Trade in Springfield


Relative peace: In 1636, William Pynchon, founder of Springfield, Massachusetts, began trading with Native people in the Connecticut River Valley. In the early years of English settlement, Native people's willingness to participate in the trade, and the weak position of the English, kept a level of relative peace. By the time John Pynchon took over his father's business in 1652, Wôbanakiak including the Pocumtuck, Nonotuck, Agawam, Woronoco and Sokoki were trading large amounts of beaver furs for English cloth, tools, ready-made clothing and sundries, along with occasional guns and ammunition.

Competition and debt: Local traders brought their own furs and also acted as middlemen for their allies. Using European-style account books, the Pynchons allowed Native men and women to receive trade goods in advance of the hunt, with the expectation that accounts would be balanced at the end of the season. As beaver populations declined from over-hunting and European encroachments on wetlands, Native hunters ranged farther afield, increasing competition between Algonkian and Iroquoian groups. Inter-tribal wars restricted travel and limited access to hunting territories. The credit system that had once been mutually beneficial now entangled Native people in debts they could not repay. Documents listing territorial boundaries that may have served as collateral, were turned into deeds in order to clear delinquent accounts. Beaver debts helped the younger Pynchon acquire title to parcels of Native homelands that he then resold or rented to settlers. Increased settlement led to increased intercultural conflict.

Temporary refuge: Connecticut River valley Indians built several fortified villages near the English to take advantage of the trade and serve as storehouses. After the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) attacked their forts in 1663 and 1665, a number of Sokoki and Pocumtuck took temporary refuge at the Nonotuck and Agawam forts. Some moved north to Cowass, Missisquoi, or Odanak (St. Francis). Several Pocumtuck, including Chauk and Mettawampe signed deeds which reserved rights to continue hunting, fishing, and setting up homes on lands that were supposedly "sold" to the English.


Land deals: The French and Dutch entered the North American continent primarily to trade and expected their colonies to grow up around trading posts. The English, in contrast, sought land to establish farming communities and viewed trade as a useful by-product. Although they traded extensively with Natives, the Pynchons were mainly interested in brokering land deals to settle English towns on the Connecticut River. By English custom, securing written deeds to Indian land would put that land, and the Native peoples who lived there, under the jurisdiction of English law.

Providence: Wide-spread disease had decimated the New England Native population and disrupted inter-tribal relationships in the decades before the English arrived. Many of the early English colonists interpreted this as the work of divine Providence clearing the land for "God's chosen people." They also thought that if land was underused or used by non-Christian, "uncivilized" people, they had the right to take it. Under prevailing English laws, people could only claim ownership of land that was being cleared, plowed, planted, grazed or built upon or otherwise "improved."

"Abandoned": The English first became attuned to the richness of the Pocumtuck homeland in 1638 when the Pocumtuck sold 500 bushels of corn to the starving English living south of Hartford. Thereafter the English colonies competed with each other to buy corn from the Natives upriver. Within months after the 1665 Kanienkehaka attack on the Pocumtuck fort, Pynchon hastened to claim Pocumtuck land he perceived as abandoned. He sealed a land deal with speculators from Dedham, an English town whose residents had been displaced by the establishment of a "praying village" for Christianized Nipmucs in eastern Massachusetts. Pynchon maneuvered Wattawaluncksin, son of the Pocumtuck sunksqua Mashalisk, into court and into debt to secure one parcel of Pocumtuck land. He convinced a man named Chauk to sign a deed for another parcel, and encouraged Mettawampe, another Pocumtuck leader, to co-sign, with Shattoockquis, a deed for Quaboag territory in what is now Brookfield, MA.


Trade goods: During the early years of the fur trade, the abundance of corn and beaver gave Wôbanaki traders a distinct advantage. Natives found practical uses for European trade items, and quickly incorporated many goods into gift-giving networks. Such items, while not necessarily better than Native goods, were easy to obtain. Native women traded their corn and furs for English cloth, clothing and peas. Some Native men became highly successful traders and go-betweens, apparently elevating their personal status with the English and rebalancing leadership dynamics within their communities.

Tense relations: The Pocumtuck were part of an extensive, ancient trade network with other Wôbanakiak. The trade now included guns, powder and shot from the Dutch, French goods from the north, and English goods from Pynchon. Increasing competition and shifting alliances led to disputes over hunting rights and intensified conflicts between the Wôbanakiak and Kanienkehaka (Mohawk). When the Kanienkehaka attacked the central Pocumtuck fort in 1665, Pocumtuck people relocated, planning to return when hostilities subsided. Some moved to Nonotuck, near the English town of Northampton, where John Pynchon had set up the sachem Chickwalloppe to govern the Nonotuck. By 1675, local Indians were more than willing to throw off English rule, abandon these forts, and join in Metacom's Rebellion.

Reserving rights: While the English claimed fair purchase, no Native individual had the right to sell communal homelands. Some Natives apparently took advantage of their relationships with Pynchon to claim sole ownership and pay the debts. Even so, in "selling" the land, Chauk, like many Native people who signed deeds, reserved "Liberty of fishing for ye Indians in ye Rivers or waters & free Liberty to hunt deere or other wild creatures & to gather walnuts chestnuts and other nuts." Agreements like these reflect a sense of "joint occupancy" rather than a true "quit-claim." Because the wording of the deed clearly stipulates continued use of Pocumtuck land in traditional ways, legal ownership of the land remains in question to this day.

Captions for rollovers in the interactive scene illustrations.

Mashalisk, a female sachem who regularly trades furs and corn for coats and cloth, signs a promissory note to deliver fresh beaver during the coming hunting season.

Pynchon sometimes trades with children, like Weetanusk; the worn beaver furs she brings are the easiest to process into felt and thus more valuable to the English.

At ease in Pynchon's truckhouse, Chauk has long been a runner of trade goods and a translator for English and Wôbanaki traders.

Umpanchela can no longer pay his debts to Pynchon as the region's fur trade declines. He will soon be forced to sign deeds for parcels of his Nonotuck people's land.

John Pynchon has built upon his success as a fur trader by becoming a land speculator and magistrate; he controls the sale of Native lands to establish English settlements.

Peter Swink, an African man and former indentured servant, purchases tools and other farming provisions at Pynchon's truckhouse.

A successful sub-trader under John Pynchon, Joseph Parsons will obtain over 3,600 pounds of furs from Native hunters between 1654 and 1667.

Fresh beaver pelts are brain-tanned, strung on a circular frame, dried, and bundled with cloth before their transport to Europe to be processed into hats.

Everyday cookware for Europeans, copper kettles provide a source of precious metal for Native people who transform them into ornaments and sharp arrowheads.

Since the English have banned the sale of guns to Native people, valley Indians take their furs to Dutch traders on the Hudson River when they need guns and ammunition.

Used for decoration and ceremony among Indians for generations; wampum becomes mass-produced as colonists begin using it as a medium of exchange.

By 1660, the wool coats called justacorps are being mass-produced for the Indian trade and worn by men, women, and children.

European currency is used in combination with wampum and the bartering of trade goods throughout the colonial economy.

Umpachela wears both an English coat and a traditional shell gorget, revealing how European goods are integrated into Native lifeways rather than replacing them.

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