Rev. William Blackstone (1595-1675) (also spelled Blaxton) was the 1st European to settle in what is now Boston, & probably the 2nd European to settle in what is now Rhode Island. Blackstone was one of the earliest Anglican episcopal clergymen resident in New England as distinguished from the Puritan founders of New England. He is also is said to have planted the 1st orchard recorded in colonial British America at present-day Boston, MA. It is written that he also had planted an apple orchard, the 1st that ever bore fruit in Rhode Island.
William Blackstone, born in Durham County, England, on March 5, 1595, to John & Agnes Hawley Blackstone. William Blackstone's mother died on December 8, 1602, when he was only 7 years old. In 1607, when William Blackstone was 12 years old, as JOHN SMITH was settling in Jamestown, New Virginia. At the age of 14, in September 1609, he entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England. In 1617, at the age of 22, William Blackstone took his B.A. at Emmanuel College.
Three years later, in 1620, the Pilgrims had safely landed at Plymouth, in the new world. In 1621, at the age of 26 years, William Blackstone got his M.A. & Orders in the Church of England & graduated from Emmanuel College. William Blackstone's father died in 1622, 3 days before William Blackstone's 27th birthday, & his oldest brother inherited the family estate.
In 1623, Captain Robert Gorges was in charge of a government-funded expedition to propagate the Gospel in the New World & the plan was distinctly to be a church settlement, specifically in the Massachusetts Bay area, as contrasted with the Separatists settlement already established at Plymouth. The Pilgrims had recently established a colony on Cape Cod, and KING JAMES wanted to establish his own colony to counter the threat they represented to his religious authority. Captain Gorges, accordingly, took with him at least two ordained clergyman. Rev. William Blackstone had been designated to take the Plymouth pulpit. (Proceedings of Massachusetts Historical Society 1878, p. 197.) Unhappy with the inflexible Anglican Church in England of the time, he had joined the Gorges' expedition. This attempt at settlement was unsuccessful, and most of the expedition returned to England, but Blackstone did not want to return to England & remained to settle in solitude in what is now Boston’s Beacon Hill.
Rev. William Blackstone was 28 years old, when he arrived in the new world; & now at 30, when his shipmates were returning to England, he moved across to the North Shore & established his home on the western slope of the peninsular of Shawmut (Boston), opposite the mouth of the Charles River. Blackstone had land to tend & books to read. Rev. William Blackstone brought with him to the New World a large collection of books, approximately 186 in various languages. Blackstone settled at Shawmut “like a sensible man, Blackstone chose the sunny southwest slope of Beacon Hill for his residence” Two landmarks existed to fix the site of Blackstone’s house, namely the orchard planted by him, the 1st in New England, & his spring. The orchard is represented on the early maps; in mentioned in 1765, as still bearing fruit; & is named in the deeds of subsequent landowners.
He needed apple seeds to plant that 1st orchard. Some speculate that that he was foresighted enough to retrieve & save every apple core (which naturally contains seeds) he could find. Most ships crossing the Atlantic were stocked with apples along with other foodstuffs. Others believe that Blackstone brought a bag of apple seeds with him when he sailed to the new world.
Backstone’s isolation came to an end in 1630 when the ship Arbella appeared in the harbor, carrying Puritans who were fleeing Charles I, England’s new king. GOVERNOR WINTHROP sailed into Boston Harbor in July 1630 in his flagship, Arabella, of 350 tons & 28 guns, along with the Talbot & the Jewel. They landed at Charlestown where sickness soon befell them due to the lack of good drinking water, which took a heavy toll in lives. Rev. William Blackstone on the other side of the Charles River, witnessing this terrible scene offered to share. GOVERNOR WINTHROP & many of his followers came to Shawmut, taking advantage of Rev. William Blackstone's offer of water & assistance.
When GOVERNOR JOHN WINTHROP found Rev. William Blackstone in 1630, he had built his home & planted his orchard. On June 9, 1628, Rev. William Blackstone, at 33 years of age, was assessed 12 shillings toward the expense of Thomas Morton of Merry Mount's arrest. On March 12, 1629, at the age of 34, Rev. William Blackstone of New England, was nominated, & appointed by the Council for the Affairs of England in America to represent them in their place & stead in the Hilton Patent of Dover, New Hampshire.
