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Who is William Blackstone?

(Excerpted in part from Louise Lind's brochure and book: "William Blackstone: Sage of the Wilderness.").

With a river, a valley, a town, several parks, streets and businesses named after him, as well as monument built for him, the logical question is: Who is this Blackstone guy, and what did he do to deserve this. The answer is that we are really not sure.

William Blackstone

Born March 5, 1595 in Durham County, England, Rev. William Blackstone was the first European to have settled in what is now Boston, and lived in what is now Rhode Island. Ordained in the Church of England, Blackstone conducted the first Anglican services of record in Rhode Island, and his collection of books was probably the largest private library in the British colonies at the time. Oh yes, he also developed the first American variety of American apples, the Yellow Sweeting.

Not much is known about Blackstone. Some called him, "the Sage of the Wilderness" since he was always reading books. Others called him an eccentric, a recluse.  

Blackstone received a master's degree from Cambridge University in 1621, and received Holy Orders in the Church of England soon afterwards. Unhappy with the way the Anglican Church was being directed at the time, he joined an expedition which sailed to New England in 1623, three years after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth. While most of the expedition returned to England, Blackstone remained and settled in what is now Boston's Beacon Hill.

Shortly thereafter, Blackstone found himself to be neighbors with the Puritans, whom he invited to settle on his side of the river to share in the better water. While the Puritans also disagreed with leaders of the established Church, they proved to be quite intolerant of anyone who disagreed with them. Blackstone soon tired of their intolerance, and moved about 35 miles south of Boston, to a hill overlooking a wide bend in what the Indians then called the Patucket (sic) River and what is today known as the Blackstone River.

Blackstone lived at Study Hill, as he came to call it, for 40 years, where he tended cattle, planted gardens, and read books. Originally part of Rehoboth and later Attleboro, the land was turned over to Rhode Island in 1746 and became the Town of Cumberland.

Just how much of a recluse Blackstone was is a matter of debate, given the substantial amount of traffic at the foot of Study Hill by Indians and colonists alike. Blackstone was on good terms with Indians in both states and became good friends with Roger Williams, who, less than 2 years after Blackstone arrived in Rhode Island, settled in and founded Providence. While they disagreed on many theological matters, both agreed on the right to disagree, and Williams invited Blackstone to regularly preach to his followers in Providence.

Blackstone continued preaching and is considered to be the pioneer clergyman of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. At the age of 64, Blackstone married Sarah Stevenson, 34.

William and Sarah had only 1 child, John, who was a man of dubious behavior. Sarah died at the age of 48, and Blackstone died at in 1675 at the age of 80, leaving substantial holdings in real estate and an even more substantial library. As for Study Hill, all that was left was ashes and Blackstone's grave following the King Philip's War, the most devastating Indian war waged in New England. 

The Blackstone Valley - Yesterday | Who is William Blackstone? | The Blackstone Valley - Today
A Premiere Tourist Attraction | The Blackstone Valley - Tomorrow | Communities | Valley Resources and Links

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Blackstone Valley Visitor Center, On the banks of the Blackstone, 175 Main Street, Pawtucket, Rhode Island  02860 
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