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.
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
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
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