No animals were harmed in the settling of this island—well, not much.

Cow Cove, Corn Neck Road, Block Island

Block Island, only six miles long by three miles wide, sits by itself twelve miles from the mainland. Over the centuries it has gone by many names. The Narragansett called it Manisses, meaning "Island of the Little God" or "Manitou's Little Island," depending upon whose translation you like. In 1524 Giovanni da Verrazzano named it Aloysia (Luisa) after the Queen Mother of France, and in 1614 Dutch trader Adriaen Block humbly called it "Adriaen Blocx Eylant" after himself. It's even been known by the name of its only town, New Shoreham. But somewhere along the way folks just settled on Block Island.

In the 1500s, when Verrazzano sailed past, he estimated the island's native population at around 4,000 people, based on the number of signal fires he saw along the coast. By 1660 that number had shrunk to around 1,350, possibly due to diseases spread by European sailors (or Verrazano's poor estimating skills). The last Block Island Indian died in 1886. As recently as 1998 the island's population was estimated at only 965.

Block Island received its first European settlers in the spring of 1662, when 16 families arrived seeking to establish a democratic settlement free from religious persecution. They chose Block Island despite its harsh environment, hostile natives, and poor soil, because of its isolation and lack of good harbors; they wanted a place where they would not be followed. They purchased the island from the colony of Massachusetts in 1660 and started from Boston in April 1661. They probably spent the winter in Taunton, Massachusetts, however, while surveyors worked to apportion the island's acreage fairly among the subscribers.

According to Nathan Tufts, in his afterword to Livermore's History of Block Island, when the settlers finally arrived at a cove on the north end of the island, they had to push their cattle overboard because the ship could not be brought close enough to shore. The poor animals waded ashore and the people, probably still chuckling over the sight, followed in a shallop. The cove was subsequently named for the first of the unlucky bovines to reach shore, remembered locally as the "cow settler." Settlers' Rock, erected in 1911 by descendants of the original settlers, bears the names of the families and marks the spot where they hit the beach. (The cows, however, aren't mentioned.)

Settlers' Rock Inscriptions

Top marker

SETTLERS' ROCK
RE-DEDICATED FOR THE TRICENTENNIAL
JUNE 17th A.D. 1961

Bottom marker

1661 - 1911
THIS STONE WAS PLACED HERE
SEPTEMBER 2D A.D. 1911, BY THE
CITIZENS OF NEW SHOREHAM, TO
COMMEMORATE THE TWO HUNDRED
AND FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE
PURCHASE AND SETTLEMENT OF
BLOCK ISLAND, BY THE FOLLOWING
NAMED PERSONS, WHO LANDED AT
THIS POINT:

ORIGINAL PURCHASERS
RICHARD BILLINGUM
SAMUEL DEARING
NATHANIEL WINSLOW
TORMUT ROSE
EDWARD VORCE
JOHN RATHBUN
THOMAS FAXSON
RICHARD ALLIS
PHILLIP WARTON
JOHN GLOVER
THOMAS TERRY
JAMES SANDS
HUGH WILLIAMS
JOHN ALCOCK
PETER GEORGE
SIMON RAY

ORIGINAL SETTLERS
THOMAS TERRY
JOHN CLARKE
WILLIAM JUD
SAMUEL DEARING
SIMON RAY
WILLIAM TOSH
TORMUT ROSE
WILLIAM BARKER
DANIEL CUMBALL
WILLIAM COHOONE
DUNCAN MACK WILLIAMSON
JOHN RATHBUN
EDWARD VORCE, JUN.
TRUSTRUM DODGE, SEN.
NICHOLAS WHITE
WILLIAM BILLINGS
JOHN ACKURS

Information

Cost: free

Time required: allow 10 minutes

Hours: open year round, dawn to dusk.

Finding it: travel north from the Old Harbor on Corn Neck Road, which dead ends at Cow Cove; the marker is there at the edge of a parking lot.

What’s nearby

Distances between points are actual distances, without regard to buildings or cowardly spiders. Your travel distance will be longer.

This article last edited October 11, 2001

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