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Man who escaped slavery and became Navy veteran honored with statue in Dedham park

William Benjamin Gould became a leading citizen in Dedham after his harrowing escape from slavery in North Carolina.

Two members of the 54th Regiment had to help the young descendants Alina Gould, left, William B. Gould VI, right, and Timothy Gould (hidden) complete the unveiling of the statue of William B. Gould, in William B. Gould Park, in Dedham.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

DEDHAM — Just over a century after William Benjamin Gould’s death, the town of Dedham unveiled a statue honoring the Civil War veteran, who escaped slavery before establishing himself as an anchor of the local community.

More than 100 residents of Dedham and beyond gathered at William B. Gould Park, renamed in 2021 to honor the veteran, for the Sunday afternoon unveiling on the eve of Memorial Day. Gould’s descendants, some of whom flew in from California, joined the celebration.

Gould’s great-grandson, William Gould IV, who wrote a book about the veteran’s daring escape from North Carolinian bondage, thanked the community for its commitment to honoring his legacy. Squinting to keep the glaring sun from his eyes, Gould IV smiled widely as he looked over the crowd.


“Statues cannot be viewed as neutral, and they do not exist in a vacuum,” the 86-year-old said. “For my great-grandfather, this flag was the flag of right, the flag of equality. This day marks honor for that commitment.”

He cited his great-grandfather’s values: his fervent support of equality and staunch opposition to the suggestion that Black Americans be colonized elsewhere, an idea popularized during the Civil War and once supported by Abraham Lincoln.

“In 2023, those wounds still exist in our country today, more than 160 years after William B. Gould’s service,” said Gould IV, a professor of law at Stanford University and former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board. “Surely today, he would want us to repair the inequality in our country.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Pablo Eduardo, the artist who created the sculpture, sat in the shade under a tree, before mounting the sun-drenched stage. He greeted visitors and watched the crowd.

Gould embodied the American Dream, Eduardo said, pulling himself from enslavement and building a legacy six generations strong. Veterans like him “carry their whole battle in them” throughout their lives, he said.


“I wanted to depict William Gould as the human that he was,” Eduardo said in an interview before the ceremony. “I want people to see that this is a guy that worked hard. You can see [that] in his body.”

Shortly after 1 p.m., a half-dozen men in Civil War-era fatigues — reenactors from the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Company A — carried the American and Massachusetts flags as they circled the statue, which was shrouded in black cloth. The 54th Massachusetts Infantry, organized in 1863, was among the first Black regiments to serve in the war, according to the National Park Service.

Students from Dedham Public Schools’ fifth-grade chorus, who study Gould’s story in their curriculum, led the National Anthem.

Gould was 24 when he made a harrowing escape from Wilmington, N.C., in 1862, rowing 28 nautical miles down the Cape Fear River along with seven other enslaved people. Days later, he enlisted in the United States Navy, where he would serve the remainder of the Civil War, working on the USS Cambridge and later the USS Niagara, pursuing Confederate warships through European waters.

Gould detailed his escape in a diary, discovered in 1958 when workers cleared the attic of the family’s East Dedham home. In the six decades since, his great-grandson has scoured archives, patching together scraps of history and reflecting on Gould’s story.


Following a storied career in the Navy, Gould and his wife, Cornelia Williams Read of Nantucket — whose freedom was purchased in 1858 — settled in East Dedham in 1871. The couple had eight children and were deeply engaged in community life, despite being one of just two Black families in town. Gould was a founding member of the Church of the Good Shepherd, and hand-plastered the walls of St. Mary’s of the Assumption Church.

The memorial park, nestled between Milton Street and Mother Brook, lies just down the road from the Gould family home, and just a few blocks from St. Mary’s.

Tera Hunter, a professor of history and African-American studies at Princeton University, delivered a keynote address, contextualizing Gould’s service in a legacy of forgotten Black soldiers who helped usher in Union victory.

“William Gould participated in a monumental act of resistance against a system of bondage that had been in place for over two centuries,” Hunter said. “We should not underestimate the significance of the act of those men.”

Timothy, Alina, and William B Gould VI, three of the veteran’s great-great-great-grandchildren, pulled the billowing black cloth from the statue shortly before 2 p.m. When the cover tangled and caught on the statue’s head, two members of the 54th used their bayonets to gently pull the cloth from his iron eyes.

The program concluded with a volley salute — a pair of reenactors each firing three shots over the brook — and a prayer over the statue, led by the Rev. Chitral De Mel of Dedham’s Church of the Good Shepherd, as smoke and the smell of gunpowder lingered in the air.


The statue also now houses a time capsule containing 30 artifacts — including a copy of the town charter, pandemic-era face masks, and a list of slang words donated by local students — slated to be reopened on Memorial Day 2123, according to Brian Keaney, chairman of the Gould memorial committee.

As the ceremony concluded, attendees — including Lynne Smith, 78, who wore Gould’s portrait on her earring and tote bag — gathered for photos with the local hero.

Yvette Munroe, 70, set her hand on Gould’s leg as she posed for a portrait. Munroe, who is Black and has lived in Dedham for 13 years, said it was important for her to come out and support her community Sunday. She said she hoped the statue would inspire future generations.

“When you do something good, that’s your purpose here on earth, so you can inspire other people as they grow,” Munroe said. “And we can model from that.”

Daniel Kool can be reached at Follow him @dekool01.