay Colony to report.128

When Hawthorne reached Boston, he evidently gave the partners the impression that their plan would be rejected at New Amsterdam. Consequently they sought and obtained from the General Court and the Commissioners of the United Colonies additional unequivocal backing for the privileges they desired.129 They were granted the “right” to traffic within 15 miles of the Hudson River in commodities usually traded by the Dutch. Early in 1660 Pynchon advised John Winthrop, Jr., at Hartford that Major Hawthorne and John Richards, the Governor’s brother-in-law, were going to Manhattan to treat with the authorities there about the company’s scheme.130 Clearly Peter Stuyvesant had already divined that the real purpose of an English settlement so near Fort Orange was not to raise and sell cattle but rather to divert the Dutch beaver trade with its wampum to themselves. Therefore he refused the request, a course fully endorsed later by the West India Company at Amsterdam.131

Even though the Boston partners and John Pynchon failed to win permission for free access to the Hudson Valley and abandoned the stratagem of establishing a plantation, they went ahead with a plan to achieve their original purpose of cutting in on the beaver trade. The General Court and the Commissioners of the United Colonies authorized them to dispatch men and supplies to the area they had chosen and open trading with the natives. One condition was that at least ten men be settled there within two years.132

Whether any activity took place under this mandate in the next few years has remained obscure. The Pynchon accounts reveal that an attempt was made to build a trading house and assemble goods to trade with the Indians at a site in the hills of western Massachusetts that he called Ausatinnoag (Housatonic). Pynchon engaged Samuel Pearly in the spring of 1662 to go there with two men to look after his business and to do some carpentry for him. Some of the goods that belonged to the partners were apparently brought from Boston by water,then transferred up the Connecticut River to Higganum, (Middletown), and then stored in Pynchon’s usual place, Jonathan Gilbert’s warehouse at Hartford, before being carried westward.

The remoteness of the post and the unfriendliness of the Dutch, together with Indian troubles and intertribal wars that Pynchon mentioned in letters to Winthrop, must have hampered the effort, for in 1663 Pynchon was in charge of disposing of the stocks of cloth, wampum, rum, shot, and gunpowder intended for the Indian trade. The last three items reflect the permissive attitude toward the sale of articles formerly forbidden. In March 1663 he sold about £80 worth of these goods to Tristram Dodge of Block Island, who was to make payment to Thomas Lake, one of the partners and presumably the treasurer. At the same time Dodge bought £23 14s. 1d. worth of goods, mostly salt and cloth, which belonged to Pynchon himself; Dodge was also to pay this amount to Lake.

In turn Pynchon took off the partners’ hands nearly £100 worth of assorted goods including black and white wampum and some damaged kettles, together with some shot out of partly empty casks and moth-eaten Dutch duffels. The goods had been roughly handled during the long, jolting journey by river, canoe, and packhorse all the way from Boston to the Berkshires and back to Springfield, and then down to Hartford. Pynchon charged the company £60 for a journey to Fort Orange and his expenses, and varying sums for trips to Ausatinnoag, as well as for the “loss of time [and] disappointment” for which he compensated the carpenter. There were also freight and warehouse charges. It is not certain whether the final reckoning left the partners in debt to Pynchon to the amount of £6 or more or whether the frontier merchant owed them £17. No further record has been found of this promising undertaking, which combined Pynchon’s services and proximity to Fort Orange with Boston capital. Probably the costs and obstacles were too great when compared with the financial capacities of the projectors.133

During the time that Ausatinnoag was still in existence, a Dutchman supplied Pynchon with Mohawk beaver, and even after its abandonment he continued to pick up occasional small quantities from New York sources. He may have acquired some of them during his political activities and diplomatic missions.134

As the most prominent citizen and officeholder of Springfield, a frontier town, it was essential that John Pynchon be thoroughly acquainted with Indian affairs in the neighborhood. This meant familiarity not only with the Nipmuck and Sokoki tribes of northern and western Massachusetts but with those living nearest to him in the Valley. The Pocumtucks, a confederacy centering about Deerfield and including the Agawam at Springfield and the Mohawks of eastern New York, were the native peoples concerning whom he had to have accurate and up-to-date information, as well as an understanding of their interests and objectives. His knowledge was of great value to the political and military officials of his own and bordering colonies.