On May 18, 1631, Rev. William Blackstone, 36 years of age, took the "Freeman's Oath". He was the 1st to do so & he took the oath before the passing of the order which restricted the privileges of Freemen to church members. In June of 1631, Rev. William Blackstone again did clerical work for the Council of New England. (Maine & New Hampshire Pioneers 1623-1660, by Pope, 1908, p. 126) "Thomas Lewis, gent...received a patent 12, Feb., 1629, of 'That part of the main land called Swackadock', between Cape Elizabeth & Cape Porpus; Rev. William Blackstone , Clerk..."
On April 1, 1633, GOVERNOR WINTHROP granted Rev. William Blackstone 50 acres of the 800 he had already had claim to for more than 8 years. Rev. William Blackstone offered to sell 44 acres of the 50 he had been allowed by WINTHROP. On November 10, 1634, at a general meeting upon public notice, it was agreed that "...the constable, shall make & assess all these rates, viz. a rate of 30 Pounds to Mr. Blackstone, for 44 of the 50 acres, but reserving 6 acres for himself, in the event his future plans failed to materialize."
GOVERNOR STEPHEN HOPKINS wrote in his "History of Providence" published in the 1765 Providence Gazette, only 90 years after Blackstone's death, that "Blackstone had been at Boston 'so long' (when the Massachusetts colony came) as to have raised apple trees & planted an orchard." The "History of Rehoboth" notes, "This is corroborated, too, by the circumstance of the right of original proprietor having been allowed, to some extent, at least, to Blackstone by the Massachusetts colony, by virtue of pre-occupancy." Congregational clergyman Cotton Mather (1663-1728) grumblingly alludes to in his Magnalia Chrisi Americana: “There were also some godly Episcopalians; among whom has been reckoned Mr. Blackstone; who by happening to sleep first in an old hovel upon a point of land there, laid claim to all the ground whereupon there now stands the Metropolis of the whole English America, until the inhabitants gave him satisfaction.” This concedes only a squatter’s title to Blackstone.
Colonists did purchase Rev. William Blackstone's 44 acres: "The desposition of... These deponents being ancient dwellers & inhabitants of the town of Boston in New England...agree with Rev. William Blackstone for the purchase of his estate & right in any lands lying within the said neck of land called Boston...reserving only unto himselfe about six acres of land on the point commonly called Blackstone's Point, on part whereof his then dwelling house stood; after which purchase the town laid out a trayning field; which ever since & now is used for that purpose, & for the feeding of cattell... Mr. Blackstone bought a stock of cows with the money he received as above, & removed & dwelt near Providence, where hee lived till the day of his death. "Deposed this 10th day of June, 1684, by... "Before us "S. Bradstreet, Governor, "Sam. Sewdll, Assist."
(Snow's History of Boston, Page 50-1) The Puritans decreed that the 50 acres they bought from Blackstone were to be used as a training field and cattle grazing ground. The land has been known as the Boston Common ever since.
In the Spring of 1635, Rev. William Blackstone left Boston with all of his worldly possessions, 186 books & all, across the Neck, through Roxbury, turning his back on the "very good house with an enclosure to it, for the planting of corn;" & also a stipend of 20 Pounds per year, which awaited his acceptance as clergy at Agamenticus, Maine, & directed his steps southward. He passed through the area of the Plymouth Colony & eventually brought him to a spot that pleased him on the banks of a river which emptied at no great distance further on into the Narragansett Bay. He decided to stay in this spot about 35 miles south of Boston on what the Indians called the Pawtucket River, today known as the Blackstone River in Cumberland, Rhode Island, he was the first settler in Rhode Island in 1635, one year before Roger Williams established Providence Plantations. Here he built another house, planted another orchard & passed the remander of his life, nearly 40 years of it.
