Reminiscences Of The Rhode Island 12
By Pardon E. Tillinghurst and others. 394 pages. 1904. Providence, RI. Illustrated. "Contains some personal reminiscences, statistics, and previously published material relative to the regiment's ten-month service in Virginia and Kentucky." CWB
Reminiscences of the Rhode Island 12
Block Island is a popular summer tourist destination known for its bicycling, hiking, sailing, fishing, and beaches. It is home to the historic lighthouses Block Island North Light, on the northern tip of the island, and Block Island Southeast Light, on the southeastern coast. About 40 percent of the island is set aside for conservation, and much of the northwestern tip of the island is an undeveloped natural area and resting stop for birds along the Atlantic flyway. The Nature Conservancy includes Block Island on its list of "The Last Great Places", which consists of 12 sites in the western hemisphere.
Popular events include the annual Fourth of July Parade, celebration, and fireworks. The island's population can triple over the normal summer vacation crowd. As of the 2020 Census, the island's population is 1,410 living on a land area of 9.734 square miles (25.211 km2).
The Niantic people called the island "Manisses" (meaning "Manitou's Little Island"), or just "Little Island". Archaeological sites indicate that these people lived largely by hunting deer, catching fish and shellfish, and growing corn, beans, and squash, presumably with the Three Sisters technique. They migrated from forest to coastal areas to take advantage of seasonal resources. One modern researcher has theorized that indigenous groups may have established a settlement as early as 500 BC, although there is no consensus on that idea.
Giovanni da Verrazzano sighted the island in 1524 and named it "Claudia" in honor of Claude, Duchess of Brittany, queen consort of France and the wife of Francis I. However, several contemporaneous maps identified the same island as "Luisa," after Louise of Savoy, the Queen Mother of France and the mother of Francis I. Verrazano's ship log stated that the island was "full of hilles, covered with trees, well-peopled for we saw fires all along the coaste." Almost 100 years later, Dutch explorer Adriaen Block charted the island in 1614; he simply named it for himself, and this was the name that stuck.
In August, the Massachusetts authorities dispatched a punitive expedition of ninety men to Block Island under the command of John Endicott to avenge Oldham's murder. The expedition was ordered by governor of Massachusetts Sir Henry Vane to "massacre all of the Native men on the island" and capture the women and children, who would then be sold into slavery. Upon arriving on Block Island, the expedition burned sixty Niantic wigwams and all the cornfields on the island. The expedition also shot every dog they could find, though the Niantic fled into the woods and the colonists killed fourteen people. Deciding that this murder spree and razing was insufficient, Endicott and his men sailed over to Fort Saybrook before going after the Pequot village at the mouth of the Thames River to demand one thousand fathoms of wampum to pay for the murder. They took some Pequot children as hostages to ensure payment, with these incidents being seen as the initial events that led to the Pequot War.
Massachusetts Bay Colony claimed the island by conquest. In 1658, the colony sold the island to a group of men headed up by Endicott. In 1661, the Endicott group sold the island to a party of twelve settlers that later grew to sixteen (of whom only seven actually settled there) led by John Alcock, who are today memorialized at Settler's Rock, near Cow's Cove. In 1663, island settler Thomas Terry gave six acres of land at the island's largest fresh pond and its surrounding area to four "chief sachems". Their names were recorded as Ninnecunshus, Jaguante, Tunkawatten, and Senatick, but they were known by the colonists as Mr. Willeam, Repleave (Reprive), and Soconosh. This land was given to "them being the Cheife Sachems upon the Island there Heires & Assignes Forever to plant and Improve". This land was then known as the Indian Lands. The Sachems called the Fresh Pond Tonnotounknug. In 1664, Indians on the island numbered somewhere from 1,200 to 1,500. By 1774, that number had been reduced to fifty-one. A Dutch map of 1685 clearly shows Block Island, indicated as Adriaen Blocks Eylant ("Adrian Block's Island").
During the War of 1812, the island was briefly occupied by the British Navy under the command of Sir Thomas Hardy. British vessels included HMS Dispatch, HMS Terror, HMS Nimrod, HMS Pactolus, and HMS Ramillies. Hardy took the fleet to Block Island in search of food and to establish a strategic position at the mouth of Long Island Sound. The British were enraged to discover that nearly all Block Island livestock and food stores had been transferred to Stonington, Connecticut, in advance of their arrival. On August 9, 1814, Hardy and his fleet departed Block Island for Stonington Harbor in part to lay claim to the Block Island food stores and livestock. Hardy's pre-dawn raid on August 10 was repulsed with damage to his fleet in a battle that has since become known as the Battle of Stonington.
