1644…'Ye Long Meadowe' Has Its Beginnings

A note from Bob: As is so often the case in writing about old matters of historic interest, one question answered generates a few more to be looked into. So it was with the “Johnny Appleseed House”. While looking into its past, I wandered into areas that are absolutely fascinating, even with the passing of several centuries. Consequently, I have decided to present, in installment form, a cursory glance at the history of Longmeadow. Not written by either scholar or historian, these installments will be meant for general readership and, as such, will not be pedantic treatises; for those have already been written and written again. Mine will be just simple extractions and distillations with the aim of adding the depth of awareness that only the telling of these tales can do. So, with that being said, I invite you to join my entrancing excursion. We will start down by the river.

Once upon a time, there was a rather nondescript area used as common pastureland that extended southward about four miles from Pecowsic Brook [which entered the Connecticut River near what is now the Barney mausoleum, now buried somewhere under Rte. 91] to the “Enfield Bounds”. It had been purchased by William Pynchon from the local Indians in 1644 for “4 fathoms of wampum, 4 coates, 4 hatchets, 4 howes, and 4 knives”. In addition, the Indians were allowed to “have and enjoy all the ground which is now planted, and liberty to take fish and deer, ground-nuts, walnuts, acorns and peas, and also if any cattle spoil their corn to pay as it is worth”. At that time, the tract only included the flat pastureland, and not any of the wooded hillsides to the east. First to populate the area were the families of John Keep, Quartermaster George Colton, and Benjamin Cooley. Tradition says there was a fourth man, a Bliss or a Burt. Soon a number of other families joined them, and the new colony enjoyed a peaceful quiet life for the next thirty years….but the remainder of the 17th century would be disrupted by two major catastrophes.

On October 5, 1675, “at dead of night,” a messenger from Windsor came speeding on horseback along the River Road to warn the people of Springfield of the beginning of King Philip’s War. Indeed, the next day, there was a “meditated” attack from Long Hill by the Indians, and our settlers heard “the war whoop and saw the smoke of Springfield”. Our settlers fortified themselves and hunkered down through the winter until the following March. Back then, settlers worshipped at the First Church in Springfield, at what is now Court Square. On a Sunday in that March of 1676, a company of eighteen set out for the four-mile journey to church. When they had reached the area of Pecowsic Brook, they were descended upon by Indians, who swooped down on them from Long Hill. John Keep, his wife and son, were killed or mortally wounded. In the wake of this attack, four orphans, one being a son, Samuel, were left in the care of relatives and neighbors. Throughout the settlement, the terror threat level immediately went from orange to red. Suddenly, “every boy over fifteen was a soldier, and there was a training day every month”. Their peaceful life had come to an end, and yet another disaster awaited our colonists.

In December 1695, “a mighty flood” devastated the lives of our riverside colonists. There evidently had been other floods, but none of this magnitude. The inhabitants were forced to take refuge either in Springfield, or on the hill that bounded them immediately on the east. Realizing the recurrent nature of the threat of flooding, the colony decided that life would be sweeter on the hill. Thus, in January of 1703, a petition was made to Springfield to allow them to vacate the “general field”, their basis being “our Housing much damnified, and many of our cattle lost” and the great difficulty they had in attending the “Publick worship of God” and their children to the “school master of the Town”.

In March, their petition was granted. Land was given “four miles southward, from Pecowsick to Enfield Bounds, and from the Hill eastward of the Long Meadow half a mile further into the woods”. Population at this point was “not up to the number of forty families”.