William Pynchon Biography


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Pynchon was a controversial Puritan landowner and community leader who actively challenged the theological visions offered by the church. Though his writings had little impact on the religious climate in England, they were important expressions of enlightened inquiry in the New World. A strong believer in individual freedom and intellectual inquiry, Pynchon clashed with the Puritan hierarchy, who ultimately banned his works.

Pynchon was one of the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Company, and he became a prominent farmer and trader in that region. In 1641 he founded the town of Springfield, and served as treasurer and justice in the Connecticut and Bay colonies until 1651. Yet despite his powerful position within the Puritan community, he diverged from the religious orthodoxy and commercial conservatism. As early as 1638 he took a controversial stand on the granting of fur-trade monopolies on the grounds that they curtailed individual determination. He was further branded a renegade after he removed Springfield from the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Bay government.

These actions contributed to the larger denunciation of the man and his works. In 1650 Pynchon published The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, which attacked the central tenets of Puritan theology by suggesting that Jesus Christ did not pay for man’s sins. The book was burned, and a day of fasting and humiliation was proclaimed to purge the colonies of Pynchon’s heresy.

Despite the attempts at censorship, Pynchon never made a full retraction. He went on to publish two more editions of his book in 1655, building on his eloquent and well-reasoned rebuttals of extreme Puritan theology. His scholarly reevaluation of theology in the colonies was carried further in Pynchon’s The Jewes Synagogue (1652) and The Covenant of Nature Made with Adam (1662).