In the autumn of 1663, just before he crossed to England, Pynchon was corresponding with the Dutch authorities at Fort Orange about the activities of the Mohawks, then bitter enemies of the Pocumtucks.135 Shortly after his return from England in 1664, he was made one of the commission authorized to negotiate the surrender of New Netherland to the English. This assignment pitted him against the same inflexible Dutch functionaries who had previously stoutly opposed his father’s and his own encroachments on their own territory. There is a similar pattern observable in subsequent dealings with both Dutch and English at Albany. On the one hand the Springfield man played a political role as the chief officer in western Massachusetts, whose experience made him the natural instrument of the colony’s policy. This is best traced in the official documents. His business transactions, on the other hand, are more difficult to describe but may be pieced together from sundry items in his account books and in the records of the courts at Albany.


Certain questions must be posed concerning the new status of Albany (formerly Fort Aurania or Orange) under the English government of New York after 1664. First, did this center of the western fur trade continue to be as important as it had been? The strategic geographical location of the town made it likely that its preeminence would last as long as furs from the west were brought there. “Albany was far the best situated English town in America for this trade and it enjoyed the largest part.” This superiority hinged on the ability of the Iroquois to retain their position as middlemen between the western tribes and the English, and their preference for dealing with the latter instead of the French in Canada. One authority has held that the reason was that the English trading goods were cheaper, and furthermore that a policy of friendship with the French would permit the interior tribes peaceful access to Montreal and Quebec that would have seriously limited the advantages of the Mohawk position.136 Thus harassment of the French was in the interest of the entire Five Nations, and they would not allow the English traders to chaffer directly with the western Indians or to establish posts among them. In fact, the regulations promulgated by the English at Albany did not encourage such actions.

Prior to 1664 the Dutch officials had strictly guarded Fort Orange against the New England traders. After the surrender the policy of the new English government was a matter of prime importance both to the traders of Dutch origin still living in Albany and to their English counterparts from New York and New England. Had the authorities at Manhattan seen fit to open the fur trade to all English dealers, whether from New York or elsewhere, more Massachusetts men might have been drawn into it. However, the regulation of the traffic, which had been carried out by the Dutch Commissioners of Fort Orange, remained in the hands of the Albany magistrates after 1664. These officials tended to be Albany Dutchmen who followed the old policy of keeping participation in the fur trade a monopoly for the inhabitants of their town.137

Soon after the conquest the New Englanders endeavored to trade with Albany, but the official policy of discouragement made it difficult. In October 1670 a report from the commandant at Albany that New Englanders were exchanging corn and cattle for beaver skins reached the Governor’s Council at New York. Thereupon that body issued a proclamation prohibiting any importing overland to Albany of cattle, horses, or goods from any other colony or the exporting of any peltry without a special order from the Governor.138

John Pynchon’s role as an outside trader during this transition period eludes investigation; yet there is a temptation to speculate about his interests at Albany on the basis of the few traces left. The official policy did not seem to deter him from attempting what was forbidden trade. The Coopers, Thomas and his son Timothy, acted as Pynchon’s agents in Albany and also engaged in dealings of their own.139 Even though the elder Cooper had ceased regularly to collect furs for Pynchon, he procured a parcel of beaver from a Dutchman that he later sold to the merchant of Springfield.140 A resident of Albany, Thomas Powell, made out a bond as security for £5 and one black beaver skin. This was what remained in a transaction of £11 between Cooper and Powell.141

John Pynchon’s involvement in certain transactions at Albany made it possible for him to add to his stock of pelts without dealing directly with the Indians. Contrary to regulations, Captain William Parker, one of the Albany military with whom Pynchon was in contact regarding Indian diplomacy, sold some beaver skins to Corporal Samuel Marshall of Windsor, Connecticut. Marshall then repaid part of a debt by turning the pelts over to Pynchon.142 In further business with Parker the next year, the officer signed a bond promising to pay Pynchon the sum of £39 10s. in beaver.143 John Pynchon, Jr., collected a small sum from Parker and gave his father a long gun that had belonged to Parker.144

Even Captain John Baker, the commander of the fort at Albany beginning in 1665, bought oxen from Pynchon and corresponded with him about Indian affairs, matters that came partly within Baker’s authority.145 A parcel of beaver skins sent by Yacom Baker of Albany reached George Colton at Springfield on 21 September 1667. The following June a hogshead of beaver, mostly from Albany, was packed for shipment. John Earle of Northampton was an additional source for good Albany pelts.146 One of the Pynchon workmen, John Holtman, purchased a horse early in 1672, for which he was to pay in beaver if he should get over to Albany. He left Springfield on 3 April and returned on 16 April, but all he got was one skin worth 16s. The Pynchons seized every opportunity to acquire beaver pelts; on one occasion John Pynchon suggested that he be reimbursed in beaver for expenses incurred in the capture of some fugitive Indians wanted at Albany.147

