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Man calls for the town of Amherst to be renamed

(John Phelan / Wikipedia)

On Aug. 16, William Bowen of Belchertown emailed town and state officials asking them to no longer recognize Lord Jeffery Amherst and rename the town of Amherst. The issue of Lord Amherst and his violent crimes against Native Americans has been on Bowen’s mind since he first started driving through Amherst nearly 39 years ago.

Bowen sent his petition to his town officials, Amherst’s town officials and state officials, sharing his views and stance on the town of Amherst being named after a “glorified butcher of Native Americans,” according to Bowen.

“It’s like naming a town after Adolf Hitler,” Bowen said.

Lord Jeffery Amherst was a British general in America during the later battles in the French and Indian War in the mid 1700s. Lord Amherst was documented using biological warfare against Native Americans, when he instructed that smallpox infected blankets be passed out to “the heinous dogs,” as he described them.

When Bowen worked in Amherst, he had several Native American customers who were offended by the town name.

“I think it is a slap in the face to Native Americans, and I’m not a Native American,” Bowen said.

He is currently in contact with the Wampanoag and other tribes in Western Massachusetts. He hopes to add their names to the petition and flood the governor’s office with petitions.

Several people have tried to rename the town of Amherst in the past. However, the cost of conversion has been the main issue blocking the change of the town’s name.

State Representative Solomon Goldstein-Rose said he had heard of people trying to rename the town of Amherst to “Norwottuck, after Emily Dickinson, or perhaps Lord Jeff’s sister or some relative with the same name who wasn’t so awful.” But none of these had become actual town meeting proposals, Goldstein-Rose noted.

Regarding the topic of a name change, Amherst Select Board Chair Douglas Slaughter said, “At the beginning of Select Board meetings, we have time set aside for public comment. Citizens may bring this or any other topic to a greater level of attention with us and the community as a whole at that time.”

“I just think it’s time for someone to speak up,” said Bowen, who encourages people to write to their congressmen, senators and governor if they feel the same way.

As of Aug. 24, Bowen had not received any responses from officials regarding his petition.

Abigail Charpentier can be reached at and followed on Twitter @abigailcharp.

4 Responses to “Man calls for the town of Amherst to be renamed”
  1. Bruce Hodge says:

    Dear Ms. Charpentier and Mr. Bowen:

    I have several suggestions for new names (do you have a sense of humor, most likely not):



    Mohammad Mass. (Nicely alliterative, don’t you think?)


    And, for those of you who are receiving a proper education (not just the “History of Queer Basket Weaving” variety) two quotes you might find mildly interesting, as the country collapses in asinine, historical revisionism and ludicrous, self-regarding virtue signaling. Really! You have NO idea how ridiculous the “New Red Guards” appear to sane folks who are more than 25 years old.

    Eleventh century Persian poet, Omar Khayyam:

    “The Moving Finger writes, and having writ, moves on: Nor all thy piety nor wit, shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.”

    George Orwell, 1984:

    “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statute and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered, and the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute, history has stopped, nothing exists except an endless present in which the party is always right”.

  2. Bruce Hodge says:

    To: William Bowen

    Mr. Bowen… a long-established name in your neck of the woods….

    And, speaking of name revision, tied to historical “wrongs”, below is a cautionary tale:

    By any chance, was one of your ancestors George Bowen (Northampton, around the early 1800’s)?

    If so, perhaps you know about the shameful 1815/1816 murder case involving Mr. Bowen’s (then a prisoner in the Northampton Jail, described in Court proceedings as a “hardened and abandoned
    wretch,” and a racist!) inveigling another prisoner, Jonathan Jewett (a Black man, and a convicted murderer, himself that day awaiting execution) to commit suicide (then the crime of self-murder).

    To make a long story short, Mr. Bowen eventually was found innocent of murder.

    An interesting account of Mr. Bowen’s outrageous and shameful racist life/trial may be found here:

    Despite his eventual exoneration, Mr. Bowen displayed such low moral character that his descendants must forever assume the mantle of guilt by association.

    Mr. Bowen, If you are related to George Bowen, you must, as you insist for Amherst, change your name! The memory and lineage of such a foul racist ancestor must never continue!

    Next time you drive through Northampton, remember well your ancestral connection to these foul deeds, and the shameful life of your racist ancestor!

    Another interesting historical note: readers may be familiar with the recent case of the Massachusetts juvenile girl who was tried (and convicted) of procuring the suicide of her juvenile acquaintance. The Trial Judge relied on the Bowen case case when making his decision…..

  3. Dane Konop says:

    This is a long-standing myth about Amherst. While Amherst may have hated Indians, you don’t catch smallpox from objects like blankets. Smallpox infection is passed through intimate human contact.

  4. Peter Lewicke says:

    I am sick of seeing lies about Jeffrey Amherst. He may not have been the nicest person in the history of humanity, but he was a war hero, and that is why the town of Amherst was named for him.

    Apparently, Mr. Bowen didn’t bother investigating the matter, is he is claiming that Amherst ” instructed that smallpox infected blankets be passed out to “the heinous dogs,” as he described them.” I have looked for the details about the blankets, and the only time when that was done was after the French and Indian War had ended, and Pontiac’s War was in progress. A commander of the local militia at Fort Pitt (Trent) reported in his journal that he had distributed to the Indians laying siege to the fort two blankets and a handkerchief from the smallpox hospital in the hope of starting an out break there. He had not been ordered to do that by Jeffrey Amherst, and Amherst might not have ever learned of the matter. It is uncertain whether those items were still contaminated. There was an outbreak of smallpox in the area that year, but it started before Trent gave the blankets.

    It seems like these lies come out again a couple times a year. If people are really interested in the matter, then they should read a paper by Philip Ranlet: “The British, the Indians, and Smallpox: What Actually Happened at Fort Pitt in 1763?”, originally published in Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, Vol. 67, No. 3, Crime in Pennsylvania (Summer 2000), pp. 427-441
    Available on jstor

    I realize that people love their rumors and such, but Jeffrey Amherst really was a war hero. Changing town names because of some lies about him is almost as bad as it would be to erase George Washington’s name from everything, because he also fought in the French and Indian War.

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