Greetings fellow historians and local history enthusiasts…welcome to the Pioneer Valley History Network’s blog. You will find postings here that range from exhibit reviews to comments about life in a small museum. This is a forum to share thoughts and ideas, collaborate on events and ask advice from our neighbors throughout the Pioneer Valley. We hope you will take the time to explore our blog and add to it with both comments and postings.
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by David M. Powers

The agreement which William Pynchon made with the Indians of “Agaam” (as it is spelled in the text) on this day, 15 July, 383 years ago – a Friday that year – was an extraordinary document for several reasons.

1. It named two women: Kewenusk and Niarum. Pynchon figured out the importance of matriarchal authority for Native peoples.

2. In addition to personal names it included eight Algonquian words, among them cotinackeesh (cultivated ground), saschiminesh (peas), and tamaham (wife), as well as place names such as Masaksicke (Long Meadow).

3. It specified rights the Indians requested to sustain their hunter-gatherer way of life. The Natives’ entitlements included hunting and fishing, harvesting their crops of nuts, corn, and peas, and receiving damages if their crops were spoiled by the settlers’ cattle.

4. It included payment in goods and wampum: coats, hoes, hatchets, knives.

Although Pynchon intended to “buy” land for his settlement from the local tribe, it remains quite unclear to what extent the Agawam people realized that they were forever alienating themselves from their lands. It seems more likely they viewed the transaction as a treaty which could be subject to later renegotiation.

The Springfield Indian deed of 1636 was written two years earlier than the surviving Roger Williams deed to Providence, Rhode Island. It became the model for all the land agreements which were crafted in the Connecticut River valley by William Pynchon and his son and successor, John. It reveals Pynchon’s developing respect for Native culture. Fellow colonists also appreciated him because of his considerable expertise, which became increasingly evident during his years of trading peacefully with the Indians. Even though his point of view was at variance with the general thinking of his fellow colonists, his advice was well-regarded and his intercultural role valued.

1641 deed to Chicopee, MA, showing signatures of John Pynchon and George Moxon, as well as marks by Native women: “Mishqua, her mark” (top line of signatures) and “Secousk, late the wife of Kenip.”

By David M. Powers

Agawam-Pynchon point 3-sm

Mouth of the Agawam (Westfield) River

The original pioneers in Springfield took a weekend in mid-May, 1636, to frame the shape of their settlement. In typical Puritan fashion they entered a covenant together, a written agreement to create a new community. Their basic constitution, composed on Saturday, May 14, listed thirteen “articles and orders.” The initial article acknowledged the bedrock requirement for any Puritan settlement:

“We intend by God’s grace as soon as we can with all convenient speed to procure some Godly and faithful minister with whom we purpose to Join in Church Covenant . . .”

Other articles exhibit a Puritan core value, the “principle of equity.” (David D. Hall, “A Reforming People”). Everyone was supposed to be treated right. Real estate taxes were to be levied proportionally, “aker for aker”; in fact all was to be done “accordinge to every ones proportion.” All recruits to Springfield would share in bearing the costs of creating it, including the price of boats which were needed for moving to the Valley, and a £6 expense for the original Agawam “House Meadow” shelter. Any trees cut for timber and left on the ground for more than 3 months would be fair game for anyone.

William Pynchon (engraving by Louis Orr, 1927)

The founders limited the new settlement to 40 families, or 50 at the most, both rich and poor. Each would have a house lot in “convenient proportion . . . for everyones quality and estate.” All would have shares in pasture, meadow, and planting lands on the west side of the river and to the north and south of the town. House lots would be laid out along a primitive Main Street. Everybody would also receive a portion of the low-lying marshlands which ran along the eastern side of this street.

After a break on Sunday, on Monday, May 16, the settlers added a rudimentary scheme for dividing property. They also decided on generous minimum sizes for homestead lots. All eight of what William Pynchon called the “first subscribers & adventurers for the plantation” signed, two by making their marks.


Read more in “Damnable Heresy: William Pynchon, the Indians, and the First Book Banned (and Burned) in Boston.


By Kathie Gow, Hatfield Historical Society
Re-blogged from:

Last Saturday I attended a behind-the-scenes tour of the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) in Worcester along with some of my Hatfield Historical Museum work associates. I’ve wanted to check the place out for years, so when I saw that History Camp was hosting this tour, I didn’t hesitate to sign up. Our tour was given by Jim Moran, AAS Director of Programs and Outreach, who answered all our questions (but sheepishly admitted he didn’t know how to turn on the lights since tours are not usually given on the weekend when AAS is closed.)

