William Blackstone’s statue

Recently erected statue of William Blackstone on river bank of Pawtucket, R.I.

William Blackstone, or Blaxton (1595-1675), has long struck me as the mildest of colonists, perhaps not even a colonist strictly speaking. He was a recluse, and when other colonists showed up, he exited stage left.

An ordained priest of the Church of England, he landed with emigrants in (what became) Weymouth in 1623, from which he migrated in 1625 to (what became) Boston in 1630, becoming its first settler and first resident of Beacon Hill. After inviting Puritan settlers from (what became) Charlestown to share his land in Boston, he became disenchanted with his Anglican colleagues, after which he retreated (not fled as did Roger Williams) in 1635, settling in (what became) Cumberland across from (what became) Pawtucket, in (what became) Rhode Island. Blackstone lived there peacefully – or so history seems to record – until his death in 1675, about a month before King Philips’ War. Aside from breeding the first American strain of apples, building his home, “Study Hill,” which at the time housed the colonies’ largest library, preaching to natives who would listen, and traveling on a bull while reading (not illegal at the time) to visit his friend Williams not far away in (what was already) Providence, he seems to have done very little of interest to historians, so far as I can tell. He may have been the least belligerent man on Earth.

A town in Massachusetts, a river, a canal, Providence’s ritziest neighborhood and its grandest boulevard take Blackstone’s name, but now a statue of the bookish hermit – no relation to the famous British jurist, Sir William Blackstone – is raising a stink next to the river that bears his name in Pawtucket.

Native Americans today, at least some of them around here, are irked that Blackstone’s fame as the first settler in Boston and Rhode Island flies in the face of the fact that several Indian tribes predated him in each place he settled. And at some point a tribesman (or woman) of this or that tribe would have become the first settler in each of those places, long before Blackstone, so his “firsts” are of a twisted historicity invented by the white man’s culture.

This Columbus Day (Indigenous Peoples Day to some), a gathering of about a hundred people, largely representatives of the Narragansett tribe but including various African-American activists and others, gathered to protest the recently erected statue sculpted of sheet metal shards by Peruvian native and Providence resident Peruko Ccopacatty. A story in Uprise RI by the activist Steve Alquist quotes Pawtucket City Council member Melissa DaRose:

“This monument only goes to show that it seems like we [the black, brown and indigenous community] don’t count,” said Council member DaRosa. “We’re not included. We were not included in that communication. The Blackstone Travel Council did not reach out to the Narragansett Indian Council.”

Narragansett tribal elder Bella Noka added:

“If I were to be raped, and see my rapist on a statue, and you tell me, ‘It’s okay. Yeah he did some bad things but we’re going to discuss those things. We’re going to find out exactly what was good about him and what was bad about him, but we’re going to keep [the statue] there.’ That’s what you’re doing,” said Bella Noka. “Shame on you if you’re supporting that man.

More to the point was the statement by Narragansett tribal elder Randy Noka, who said of the statue, “For those who see something in it, more power to you. I think it is an ugly piece of steel and should be taken down.”

He is correct that it is ugly but not that it should be taken down. Ccopacatty’s style of sculpture leaves much to be desired, but it is a reasonably well crafted example of its type, which is legion in the world of art. The private and federal funds used to build out its space alongside the river is nicely traditional, and an admirable bit of urbanism, which Pawtucket cannot afford to spurn. Its quality, or lack thereof, should not form the basis for its removal.

In all the speechifying, nothing negative was cited about Blackstone except that he was a white settler who represented the oppressor civilization that since came to New England from far away. Four hundred years later, past injustice seems to have colonized the minds of many, oppressed and unoppressed, who now deny the progress made and seem intent upon demonizing the values of civilization that have made that progress possible.

The Declaration of Independence, a civil war fought to rectify historic wrongs, a civil-rights movement to surmount resistance to that rectification, and trillions in programs to transform that rectification into social and economic progress for victimized communities: Even as this valiant progress is denied, personal values such as hard work, diligence, humility and study that enable individuals to benefit from it are disparaged.

As they say, those who forget the past may be condemned to repeat it.

So maybe, far from removing the statue of William Blackstone, he should remain in place to be celebrated as precisely the sort of colonist the colonies could have used more of, especially the Narragansetts whose descendants gathered the other day in Pawtucket to pay homage (of sorts) to the new statue.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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9 Responses to William Blackstone’s statue

  1. TBH says:

    A group of professional race-baiting grievance-mongers protesting a tin-foil-looking statue of a long-dead humble and non-violent White man that was made by a Latino…

    My God, America looks more and more like an episode of South Park every day.

