The "Long Meddowe"

The forces that drove thousands of English Puritans to the New World in the 1630's - the search for economic security and a godly commonwealth- were in William Pynchon's mind as he sailed up the Connecticut River in 1635. Pynchon, Treasurer of the Massachusetts Bay Company and an experienced fur trader and businessman, was searching for an ideal place to found a trading post and establish a Puritan "plantation". After quietly sailing past meadow lands known to the Indians as "Masacksic", he reached the confluence of the Agawam and Connecticut Rivers.

To Pynchon, it appeared to be the ideal place for his economic and religious foray into the wilderness. It was above the Enfield Falls and thus safe from enemy warships. It provided water access to the Berkshires and the greatly desired beaver. There was enough meadow land to support farms and cattle. After a tentative agreement with the local semi-nomadic Agawam Indians for the purchase of some of their land on the west side of the Connecticut, Pynchon returned to the Boston area to recruit settlers.

When he returned with settlers in 1636, however, he found some angry Indians. The cattle left behind in 1635 had trampled the Indian corn crop, and Pynchon was forced to establish his plantation on the east side of the river. Included in the land purchased by Pynchon was the "Masacksic", Indian for "the long meddowe". When the settlers drew up their compact in the summer of 1636 and agreed upon the religious foundation of their economic enterprise, the "long meddowe" to the south was set aside as a common pasture land, to be used equally by all residents.

For almost a decade the meadows were used in this communal way, but in 1645 the residents of Springfield voted to distribute the land to individual people as farm lots. The ability of the original planting grounds to support an increased population had reached its limit, and the sons of many of the original settlers were reaching maturity and required their own farms. Thus the meadow lands were given to the residents of the southern end of the original downtown Springfield settlement.

Some of this common land, and land still held by the Pynchon family, was used to attract settlers with specific skills or talents needed by a developing community. In this way two people deeply involved in the growth of the "long meddowe" as a distinct part of Springfield were attracted to the area. Benjamin Cooley, an expert weaver of both flax and wool, was given land in both the original settlement and the meadows. Quartermaster George Colton received sizable allotments because of his business expertise. The descendants of these two families would come to dominate not only in the amount of meadow they owned, but also the political life of the "long meddowe" residents.

For two years after these grants in the "long meddowe", the new owners prepared the area for agriculture. A road from Springfield into the meadows was completed, including a small bridge over the Pecousic River, now a stream at the foot of Barney Hill, Forest Park. This road was eventually extended to Warehouse Point to facilitate the movement of supplies and beaver pelts between Springfield and Pynchon's warehouse. The lots were laid out, and fences were begun. Despite the ideals of being a close-knit and religious-minded community, fences soon proved necessary to keep the communal peace, as wandering swine and cattle damaged neighbors' crops.

The first house in the meadows was probably not built before 1649. Most of the lot owners already had homes in Springfield; it was only gradually that houses were erected in the meadows. When they were built, the nature of the land prevented their being placed very near each other, although physical closeness was the ideal in a community that was both a frontier settlement and a bible commonwealth. The meadows were dotted with wild cranberry bogs, ponds and swamps, and because of the low-lying nature of the land it was subject to flooding.

Gradually during the 17th century the settlement grew, and by the 1690's there was increasing agitation among the residents for their autonomous community. Religiously and politically the people were still part of the Springfield settlement, but they had to travel three to five miles for the frequent religious services, town meetings and supplies. The high bluff south of downtown Springfield reached almost into the Connecticut River, making the "long meddowe" a distinct geographic entity. The area was still a frontier wilderness, as the attack on Springfield in 1675 during King Philip's War and the massacre of the Keep family near the Pecousic River the following year make clear.

The second and third generation of settlers in the meadows had settled into farming as a way of life, while Springfield had kept the original character intended by Pynchon. It was a thriving commercial enterprise, equally interested in the beaver and the Bible. A disastrous flood in the meadows in 1695 triggered these deeper discontents into a movement to become separate from Springfield.

The meadow residents successfully petitioned in 1703 for permission to move their settlement out of the meadows and up onto the hill. A road was laid out (the present-day Longmeadow Street), and house lots were assigned. The closeness of the houses around the common (the present-day Green) suggests the like-mindedness both economic and religious, of these people. Houses were built over the next few years, and by 1709 the new homes were occupied. The residents then successfully petitioned the Massachusetts General Court to be a separate precinct within Springfield. Since there was little distinction between political and religious institutions in the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony, "precinct" status enabled the Longmeadow residents to have their own meeting house and minister. In 1714 work was begun on a meeting house, in the center of the Green, and in 1716 Rev. Stephen Williams was ordained as the first minister of the this new community.

The "long meddowe" had provided an economic base for the people, a source of food, both cultivated and wild, and a relatively safe haven for these Puritan pioneers. While today the role of the meadows in Longmeadow has changed, its legacy is the very accurate Indian name: the "long meddowe".

Michael F. Gelinas