Man calls for the town of Amherst to be renamed

By Abigail Charpentier

(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 [email protected] and followed on Twitter @abigailcharp.