The first book banned in the New England colonies was written by William Pynchon, founder of Springfield, Massachusetts
William Pynchon was a merchant and trader, founder of the small colony of Springfield on the banks of the Connecticut River, and the author of the first book "banned in Boston."
Born in 1590 in Springfield, Essex, England, after which the new settlement was eventually named, Pynchon was an influential member of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He arrived in New England in 1630, was elected assistant and treasurer of the colony, and was instrumental in founding a new settlement at Roxbury before leading a small group of eight families to settle a plantation 'over against Agawam' in the spring of 1636. The settlement was founded, in large part, to take advantage of fur-trading opportunities along the Connecticut River.
Pynchon was not only a man of business and a magistrate. He was also a scholarly man, and a deeply religious one. In 1650, he completed a theological treatise entitled The Meritorious Price of our Redemption, Iustification, &c., in which he argued a point of Puritan doctrine that was opposed to the usual teachings of the ministers and leaders of the Bay Colony in Boston. The book was published in London by James Moxon and when it arrived in New England in the fall of that year, it ignited a firestorm.
The General Court, then as now the legislative body for Massachusetts but also possessed of judicial powers, passed a Resolution condemning the book and calling upon Pynchon to appear before it and retract his statements.
It was said at the time that the title page itself was sufficient to prove the heretical nature of the arguments expressed by Pynchon. The book was suppressed and copies of it ordered to be burned in the market place by the marshall.
A day of 'fasting and humiliation' was also proclaimed, in order for the populace to consider how Satan had prevailed among them by 'drawing away some . . . to the profession and practize of straunge opinions.' According to historian Samuel Eliot Morison, in a paper read to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1931, only four copies escaped the flames, one of which is in the collection of the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum.
In May of 1651, Pynchon appeared before the General Court to answer its charges. Oddly, this was the same session which condemned a woman named Mary Parsons to death for witchcraft. Parsons was from Springfield and Pynchon had initially heard the case but had transferred it to Boston because he was not empowered to impose a death sentence. Parsons died in prison before the sentence could be carried out.
After meeting with three clergymen appointed by the Court, Pynchon retracted some, but not all, of his statements. Because of his stature in the community, however, he was not then condemned but was sent back to Springfield in a 'hopefull way' to reconsider his views and make a full retraction. The case was continued until the next General Court, in October, 1651. One of the appointed clergy, Rev. John Norton of Ipswich, was paid the munificent sum of £20 to write a tract answering Pynchon's arguments, titled (in the style of the day), A Discussion of that Great Point in Divinity, the Suffering of Christ; and the Questions about his Righteousnesse (Active, Passive: and the Imputation thereof. Being an Answer to a Dialogue intituled The Meritorious Price of our Redemption, Iustification, &c.
William Pynchon evidently did not mean to rely on the tender mercies of his former friends in Boston. In September he transferred all his lands and property in Springfield to his son John, and sometime in 1652 he departed for England. He purchased a small estate at Wraysbury, near Windsor, where he continued to write religious tracts, including two expanded editions of The Meritorious Price, as well as pamphlets on the Jewish Synagogue, the Jewish Sabbath, and the Covenant with Adam. He died there on October 29, 1662.
His son, John Pynchon, remained at Springfield, taking on the magistracy which had been his father's, and continuing the development of the small settlement on the banks of the Connecticut River. He died in Springfield in 1702.
Barrows, Charles Henry, The history of Springfield in Massachusetts for the young: being also in some part the history of other towns and cities in the county of Hampden, Springfield, Mass.: Connecticut Valley Historical Society, 1921.
to learn more about book banning and censorship:
- ALA: Banned Books Week
- Official site from the American Library Association. Includes a listing of the Most Frequently Challenged Books.
- Banned Books On-Line
- A special exhibit of books that have been the subject of censorship or censorship attempts. Presented by The On-Line Books Page.
- Beacon for Freedom of Expression
- The Beacon for Freedom of Expression bibliographical database on freedom of expression and censorship world wide has been designed and produced by the Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression in celebration of the revival of Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the world library of humanism. Includes an online gallery of banned books and newspapers.
- The Censorship Pages
- "Information about the freedom of speech and of the press in reference to the written word. These pages provide the resources needed to explore how, and why, censorship happens not only in the United States, but all around the world." Sponsored by BooksAtoZ.
- Censorship Quotations
- A compilation of quotations about censorship and book banning from BellaOnline.
- The File Room
- Archive of book banning and censorship cases, divided by date, location, grounds for censorship, and medium. Maintained by the National Coalition Against Censorship.
- The First Amendment Handbook
- Covers the laws of libel, invasion of privacy, recording, confidential sources, prior restraint, gag orders, access to courts and places, FOIA, and copyright. From the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
- Google Book Search: Celebrate Your Freedom to Read
- Google's Book Search feature has teamed with ALA to highlight 42 classic books which have been challenged or banned.
- He who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe
- "An exhibition of books which have survived Fire, the Sword and the Censors." Catalog of a famous 1955 exhibit at the University of Kansas Library. Includes a section on Pynchon's Meritorious Price of our Redemption.
- The Jefferson Muzzles
- The annual awards, meant to draw national attention to abridgments of free speech and press and, at the same time, foster an appreciation for those tenets of the First Amendment. From the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.
- Massachusetts Library Association
- Intellectual Freedom Resources.
- Paper, Leather, Clay & Stone
- The visual and tactile aspects of the written word are explored in this exhibition from the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections at the Cornell University Library. Includes a section on "The Forbidden Word."
- Project Censored
- The mission of Project Censored is to educate people about the role of independent journalism in a democratic society and to tell "The News That Didn't Make the News" and why. Includes list of Top 25 censored media stories of the year. From a research group out of Sonoma State University.
And for more on William Pynchon:
- One Man's Search to Live on His Own Terms: William Pynchon of Springfield Plantation:
- A short essay on Springfield's founder, from the Connecticut River Homepage site.
- William Pynchon
- Brief article about Pynchon and some of his descendants from Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography (1887-1889). From Virtual American Biographies.
- William Pynchon: Genealogy
- Short essay on Pynchon family genealogy.
- How William Pynchon Blazed the Bay Path
- From Stories of the Old Bay State by Elbridge S. Brooks (1899).
- Wikipedia entry on William Pynchon
- Short bio.
For more information on the history of the City of Springfield and its founders, and on the many inventions, innovations and firsts in "The City of Firsts," visit the Springfield Library and the Local History and Genealogy Library at the Museum of Springfield History on the Quadrangle.