In 1524, what later became known as Block Island was sighted by Giovanni da Verrazzano, who 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 coast.”
The Niantic, whose tribe eventually merged with the Narragansett people, called the island “Manisses” (“little island of Manitou“). Archaeological sites indicate these native people lived largely by hunting deer, catching fish and shellfish, and growing corn, beans, and squash. They migrated from forest to coastal areas to take advantage of seasonal resources. Artifacts found in the area suggest that American Indians inhabited the area as far back as 1300 BC. In 1662, natives on the island numbered somewhere from 1,200 to 1,500. By 1774, that number had been reduced to fifty-one.
In 1985 the Historical Society sponsored and archeological dig that discovered a year round settlement which with carbon dating proved this highly skilled maritime culture inhabited this location in 500 BC. The museum has a replica of the findings of this midden and village site. Please stop in to see the extensive collection of points and stone tools preserved by many generations of islanders. There will be an ongoing archeological dig conducted this summer. Please inquire at the museum about our special tours related to this project. See Contact page.