Founded in 1812 by Revolutionary War patriot and printer Isaiah Thomas, the AAS is both a learned society of 1,100 members and one of the largest independent research libraries in the country. They hold about 4 million items in Antiquarian Hall , including the first item printed in America in 1640, and, according to Jim, two-thirds of all material printed in this country before 1820! The bulk of their holdings go to 1876 (with some collections into the early 1900s), and all the pre-1820 items have been digitized. Wow.

Jim showed us the printing press on which Isaiah Thomas worked as a boy as an indentured servant, and he held aloft a facsimile of the Massachusetts Spy, a patriot newspaper published by Thomas during the Revolution.

What a fabulous place to do research, with wide empty tables, book cradles and the world of early American print at your fingertips. (I fantasized after leaving of taking an intellectual retreat this summer by renting a room across the street at WPI, and spending my days at AAS, researching local history…) I was also coveting their reading tables and miles of storage shelves (their website says 20 miles?!) – my dream for Hatfield’s Historical Museum includes smaller versions of both.

Tours similar to the one I took happen Wednesdays at 3 pm – also for FREE (though donations are encouraged). Reservations are not needed, but they require advance notice if your group is more than 10. Or, you can read and meet their requirements for doing research there, any day of the week, also for free.

Want to search the online catalog to see what might interest you? Check it out:

My quick search for Hatfield references turned up an early history of Hatfield written in the 1860s, plus some interesting notes: Justus Forward (1730-1814) taught at Hatfield Academy (on Hatfield’s Main St.), likely from 1754 to 1756. Eliza Ann (Washburn) Moen (1826-1853) wrote to her parents about boarding school life in Hatfield in the 1830s or ’40s. (Since Smith Academy wasn’t started until 1872, and Hatfield Academy operated much earlier – in the 1750s-1760s – I wonder what school it was she attended?) Then there was a Hatfield meeting of Hampshire County house joiners and cabinetmakers in March 1796, at which time they set prices for work. I must see all of these!

Here’s another blog post about our tour from a fellow participant, genealogist Beth Finch McCarthy, with more detail:

Oh, and the headline? It was one of the questions on the AAS FAQ page — as some people apparently get them mixed up with an aquarium! Too funny.

To see more photos, check out original post at:


“Conway Goes to War”

Re-blogged from:

Fans of the 31st Massachusetts Infantry should definitely consider visiting the Conway Historical Society over the coming weeks.  Sixteen members of the regiment were connected to Conway and the museum is displaying many artifacts from the 31st, including the McClellan saddle, sword, canteen, and uniform items of Gordon H. Johnson of Company C.  This is the largest known collection of 31st items, although some of them are on loan from local families.

Among the Conway soldiers was Patrick Hayes of Company A, who lost an arm at the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads. Also enlisting from Conway was our old-friend Adelbert Bailey, who outlived all the other members of the regiment. The aforementioned Gordon Johnson served nearly the entire war, enlisting in November of 1861, re-enlisting in February of 1864, and mustering out in September of 1865. His neighbor, William G. Maynard, who enlisted as a 19-year-old mechanic, deserted in 1864 at New Orleans.

Canteen of Gordon H. Johnson (on loan from the Reed family).

Canteen of Gordon H. Johnson (on loan from the Reed family).

The exhibit includes an extensive list of all the Civil War soldiers from Conway, meticulously researched by Robert Llamas of the Conway Historical Society.  The items are great, the information is helpful and the presentation is well-done; what’s not to like?

You can visit the Conway Historical Society on Sundays, 2-4 p.m. or Wednesdays, 4 – 7 p.m., through Labor Day, though there is a hope they will extend the exhibit through the Festival of the Hills, the first weekend in October. For more information, call (413) 559-1180 or (413) 626-6881.

Also, Robert Llamas will be giving a one hour talk on “Conway in the Civil War” at the Conway Historical Society on Sept. 9th at 7:30 pm. The emphasis, of course, will be on Conway’s men and events that had an impact on the town, though many broader events of the war will be discussed. This is a great opportunity to see the exhibit of the same name. All will be welcome.

“I was out in the woods chopping with Charles Nowlton and was just thinking of going home for the night, when Lieut. Geo. S. Darling came out where we were to work, seeking for recruits, and as I had been wanting to enlist, this was just the opportunity, so I took his pencil and paper upon an oak stump and made myself a soldier for three years in Co F., 31st regt.”

