Belchertown man wants Amherst’s town name banished

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/18/2017 11:44:49 PM

AMHERST — As discussion continues about whether the public square is an appropriate place to honor the Confederacy with statues and memorials, a Belchertown resident is asking state and town officials to end the recognition of Lord Jeffery Amherst by renaming the town of Amherst.

In an email sent Thursday morning to the town’s Select Board and Town Manager Paul Bockelman, as well as State Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose and State Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, William Bowen, of Pine Brook Drive, is calling for Amherst’s name to be banished.

“It’s something that’s been on my mind for a while, and it’s something that should be addressed,” Bowen said.

Bowen explained that it is inappropriate to honor a person he describes as a ruthless 18th century general who was the father of germ warfare. He cites the actions of Lord Jeffery Amherst, in command of British army forces in the North American colonies, and an order to use small pox to exterminate American Indians during Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763.

When he worked in Amherst, Bowen said he met several Native Americans who were bothered by the town using the British general’s name.

“The American Indians, the Native Americans, are totally offended by the name of Amherst, they really are,” Bowen said.

Amherst took its name in 1759, when it separated from Hadley and then-Massachusetts Gov. Thomas Pownall named the new district after his close friend.

There has been periodic controversy over the Amherst name since. Most recently, in early 2016, trustees at Amherst College agreed to drop the unofficial mascot Lord Jeff after students raised concerns about the appropriateness of the honor.

In his email, Bowen writes: “In light of what is happening in the U.S. south, with citizens insulted by and demanding the immediate removal of statutes and memorials to those of the Confederate U.S. states, we the people demand and petition the commonwealth of Massachusetts and the city of Amherst, Massachusetts to immediately change the name of Amherst, Massachusetts.”

“Such a vile person in no way deserves recognition and memoriam in the United States of America,” Bowen added. “The use of Lord Jeffrey Amherst’s name is a constant reminder of the atrocities he directed.”

Bowen said he isn’t sure whether the Legislature will act, noting that he also sent the letter to Sen. Eric Lesser and Rep. Thomas Petrolati.

But he’s convinced the matter is under its purview, pointing to discussions on Beacon Hill about prohibiting public schools from using Native American imagery.

“I’m hoping the Legislature will act; it’s in the realm of present legislation right now,” Bowen said.

Pete Wilson, a spokesman for Rosenberg’s office, said a quick review by legal counsel shows that Massachusetts towns have changed their names by special acts of the Legislature, though these likely have followed actions by Town Meetings or city councils in those communities.

Select Board member Connie Kruger said she understands the sentiment, but notes the likelihood of changing the town’s name is unlikely to gain traction, based on past history.

“Others have tried to do this in Amherst,” Kruger said. “It’s been a conversation over many years.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.




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