These are random instances, by no means numerous, and they add up to a very small volume of trade. Pynchon no longer enjoyed the prosperous traffic that he once had. Does this explain why he was willing to support a new enterprise that promised to extend his business nearer to the source of furs? In a letter to his son in England, written when John Paine and other Boston merchants were making a new bid for the western fur trade, he admitted how much his traffic in peltry had declined and blamed the Indian conflicts then raging. It seems strange that he did not refer to the well-known disappearance of the beaver from western New England. Although he made arrangements for his son Joseph to draw on Mr. Wickins of London for £100 in money to pay for drugs and other equipment needed for his medical practice, John Pynchon could not afford to buy any goods from England that year. He wrote mournfully: “I have no trade as formerly.”148

The extent of John Pynchon’s participation in John Paine’s venture is questionable, but it seems to fit in with his effort to keep up some trade by selling provisions. In 1672 Paine, son of one of the investors in the earlier Hawthorne scheme, revived the attempt to approach the western fur trade by proposing to extend the western boundary of Massachusetts so as to include territory east of the Hudson River where the land bordering the Duke of York’s colony was unsettled. After journeying to Albany by way of Manhattan, Paine petitioned the General Court for and received a tract ten miles square and permission to trade freely with the Indians. Evidently he concluded that it would be best to use native and other connections already known in western Massachusetts, for the outcome of another petition in 1673 was that John Pynchon, together with Governor John Leverett, was accorded authority to regulate the affairs of the projected plantation and to admit qualified persons as settlers. The new post was to be located twenty miles from the site originally intended and was to be reached overland. Its trade, therefore, would pass along familiar trails westward from Springfield and Westfield (Woronoco).

John Pynchon’s official activities included running the southern boundary line of Massachusetts to the Hudson River, and in the spring of 1674 he wrote of his intention to do so.149 Hitherto it has not been known whether his expedition ever set out, but his records prove conclusively that it did take place. On 20 May 1674 Pynchon supplied Paine with a variety of goods needed for the Indian country: a kettle, powder, hatchets, bacon, rum, tobacco, and even some trading cloth. Part of the yard goods, a hatchet, “the kettle bruised and [with a] hole in it,” and some soiled spatterdashes (gaiters) came back to him later. Paine also bought a horse for the trip. Some of John Pynchon’s most experienced men, familiar with the country, accompanied Paine on his journey. Timothy Cooper rode part of the way “to show the beginning of the line.” Jonathan Morgan and Benjamin Dunnedge, who went the entire route, were gone for twenty days, and returned by June 1674, received 3s. and 4s. a day. Pynchon also paid Lieutenant Fyler, the taverner at Windsor, for expenses incurred by the Bostonian.150 Beyond this rather brief expedition there is no further trace of Paine’s interest in a settlement near Albany. A probable reason why no more was heard about the project before his death in 1676 was the financial insolvency of the Boston man.151


The year after John Paine’s expedition John Pynchon decided upon a new attempt to share in the fur trade at Albany. It proved to be his final effort. He sought to settle Timothy Cooper as a resident partner in that town. Cooper was the son of an experienced trader in beaver; he was familiar with the trading routes; and he had carried out many errands for the merchant. On 28 April 1675 a fresh page in Pynchon’s accounts with Cooper was headed by a partnership agreement between the two men of Springfield. They proposed to “carry on a trade together at Albany for 7 years, or more if we see cause”; and to be joint partners in the trade, with John Pynchon providing annually £300 or £400 in goods as capital, and later on £500 a year. Cooper was to send his returns to Boston. He was to be compensated for his time, pains, and expenses in managing the business at Albany with a house to live in rent free, and also by the sum of £10 at the end of the first year and £20 in succeeding years. The two partners were to share equally in profits and losses.152

At the outset Pynchon turned over to Cooper a small supply of goods, chiefly fishhooks, rings, and jewels, but unlike former arrangements, Cooper’s stock came mainly from Boston. John Usher and Peter Sargent, a leading merchant at the Bay, sold to the partners in May 1675 a parcel of goods worth £305, another parcel worth £108 in July 1675, and in May 1676 more goods shipped in barrels and pieces of duffel, amounting in all to £514. The last shipment went to Albany by water, presumably up the Hudson, inasmuch as Pynchon noted the ships in his accounts.153 In November 1675 Pynchon himself sold Cooper some hats, among them some “old fashion men’s demicastor” hats; the latter had been in his store since his last importation direct from London.