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  2. Andrew says:

    Dear Mr Brussat,
    The only decent thing to do is remove the comment [by LazyReader] below.

    Like

    • I would not remove a comment at the behest of someone who disagrees with it unless the comment is unfactual. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I don’t see anything of that sort in Mr. Lazy’s comment. To remove the comment on your say-so alone represents the worst kind of censorship, unsuitable in this country (however widely practiced anyway these days, alas). That you do not try to explain why the comment should be removed suggests that you do not have the facts to back up whatever case you may have against it, but are merely engaging in rank virtue-signaling.

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  3. LazyReader says:

    No one alive today comes from a perfect lineage of do-gooders. WIthout whites ther’d be no indians, Genetic research shows what we think of as a race is the byproduct of separate Asian, Europroto tribes that came across the land bridge and ice 40,000 years ago.
    Stolen from which tribe? How many tribes stole that land from other tribes who stole it from other tribes… Is this the same stolen land CNN said was majestic when Obama went to Mount Rushmore; the same when Bernie praised the monument? Or is this a different stolen land?
    You can hate the #FoundingFathers all you want but it doesn’t change the fact that Europeans built America & you haters are enjoying the fruits of colonialism every day you live here. Heck, even the electricity you use is courtesy of a colonialist. So decolonize & stop using it.

    The “Native American” as we know historically
    – practiced cannibalism
    – Obliterated environment thru deforestation and land conversion and built “Cities”
    – Ritual sacrifice by the tens of thousands
    – practiced slavery and female suppression

    When Europeans arrived in North America, it was a coast to coast slave market. Practically the only interaction some of the indigenous tribes had with each other was war and slave raiding and trading. The slaves were often tortured to death for fun and practice. Within 400 years, European settlers ended it. There is little evidence that there are any non slavery civilizations in Africa, it is part of African culture. The Arabs took to it like champions, part of Islam. James Watt and Jethro Tull did more to end slavery than all the black activists in history.

    Various Native Americans were in a near constant state of warfare with one another, many tribes became extinct and disappeared even before Columbus even made it to the western Hemisphere, as a result of tribal conflict. Basically as cultures of nomadic hunter gatherers they were in constant competition over hunting grounds, with the stronger tribes exercising their control over the more fertile areas. Not only did these tribes compete for food but also it became common practice to raid one another for women and slaves. Inbreeding in many tribes was a severe problem and child mortality rates were extremely high. In some tribes, females outnumbered males 2,3-4 to one, as male combat attrition rates were so substantial, that polygamy and marrying as young as 12 were essential….to provide a constant supply of future male warriors. The violent and long wars that the Mayans had fought contributed greatly to their decline, and the Aztec’s had a violent history of near continuous warfare.

    Modern archeology has dispelled much of these myths, about the american cultures and tribes. Yes some were peaceful, usually victims of another tribe. Remember North America has been inhabited by humans since before the Neolithic era. The few tribes/cultures that experimented with agriculture were forced to establish themselves in difficult, easy to defend areas, building their adobe dwellings in the sides of cliffs. Very few of these stationary tribes/cultures survived to meet the “European” having met their demise long ago. The America’s have a long history of violence before the “European set of upon the continents Before europeans ever came to america and young Indian boys highest calling was to become a great WARRIOR. But as we all know the white man is the devil and the great white satan for killing anyone and taking land. When all the other races do it everything is cool and there is nothing savage about them. That is what the world is being taught today. HATE the great white satan.

    A hundred movies about european slavery of blacks when only 400,000 black slaves came to america. The other 10-20+ million went to Latin America and South America where 80-90% of them died from tropical diseases, horrible treatment, starvation and heat deprevation. Read Lawrence Keeley’s “War Before Civilization” Virtually every non European civilization and culture engaged in brutal warfare with attrition rates over 40-90%, slavery, inhumane systemic institutional practices, honor killings, rape, invasion, environmental destruction.