The first European settler within the original limits of Rehoboth was Rev. William Blackstone, who lived about 3 miles above the village of Pawtucket. Here he tended cattle, planted gardens, & cultivated a 2nd apple orchard, where he cultivated the 1st variety of American apples, the Yellow Sweeting. He called his home "Study Hill" and was said to have the largest library in the colonies at the time. ROGER WILLIAMS was banished from Salem, Massachusetts in in September 1635, but was allowed to await until Spring. However, he feared deportation & left in January, 1636. He founded the city of Providence, Rhode Island, only 6 miles from Rev. William Blackstone, who, by this time, had built his house which he called "Study Hall" & the elevation upon which he built it named "Study Hill."
Rev. William Blackstone once again planted an apple orchard, the first that ever bore fruit in Rhode Island. "He had the first of that sort called yellow sweetings that were ever in the world perhaps, the richest & most delicious apple of the whole kind." He frequently went to Providence to preach the Gospel, "and to encourage his younger hearers, gave them the first apples they ever saw."
In 1655, at the age of 60, on one of his jaunts to Boston, Rev. William Blackstone sold his remaining 6 acres. On May 20, 1656, permission was granted to Rev. William Blackstone to enter the titles of his land in the records of land evidence in the colony. At the age of 64, in 1659 Boston, Clergyman William Blackstone met a recent widow of a cobbler Mrs. John Stevenson. She was left to provide for herself & 6 children. She was married to Clergyman Balckstone by GOVERNOR JOHN ENDICOTT on July 4,1659 in Boston. One year later, Sarah at the age of 35, gave Rev. William Blackstone his first & only child, John, in 1660, born at Rehoboth, R.I. New father Rev. William Blackstone was then 65 years old. Suddenly the somewhat reclusive Clergymam Blackstone was married with a wife & 7 children underfoot.
Blackstone believed in purchasing his land from the Indians as the true owners of the land. On June 2, 1675, KING PHILIP, second son of MASSASOIT, attacked Swansea (Providence area). Rev. William Blackstone had recently died, when PHlLIP's warriors destroyed his 40-year old homestead, library, livestock, & all. His buildings at Study Hill, burned in King Philip’s War were not rebuilt or resettled.
Rev. William Blackstone 's inventory of his estate & library, taken 2 days after his death. "Inventory of the lands, goods & chattels taken May 28, 1675. (From "The History of Rehoboth", by Bliss, 1836) "Sixty acres of land & two shares in meadows in Providence, The west plain, the south neck, & land about the house & orchards, amounting to two hundred acres, & the meadow called Blackstones Meadow."
3 Bibles, l0s. - 6 English books in folio, £ 2 l0s.
3 Latin books, in folio, 15s. - 3 do. large quarto £2 2 15
15 small quarto, £ 1 17s. 6d. - 14 small do. 14s. 2 11 6d.
30 large octavo, £4, - 25 small do. 1 5s. 5 5
22 duodecimo, 1 13
53 small do. of little value, 13
10 paper books, 5
15 12 6
Remainder personal, 40 11
Total personal, £ 56 3 6
John Blackstone, son of Rev. William Blackstone. his only child, born at Rebohoth. When his father died, John was a minor. The Plymouth colony records show this entry —— "June 1, 1675, ...are appointed & authorized by the Court to take some present care of ...this son now left by him" Court Order dated July 10, 1675: "...John Stevenson, step-son to Rev. William Blackstone , late deceased, was very helpful to his step-father & mother, in their lifetime without whom they could not have subsisted, as to a good help & instrument thereof, & he is now left in a low & mean condition, & never was in any manner recompensed for his good service aforesaid; & if (as it is said at least) his step-father engaged to his mother, at his marriage with her, that he should be considered with a competency of land out of the said Blackstone's land... do order & dispose fifty acres of land unto the said John Stevenson out of the lands of the said Rev. William Blackstone & five acres of meadow, to be laid out unto him...according as they shall think meet so as it may be most commodious to him...By order of the Court...of Plymouth."
For Research on the life of William Blackstone see Nathaniel Brewster Blackstone