Although it wouldn’t officially begin until 1812, the known history of Hampden County began on July 15, 1636 when William Pynchon, Henry Smith, and Jehu Burr purchased land on either side of the Connecticut River from the “Agaam” (or “Agawam”) Indians.
The settlers created a deed in which the indigenous people granted them several parcels of land now known as Springfield, Agawam, and Longmeadow. In exchange, the settlers gave the Indians “eighteen fatham of wampam, eighteen coates, 18 hatchets, 18 howes, [and] 18 knifes.” The grantors then signed the deed by drawing their personal symbols at the bottom of the page.
Though property transfers by deed were common in England, many settlers did not practice this custom with the Native Americans. Pynchon, on the other hand, insisted on recognizing the indigenous people as the “rightful owners” of the land. This would have been a difficult concept to explain to the natives, who did not believe in land ownership. Pynchon bridged this cultural gap by guaranteeing the natives’ rights to hunting, gathering, and cultivating the “Cottinackeesh” or “land that has already been planted.”
Pynchon also developed an appreciation for the native language and incorporated several of their words into his deed. Here are some of the native location names he used, as well as their translations from the Dictionary of American-Indian place and proper names in New England:
- Quana: near Agawam, Springfield
- Usquaiok: river, near Agawam, Springfield. “The end of the land.”
- Nayassett: near Agawam, Springfield. “Where there is a corner.”
- Masaksicke: Longmeadow, near Springfield. “Great meadow.”
The Indian Deed was entered in the county’s records on July 7, 1679 by John Holyoke, son of Elizur Holyoke. It can be found in Book AB, page 19-20 at the Hampden County Registry of Deeds. The Registry maintains records of all documents pertaining to real estate transfers in Hampden County.