During World War II, several artillery spotters were located on the island to direct fire from the heavy gun batteries at Fort Greene in Point Judith which protected the entrance to Narragansett Bay. Lookout positions for the spotters were built to look like houses. The US government offered to evacuate the island, as it could not be effectively defended from enemy invasion, but the islanders chose to stay. Days before the war ended against Germany, the Battle of Point Judith took place seven miles to the northeast of the island.
In 1972, the Block Island Conservancy was founded. The Conservancy and other environmental organizations are responsible for protecting over 40% of the island from development. In 1974, Old Harbor Historic District was declared a National Register historic district. More information can be found in the following books concerning Block Island's old buildings, islanders, history, and ongoing efforts to conserve the land, together with a collection of 800 period photographs of the island spanning the 1870s to the 1980s and all by historian Robert M. Downie:
One of the most popular celebrations on the island is the Fourth of July Parade. Anybody can enter a float into the parade, as long as it coordinates with the theme of that respective year. For example, the theme in 2016 was sports and recreation. In addition to the parade, there is a fireworks display on the beach on the night of July 3. The parade is on the fourth and is judged by officials who give out prizes in three categories: family floats, company floats, and overall floats. They also give out one extra prize for the overall category which is the grand prize, consisting of $500.
Every summer, the island hosts Block Island Race Week, a competitive, week-long sailboat race. On odd years, the event is held by the Storm Trysail Club, and on even years by the Block Island Race Week. Yachts compete in various classes, sailing courses in Block Island Sound and circumnavigating the island.
Southeast Lighthouse is located at the southeast corner of the island on the Mohegan Trail. The lighthouse was constructed in 1875 and remains to this day an active US Coast Guard navigational aid. The lighthouse was moved in 1993, in danger of falling off the bluffs due to erosion. In addition to offering tours of the tower, the lighthouse has a museum that is open during the summer season.
The Mohegan Bluffs are located a short distance to the west of Southeast Lighthouse. The bluffs are the site of a pre-colonial battle between the invading Mohegan, and the native Niantic in which the Mohegan were driven off the edge of the tall cliffs to their deaths on the beach below. A staircase of 141 steps leads to the bottom of these clay cliffs and looks out over the Atlantic. On clear days, Montauk, New York, can be seen in the distance from the southern and western sides of the island.
North Lighthouse is located at Sandy Point on the northern tip of Block Island. The North Lighthouse warns boaters of a sandbar extending from this end of the island. The surrounding dunes are part of the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge, home to many species, including the piping plover and American burying beetle. A short walk away from the North Lighthouse lies the tip of the island, with ocean on both sides of a thin strip of land.
There are 17 miles of beach on Block Island. Crescent Beach can be viewed from the Pt. Judith Ferry and the New London Express Ferry on the way to the island. It contains five smaller beaches: Fred Benson Town Beach (popularly known as State Beach), Surf Beach, Scotch Beach, Rouse's Beach, and Mansion Beach, all of which are located on Corn Neck Road. North of Mansion Beach are Clayhead and Pots & Kettles. Clayhead is a set of cliffs which can be seen from the ferry in from Point Judith or New London. This area is rocky and contains iron-rich clay deposits, and is a popular area for shell and rock hunting.
Cow Cove, Settler's Rock, and Sandy Point make up the northernmost point of Block Island where the North Lighthouse is located. Settler's Rock is located at Cow Cove, where the settlers landed and swam to shore bringing with them the island's first cows, which they pushed off the boats and forced ashore. Attached to the rock is a plaque naming the original settlers of Block Island. Coastguard Beach (or "the channel") is situated between the Great Salt Pond and the ocean on the north west side of the island. Ballard's Beach is on the south side of the Block Island Ferry Dock and jetty. Bluffs Beach (or Vail) is set at the bottom of Mohegan Bluffs.
Block Island also hosts an office of The Nature Conservancy. The Conservancy named Block Island as one of its top 12 sites in the Western Hemisphere, and a large portion of the island is legally protected and set aside for conservation.