Thus begins the Diary of Richard F. Underwood, of Belchertown, just one of scores of newly-discovered manuscripts of Civil War diaries, letters, and personal recollections of members of the 31st Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.  Comprised mainly of troops from the four western counties of Massachusetts, the unit was known as the “Western Bay State Regiment.”  Recruits enrolled in the final months of 1861 for three years’ service, but most re-enlisted in February 1864 and served for the duration of the war.  The regiment was the first to enter New Orleans in 1862 and from then on the unit was stationed in and around Louisiana, having participated in the Red River Campaign, the Siege of Port Hudson, and saw action at Bayou Teche and Sabine Cross Roads.  Curiously, at one point, the 31st Regiment was temporarily re-outfitted as a cavalry unit.

The manuscripts were found in the archives of the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History in Springfield.  They had been collected in the early 1900s by the regimental historian with the purpose of publishing a regimental history which was never completed.  In 1929, the documents were donated by the dwindling regimental association to the Connecticut Valley Historical Society, whose collection was absorbed into the current museum. They have remained unprocessed until now.  The collection includes more than fifty manuscripts written by more than thirty individuals.  Most have been transcribed and typewritten, but none have been published before.

Private Underwood continues: “December 12, 1861. Left home in the morning early for the depot.  It came hard to leave home I can tell you.  I left Belchertown at 2 o’clock to go to Camp Seward at Pittsfield.  I got there about four in the afternoon tired out with my long ride. It was my first riding on a rail.  The 31st were encamped in the agricultural buildings on the top of a cold bleak hill.  I was homesick enough on my first night in Camp. I had to sleep on a board and only one blanket for three of us.  I caught a cold that night that never went off till I was far down in Dixie.”

Some of the documents are simply transcripts of the day-by-day diaries kept by the soldiers at the time.  Most, like the Underwood transcript, appear to be edited reminiscences based on actual diary entries.  Others are personal recollections written retrospectively.  There are also collections of letters written during and after the war.  All combined, they draw a vivid and insightful picture of Civil War camp life in and around Louisiana from 1862 through 1865.

In addition to the Underwood diary, there is a transcript of the recollections of Mrs. Sarah Darling, wife of Captain George Sumner Darling.  In it, she recalls the time her husband was captured by the enemy and exchanged for a Rebel officer being held prisoner in New Orleans.  Captain Darling and she were residing on the Deslond Plantation when Rebel troops appeared and captured her husband as he returned from New Orleans.  The prisoner requested a chance to say goodbye to his wife, which the Confederate officer, Capt. Poche, granted.

“I was waiting. Pretty soon I heard Mr. Darling’s step on the stairs and he says, ‘I am a prisoner, Sarah’ and I says, ‘I expected it, they have been up to the house.’  Behind him was the Captain and he says, ‘Good evening, Madam Darling.’ I invited him to come in, and he came in and looked all around and then looked at me…I didn’t say one word to Capt. Poche, but I made up a face at him — I turned up my nose at him.”

Mrs. Darling’s recollections were recorded after the war, in 1905 — probably from an interview — after her husband had passed away. She continued:

“They had not been long gone before somebody came pounding on my door and I says, ‘Who is that?’ and he says, ‘Lieut. So-and-So from camp. Open the door.’ and I said I shan’t open the door. And he says, ‘If you don’t open the door, I will break it down’ and I said, ‘If you break down my door, I will shoot you. I have got a gun, here,’ and he didn’t dare break my door down.”

The entire collection of manuscripts from the 31st Massachusetts Infantry Regiment is available for inspection at the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, just off the Quadrangle in Springfield.

Submitted by Barbara Pelissier, Westhampton

The Friends of the Westhampton Public Library hosted an afternoon of interactive history this past spring.   They dusted off some of the museum’s items and put them in the hands of several teenagers with the request to research their use and demonstrate them to the public.  As a result, many everyday tools and activities of our predecessors were demonstrated both inside and outside the library building.   As an added enticement to encourage hands-on participation, guests who had their “Passport to the 1800s” stamped were eligible to win a door prize at the end of the afternoon. The teenagers learned their crafts over the course of the previous week, often using their own parents and siblings as guinea pigs.  By the day of the event, they were all quite adept at demonstrating them and were enthusiastic in their interactions with visitors of all ages. In just two hours, on a rainy afternoon, over sixty visitors arrived, with 40 choosing to actively participate and complete their passport!  There were plenty of door prizes for both adults and children at the end. The parents of the participating teens were very proud of how successfully their kids had mastered and presented their activity or craft, and the adult demonstrators were surprised at the amount of interest and positive feedback they received about the activities that they presented.  There have been many calls for a repeat of the program, and we’re already in the planning stages for 2014. I would encourage all towns to dust off their museum relics and bring them to life again!  We did all of this with very little money, two months of planning by a committee of three, and some local volunteers who were happy to set up the tent and move some furniture around.  Most importantly, we created some lasting memories for many children and their families who had a fun participating and learning together about daily activities in the 1800s.

Westhampton Passport to History