He looks surprised to see her but who can blame him? Goddesses do not often descend from the heavens and communicate with humans. The goddess Liberty hands a spear to a young farmer, still holding his plow. Leave your work in the fields! Take up arms and fight for freedom! History, the future, demands it!
William Granville Hastings (1868 – 1902), an extraordinary young sculptor, designed this classical Civil War memorial, Liberty Arming the Patriot. Gorham Company of Providence cast the memorial in bronze, and it was installed in Park Place in 1897.
Below Liberty and the farmer there is a Union artillery battery, men in the heat of battle, led by Rhode Island’s General Ambrose Burnside at Antietam Bridge. And on either side, two female figures: the Scribe of History, writing on a tablet; and Eternity, identifiable by her fern.
Rhode Island would see over 25,000 men go to battle during the course of the Civil War. Moved by the troops’ service, the Rhode Island Ladies’ Soldiers’ Memorial Association worked for eleven years to raise money to build the memorial, “conducting donations, public subscriptions, and entertainments.”
Many Ladies’ Soldiers’ Memorial Associations developed during and after the Civil War to support the troops, sending clothing, nursing the wounded, raising money for “the cause”, locating the bodies of the dead, and commemorating the fallen troops. Col. Elliott F. Shepard once claimed, “They were the ladies who, if they had been men, would have been soldiers.”
William Granville Hastings was born in Surrey, England, three years after the American Civil War ended. He won awards in art school for his renaissance-style vases, and he moved to Paris, France, to apprentice with artist Jules Dalou, who was known for producing realistic figures. At the age of twenty-three, Hastings immigrated to the United States to work as a designer and sculptor for the Gorham Manufacturing Company in New York. He received the commission for Liberty Arming the Patriot five years later, in 1896.