Progressive Block Island.


Accompanied by FBI agents Daniel Berrigan is brought to the mainland after his capture on Block Island.

Our immediate family comes here every summer the last week in August. Others often join us. Our rented house looks out over the lagoon and out to sea. The perfect spot.

Each summer I come I learn more about the place.  Google Block Island history and there are huge gaps.

The island’s history often leaves out those who first lived here for a thousand years.

The Narragansett were the first inhabitants of Block Island. Their name for the island was Manisses which translates to Island of the Little God.

There is a hotel in town called Manisses. Otherwise you might not know.

The first white guy to see it was probably Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524.

He seems to have sailed on.

Verrazano was followed by a Dutch explorer,  Adrian Block. In 1614 Block planted the Dutch flag. He named the place after himself.

Funny how white guys do that.

Even when the place has a perfectly good name already.

The island of the Naragansett was finally done in as part of the Pequot War. Using the excuse of a murdered trader, the Governor of Massachusetts ordered the slaughter of every male on the island and the capture for slavery of every native woman and child.

In 1636 John Endecott claimed the island as part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Twenty-five years later we can mark the beginning of Block Island’s white progressive history with the arrival here of 16 settlers in 1661. They were followers of Anne Hutchinson, a leader in the fight against the Puritan establishment of Boston.

You know how we call people who aren’t fun, “puritanical.”

This was them.

The late Civil Rights attorney Arthur Kinoy writes about the sixteen settlers in his book, The Mystery of Block Island.

Hutchinson is an important person in the development of religious freedom in England’s American colonies. She was not puritanical.

She is also an early figure in the history of the fight for women’s equality. Hutchinson would not accept the authority of the male Puritan ministers, exposing the subjugation of women in colonial Massachusetts. Hutchinson was put on trial for her beliefs and forced into exile from Boston.

Along with Roger Williams who established Providence in what became Rhode Island.

There is a statue of Roger Williams on Federal Hill in Providence.

Anne, who went to high school in Providence, tells me that kids used to smoke dope behind the statue of Roger Williams.

Not very puritancial.

For her early belief in the dignity of women and men and democracy, Hutchinson may have been considered the most dangerous woman in the New England colonies.

As is true for the rest of America, Block Island was settled by Europeans after the murder of most of its indigenous people.

That is way more like the Puritans.

It wasn’t until years later that some of the Europeans who sought greater intellectual and religious freedom, exiled from Boston, arrived on Block Island to create a safe place, protected from the tyranny of Boston Puritanism.

Jump ahead.

It was almost 300 years later that Daniel Berrigan, a Catholic priest and anti-war activist came to Block Island to evade arrest by the FBI.

Berrigan died this past May.

In 1968 Berrigan was part of a group that burned draft records in Catonsville, Maryland in protest of the War in Vietnam.

Convicted, Berrigan fled and hid in the Block Island barn of two locals who provided him space.

“We have chosen to be branded peace criminals by war criminals,” Berrigan famously said while a fugitive of justice, days before his arrest by FBI agents in a barn on Block Island.

I’m pretty sure that Daniel and Anne would have gotten along well.


One thought on “Progressive Block Island.

  1. I still believe that by sending US jobs abroad, we have created a climate where the draft is no longer needed. Many of the poor and middle class are now viewing their involvement in the military and its wars as a means of employment, along with a touch of patriotism.

    Last week we had our annual Air and Water Show here in Chicago, which is one of the largest displays of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” in the world. We had Canadian guests here in town this past weekend. They opted to go to the Lincoln Park Zoo, rather than go to the Air and Water Show. However, while at the zoo, several of the aircraft flew over the zoo during their act. Our guests’ two year old was frightened by the loud sounds of these weapons (planes). As they told me about their experience, I wondered about the many two year olds in the Mid East who have to hear the sounds of those planes daily, in addition to the bombing and air fire that comes from those planes.

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