The most ancient tombstone in the Springfield Cemetery belongs to Mary Holyoke, wife of Elizur Holyoke and daughter of William Pynchon, founder of Springfield. Only bits and pieces of information have survived about her. Since she was a female born in the seventeenth century, her life was thought to be less significant than that of her brother John, of whom much is written. Genealogical texts don’t even provide the exact date of her birth.
What we do know is that Mary’s early childhood was spent in England and that the Pynchon household enjoyed the comforts of the wealthier classes. Her educated father owned large tracts of land, several houses, and knew a number of titled people. Her privileged early life must have contrasted sharply with the harsh new existence awaiting her in Massachusetts.
Her father became part of the Massachusetts Bay Company, a group of entrepreneurs interested in America for economic reasons. Family lifestyle was dramatically altered when the family sailed for Massachusetts in 1630. After anchoring, the Pynchons lived briefly in Salem and then moved to Roxbury. Conditions were difficult, and to make matters worse, Anna Pynchon, Mary’s mother, died just as the family arrived in Roxbury.
In 1636 William Pynchon again moved his family, with a small group of settlers, to the Connecticut Valley, where they established Springfield. Life in this remote wilderness settlement was full of hardship. In the first years after arrival there were harsh winters and food shortages. The isolation of Springfield must have been hard on young Mary Pynchon, but her outlook surely brightened considerably when Elizur Holyoke arrived in 1637 or 1 638. The two fell in love and married on September 20, 1640. They built their home next to that of William Pynchon, between what is now Bridge and Worthington Street.
Elizur grew close to his powerful father-in-law and was assigned many responsibilities. Mary gave birth to two daughters and four sons. In 1651 William left Springfield and returned to England after his book, The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, was banned by Boston authorities. After his departure Mary’s husband Elizur became a Magistrate. Mary had only a few years left, dying on October 26, 1657. She is an example of the sturdy and courageous women of the Colonial era who accompanied their fathers, husbands and brothers to the wilderness and helped lay the foundation for the cities we know today.