The Albany partners then began an active prosecution of the Indian trade. Cooper rented a house for which Pynchon allowed him £3 15s., and by 24 August 1675 had been admitted as a burgher of the town thereby becoming eligible to trade there.154 This was a tense summer, for King Philip’s War had begun in June. Its outbreak seems not to have affected the new venture except by curtailing overland travel. Cooper appeared before an extraordinary session of the magistrates of Albany on 17 September to request permission to ride to Springfield, a journey prohibited by Governor Sir Edmund Andros. Even though the trader claimed he had special permission from the Governor to go, he was unable to present satisfactory evidence and was turned down. Had he undertaken a trip at this time, he might have been caught in the ruthless attack of 5 October on Springfield by the local Indians in which his father, Lieutenant Thomas Cooper, was killed.155 The almost total destruction of the town by fire left John Pynchon with very heavy losses in buildings, rents, and movable property.156 This incident notwithstanding, business went on as usual, for near the end of a month of horror Pynchon sent to Cooper nearly 70 yards of blue duffels and later on allowed him the promised £10 for managing the first year of the Albany trade.157

How the Pynchon-Cooper partnership turned out financially is not known, because the returns in beaver skins are not recorded in this set of accounts. Forbearance charges set down by Pynchon over four years indicate delayed payments of at least part of Cooper’s debt. Recently the biographer of Robert Livingston has suggested that Livingston and Cooper had business dealings and that Cooper furnished goods at wholesale for Livingston to dispose of by retailing them in Albany. In October 1679 Pynchon sent his nephew, Elizer Holyoke, on “a difficult and chargeable journey” to Albany to press for payment of the debts the New Yorker owed to him. Livingston turned out to be at Manhattan, and eventually Holyoke went there to compound with him. Livingston gave Pynchon some goods in part payment, and later Holyoke, who lived in Boston, bought up the rest of the debt. One would like to know more about the Livingston-Pynchon connection.

The attempt to maintain a partnership at Albany terminated abruptly. The apparent cause of the dissolution came about when the authorities at Albany intercepted a letter from Cooper to Pynchon in which the former accused the New Yorkers of indifference about assisting in the recovery of some New Englanders captured by the Indians. The true reason, however, seems to have been the unpopularity of Yankee traders at Albany. Angered at the criticism of their government, the magistrates demanded that Cooper withdraw from Albany by 1679. This ended Pynchon’s business dealings with Albany, though his official duties often took him there for consultations about Indian affairs.158

When beaver skins became scarce, both John Pynchon and his son made infrequent purchases of raccoon, moose, and other pelts. Albeit when these are compared with their other business activities, it may be said that the great days of the New England fur trade had ended for them, and they found it absolutely essential to seek other sources of income.

Had John Pynchon been aware that the first phase of his business career was ending, he could have looked back with mixed pride and regret upon the accomplishments during his period of control of the forty-year-old family “project.” Started by William Pynchon when New England was a wilderness sustaining the primitive Indian economy, the trade in furs arrived at peak volume during the first decade after the father’s departure. Part of John Pynchon’s success before 1657 rested upon favorable historical circumstances for the trade and part upon his systematic organization.

By using several good agents who were distributed at some distance from Springfield, the merchant was enabled to ensure the collection of many more skins than he could have secured by his own efforts alone. Exercising his own prudent judgment and with advice and cooperation of associates, he managed to maintain a large investment of capital that exceeded the outlay of his father. One factor in his success was his devising and supporting the profitable, though long, trade route that began in the fur-producing back country of Massachusetts Bay, then proceeded through the river town of Springfield to the port of Boston, and thence across the broad Atlantic to its terminus in London. By reversing the route Pynchon received his stock in trade from London merchants.

The slow decline and loss of the Indian trade were due to factors beyond the control of john Pynchon. The shrinking supply of beaver, even at Albany, the obduracy of the Dutch, the Indian troubles, changes in fortune caused by political hazards, and possibly his son’s business ineptitude all contributed to the decline. Certainly one cannot attribute all the blame to Pynchon’s lack of skill as a merchant. No doubt his resorting to Boston middlemen for goods and credit reduced his own margin of profit. In spite of his efforts to get into the trade at Albany, he was unable to overcome the forces against him and was compelled to divide his time and attention among a number of other enterprises and projects. Nevertheless, throughout those final years he never ceased his search for the disappearing beaver.