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 Rhode Island 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 Claudia after the Duchess of Brittany, 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 Verrazzano's poor estimating skills). The last recorded full-blooded Manisses Indian, Isaac Church, died in 1886 at the age of 100. From 1998 to 2020 the island's population averaged only 947 in the Groundhog Day Census (an annual tradition in which all on-island persons are counted).
Block Island received its first European settlers in the spring of 1662, when sixteen families arrived seeking to establish a democratic settlement free from religious persecution. Wanting a place where they would not easily be followed, they chose Block Island because of its isolation and lack of good harbors, and despite its harsh environment, hostile natives, and poor soil. They purchased the island for 400 pounds sterling from Dr. John Alcock of Roxbury in 1660. (Alcock, by the way, had purchased it from Massachusetts Governor John Endicott, former Massachusetts Governor Richard Bellingham, Major General Daniel Denison, and Major William Hathorne, all of whom had been granted joint ownership by the Massachusetts General Court in 1658. Massachusetts had claimed the island by right of conquest). While the settlers started from Boston in April 1661, they probably spent the summer and winter in Taunton, Massachusetts, while surveyors worked to apportion the island's acreage fairly among the subscribers.
According to Nathan Tufts, in his afterword to the 1961 reprint of Reverend S.T. Livermore's History of Block Island (1877), 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 soggy 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, receive no mention.)
Settlers' Rock Inscriptions
1661 - 1911
Directions: Travel north from Old Harbor on Corn Neck Road, which dead ends at Cow Cove; the marker is there at the edge of a parking lot.
Hours: Open year round, dawn to dusk.
Time required: Allow ten minutes. Unless you'd like to walk the half-mile out to North Light, in which case, allow two hours.