This week in Block Island’s history — May 14, 1679

Rodman, of Rodman’s Hollow, is born
Sat, 05/18/2013 - 2:00pm

This week in history on May 14, 1679: John Rodman 3rd was born on the island of Barbados in the Caribbean. His father, John Rodman 2nd, was also born on Barbados. They would become the namesake for a geological feature on Block Island that is still well-known to today’s residents and visitors as “Rodman’s Hollow.”

In 1682 the Rodman family moved to Newport, R.I., then a prominent city whose ships traded with the West Indies. In that era, common cargoes were rum, sugar cane, spices, and slaves. Newport was also the port most frequented by Block Islanders who visited the mainland.

In 1684 the Rodman family purchased a large tract of land on Block Island, including the deep valley that sweeps down to the sea on the island’s south side.

One reason the Rodman name might have stuck to their land — a name handed down from generation to generation for centuries after the family left Block Island — is because these were not your average men. Both were doctors who moved on a wide stage across the world, not afraid to change the direction of their lives.

Besides being a medical doctor, John Rodman 2nd was also a Quaker minister, embracing that religion’s philosophy. When French privateers overran Block Island for a week in July 1690 — to literally plunder and pillage — islanders were at their mercy except for a few who escaped.

An episode between Dr. Rodman and the French was described by Samuel Niles, a 16-year-old living on the island at the time and who would later graduate from Harvard University and become Block Island’s minister. Niles wrote that when Mrs. Rodman, “a very desirable gentlewoman,” was insulted in her house by one of the Frenchmen, Mr. Rodman placed himself between the two and, with the Frenchman threatening to shoot him with a cocked pistol, said:

“Thee mayest do it if thou pleasest, but thou shalt not abuse my wife.”

Dr. Rodman succeeded in saving his wife. The French invasion ended when an English fleet from Newport was sent to the rescue. A full-scale naval battle took place off Block Island’s West Side beaches, with errant cannon balls bouncing into the forests that existed here then: “the continued fire so sharp and violent, that the echo in the woods made a noise as though the limbs of the trees were rent and tore off from their bodies.”

Block Islanders later picked up bullets and cannonballs from the beach. During the next 10 years there were three more French raids on the island.

Such was Block Island during the tumultuous period in history when Rodman’s Hollow was given its name.

From his land, Dr. John Rodman 2nd (1653-1731) would have seen lengthy Long Island on the horizon, 14 miles to the southwest in the state of New York.

After the raid in 1690, Dr. Rodman moved his family, with six children, to the town of Flushing at the other end of Long Island, where six more children were born. He continued to own hundreds of acres on Block Island, and occasionally returned here.

His son — John Rodman 3rd — was both a doctor and a Quaker. He became a citizen of Newport in 1706, but later moved back to Block Island. No doubt his continued affiliation with the island maintained usage of the term “Rodman’s Hollow.”

In 1712, however, John Rodman 3rd moved permanently off Block Island, joining his father at Flushing. Later he would move once more, to a 1,000 acre tract of land in Burlington, N.J., that his father had purchased in 1686. His first child was given the name “John Rodman 4th” (1714-1796).

From 1727 to 1729, John Rodman 3rd (1679-1756) served in the New Jersey assembly, becoming a member of the governor’s council in 1738.

He was the last member of his family to live on Block Island, and could little have suspected the family name he left behind would continue for more than 300 years.