    Low-IQ groups cannot sustain democracy or beneficial form of government. Geopolitical stability and political freedom Cannot survive average IQ’s below 90. Many indigenous socities; average IQ’s are in the 80’s thats why tribalism is their form of governing. Native American’s average IQ is mid 80’s and thats derived from DNA containing as much as Half white-admixture, 400 years of exposure to modernity, still cant get ahead. Meanwhile High IQ Chinese fled Maoism, became high earners in a matter of 2-3 generations. Jews who fled the Holocaust with NOTHING; only took four years match US median Incomes. IQ Matters far more than skin color or what you call God(s) or your sky people.

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    • I don’t know, Lazy, whether you are right or wrong in all your contentions here, but I suspect you are closer to the mark than the gentleman who wants me to cancel your comment. (Although who knows what he really believes. He does not say. In his heart he may agree with you.)

      Like

      • LazyReader says:

        Modern IQ tests don’t focus on Math, science or knowledgeable subject matter. They focus on problem solving and pattern, subject, context recognition.
        Differences in IQ are difficult subject matters for all people to grasp…
        Conservatives hate it because it’s based on biology and evolution, a subject they rarely discuss or look into….
        Liberals hate it because it crushes their egalitarian notion of equality of outcomes.

        Intellectual and cultural habits are the biggest determining factor for societal success. Sure rap and hip hop culture served as an artistic outlet and voice for an underprivileged community; it turned a lucky few into millionaires/billionaires; but overall it also helped popularize and spread a lifestyle that no one should be envious of that put so many urban youth 6 feet under.

        Japanese who didn’t see a steam engine til the 1850’s were still fighting with swords; only took 50 years to become a world power. Japanese Americans; who came to he US in the 1860’s; were discriminated against, interned by WWII with confiscation of assets and homes in no more than 30 years; rebuilt their networth and in mere 2-3 generations are some of the highest per capita earners in US.

        The cultural and intellectual mindset of how societies thrive/collapse is clearly understood and we’ve seen the experiments, South Africa, MidEast, Asia, and European nations, Ameica’s inner city, etc.
        1: Put groups with different average IQs and cultural mindsets together.
        2. Different group outcomes emerge on factors like education, employment, wealth, etc (lots of individual exceptions) but largely cultures that stress education, knowledge, industry, science and set moral standards do well….Societies that don’t stress these factors; huge sums of their populace become wards, welfare collectors or future prison inmates.
        3. Destroy anyone who talks about differences; degrade education and institutions that foster intelligent debate and freer societies.
        4. Attribute the differential outcomes in Step: 2 to Bigotry, rather than performance and acceptance of personal behavior and admitting faults.
        5. Watch the bloodshed in the streets.

        Post Colonialism, Africa fell to warlordism. And the MidEast fell to a fundamentalist theocracy. Average IQ’s in Africa and Middle East: Mid 70s-80s.
        – Hillary and Obama destabilized and overthrew Libya. While I was no supporter of Gaddafi; he kept the country stable. The very idea a “Jeffersonian Democracy” would emerge from his ousting is laughable, Average IQ’s in Libya: 82
        – Average IQ in Syria is 83 the rise of ISIS was predictable and their first acts was to destroy all non-Islamic possessions of history and antiquities.
        – I did not agree with Aparteid in South Africa; however before SA went from the fastest developing African Nation; to one of the slowest…Average IQ in South Africa is 77. That’s why Elon Musk fled for the US.
        – Patrick Stewart and John Cleese fled Londonistan to become a US citizen and live in the Carribean respectively. Average Pakistani IQ’s are 84. London is now the largest refuge for pakistani expats.

        Members of lagging groups like it or not; Assimilate into the values of larger society in order to get ahead. There’s various reasons certain people accumulate wealth……. But extolling those virtues eliminates the role of intellectuals. They would have to do what Scottish philosopher David Hume did, which is Urge his fellow 18th century Scots, To learn the english language. Because it would open up the whole world to them…..not available otherwise. Seldom is attention paid this day and age; to illustrate the differences in culture and behavior among the economically successful and economically challenged. Nor how they can improve themselves by availing themselves to culture around them.

        The Scots were the best example. They were once one of the poorest, least educated group in all of Europe. Once they began to educate themselves and learn the English language.
        And in a mere century; Britains’ leading intellectuals WERE SCOTS.
        – David Hume in Philosophy
        – Adam Smith in Economics
        – Joseph Black and William Cullen in chemistry

        A rare circumstance for intellectuals to admit. Most intellectuals today would rather argue about dragging the successful down and clinging to culture. Insurgencies throughout history always face uphill battle. They may take over? But not succeed.

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