Where are the Remains of Rhode Island’s First Settler? Part 2
By Thomas D’Agostino
When last we heard of the whereabouts of the Rev. Blackstone’s remains, they were interred in the vast works of the Ann & Hope Mill. Did they stay there? Read on to find out. (Missed Part 1? Visit theyankeexpress.com)
According to Amelia Daggert Sheffield who had taken her father’s accounts and edited them for the book “A Sketch of the History of Attleborough from its Settlement to the Division,” the box was to be buried under the building and the monument erected in his name. A very old postcard of the mill shows the monument beside one of the mill walls.
The monument as described by Mrs. Sheffield stood a few yards from the original grave which was now covered by the Ann & Hope mill. In her own words from the aforementioned book:
“It is of granite about twelve feet high,-the base five or six feet square and the shaft a foot or more smaller, tapering slightly. It is within the enclosed grounds of the mill, surrounded by the vivid green of a beautiful lawn, being the only object on it.”
The front has a cross on it, naming it as the Rev. Blackstone’s burial place, as well as the claim that he was a founder of Boston and the first white settler of Rhode Island. The monument’s other three sides boast the rest of his lifetime achievements, the date of his settlement in Rhode Island (a year before his friend Roger Williams) and date of his death. All in all, pretty typical of an honorary monument. As for his bones, a certain G.W. Pratt was entrusted to hold onto the wooden box which had been sealed with lead and metal bands until the mill was completed and the monument erected.
For many years the remains of Preacher Blackstone rested with his monument in the industrial clamor of whirring engines and spindles. The “Spirit of the Gentle Sage” was most definitely out of his environment in this eternal habitat. His mortal coil was untouched from 1889 to the 1940’s when the textile industry began a southward migration in search of cheaper labor. Ann & Hope’s majestic walls soon held but memories and ghosts of the American Industrial Revolution. As for the monument, the grass grew wild and the stone fell into neglect.
This was short lived, however. World War II gave new life to the mill as a repair depot for armory of the Navy. Now the monument had a new dilemma. The hustle and bustle of trains loading and unloading threatened its existence. The First Presbyterian Church of Cumberland then entered in agreement to move the monument to a piece of their land for further preservation. The Navy agreed and in 1944 William Blackstone’s monument was moved to its present location on Broad and Cumberland Streets which overlooks the rear of the great mill. Were his remains moved with the monument? It was then unclear whether they had been dug up and relocated. It was unclear if they had ever been buried under or near the vast stone to begin with. The town of Cumberland now maintains the minute park where the stone graces the small walkway that encompasses it. The obelisk looks slightly out of place sitting on a corner right next to a sidewalk overlooking what is now deemed as America’s first discount store.
The elusive bones can be traced up to the 1960’s when James Furay, who was Ann & Hope’s plant manager in the 40’s, was overseeing a digging project to extend utilities to a newly constructed cottage that was to be used as an office. While digging, the backhoe ran into a box. It was sealed in heavy lead and the corners had been soldered tight. Upon opening it the crew found some bone fragments and very old nails. The box had been buried north of one of the north towers that was razed during renovations to the mill.
The box sat in a store room until the 1960’s when Ann & Hope went through another expansion. It was then that Furay’s old office and store room were cleaned and room was made for a new structural enclosure. He had intended to give the box to the Rhode Island Historical Society but never got around to it. No one knows what happened to the box. It obviously, according to these accounts, was not reburied under the monument when the obelisk was moved to its present location.
Did the small coffin containing Reverend Blackstone’s remains get thrown out when the store was expanding? If so, then it is more than likely our founder is now buried in the State Landfill. Does that sound like a fitting way to bestow our gratitude for the great Reverend who was the first white settler of our state, rode a bull, (that’s right. Not a horse, a bull!) and gave Rhode Island it’s famous apples?