Niantic Park is one of 54 named parks in Oak Bluffs and one of the nine original parks in Robert Copeland’s first plan of Oak Bluffs in 1866–1867. The others were Hartford, Hiawatha, Nashawena, Naushon, Ocean, Pennacook, Petaluma and Waban.

I don’t know who named them but Niantic Park is named after the Niantics, members of the First Nation with a sad story. The tribe originally included about 4,000 people but was reduced to about 1,500 by the diseases brought from England. In a complicated story, in 1634 Niantic warriors killed John Stone, who was kidnapping Niantic women and children to sell as slaves in Virginia. The English demanded the surrender of the warriors and sent an expedition of 90 men with instructions to kill every Niantic warrior and capture the woman and children.

They burned 60 wigwams, the corn fields and shot every dog, but the Niantic fled into the woods, with the soldiers killing 14 of them.

The Niantic retaliated, besieging the English fort and killing anyone who ventured out. The Niantics were part of the Pequot tribe that asked the other tribes for help against the English. Several refused, and sided with the British instead and the combined army destroyed the Pequot fort.

The Pequot and Niantic abandoned their villages and fled, but most were killed after being hunted down by the English and their allies. Prisoners were either executed or sold as slaves to the West Indies. Only about 100 Niantic managed to survive the war. These few joined the Narragansett tribe.

In 1870, when Cottage City had been built, the Niantic were declared extinct. Today, the historic Niantic park is undergoing a complete renovation. For over 40 years it was the home of the Oak Bluffs Tennis Club that each Labor Day Weekend featured tennis tournaments, at least one of which Althea Gibson played in — the first person of color to win the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals.

The Oak Bluffs Tennis Club was founded by the late Lincoln Pope Jr., the first black Democrat elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and his wife Gloria.

The renovation of Niantic Park requires financial assistance. If you care to contribute send donations for the playground to The Friends of Oak Bluffs, PO box 1281, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557. For basketball, tennis and the rest of the park, please send donations to the Town Of Oak Bluffs Niantic Park Fund, PO Box 1327.

Stanley Nelson’s new Black Panthers movie debuts on Island, courtesy of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, on Monday at the Tabernacle at 8 p.m. followed by a reception featuring professor Kathleen Cleaver, Henry Louis (Skip) Gates and of course Stan Nelson. Tickets are available at

Dr. