Banned in Boston! William Pynchon

Iconoclast William Pynchon

William Pynchon (1590-1662), founder of Roxbury and Springfield, lay theologian, canny trader, friend to Indians, was for a time one of the wealthiest and most important men in Massachusetts. He also wrote the New World’s first banned book, The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, incensing the Puritans so greatly that they gathered every copy they could and burned them on Boston Common. They missed four. Scandalously, he argued against predestination and in favor of obedience to God as the path to salvation. Then, rather than recant or face ruin, he quietly transferred all his assets to his son and sailed back to England, where he continued to needle the Puritans by writing four more books.

Pynchon’s English birthplace of Springfield lies in County Essex, which by the 1620s had become something of a Puritan mecca: home to people who wanted to purify the Anglican church, as opposed to the separatists, or Pilgrims, who wanted to leave it. The lawyer John Winthrop, future Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony,  and the Rev. Thomas Hooker were both on the scene in Essex.

For two years, Pynchon helped plan the huge Winthrop migration, wherein 1,000 Puritans plus livestock and supplies crossed the Atlantic to Salem in a fleet of ten ships. Pynchon was a founding member and stockholder of the “Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England,” named in the 1628 charter issued by Charles I. When the fleet sailed in 1630, he and his family were on the Ambrose. They settled first in what is now Quincy, on the banks of the Neponset River.

Sadly, his wife, Ann Andrew Pynchon, was dead within three months. She left two daughters not quite in their teens. Pynchon then married the widow Frances Sanford Smith, who had arrived in 1630 with her son, Henry Smith, as part of the Dorchester Company on the Mary and John. That particular vessel and passage, by the way, wins the lottery as the most ancestor-stuffed transit in the archives. I count 27 passengers on that manifest from whom we are descended, and they represent all four of our American grandparents: Josephs, Pearson, Paige, and Vail. Most of those passengers resettled to Windsor, Connecticut. The Lyon in 1631 comes in second, with 14 ancestors also representing all four American lines. Those families mostly stayed in Roxbury, with one moving to Ipswich and one woman, the extremely exciting Elizabeth Ffownes Winthrop Feake Hallett, wandering all over New England with her various husbands and lovers. (This Vail ancestor is the subject of Anya Seton’s 1958 novel The Winthrop Woman.) No other ship to my knowledge carried all four lines of our American grandparents .

I think I’ll stop here and write part 2 tomorrow.

William Pynchon is an ancestor of John Magoun Pearson.

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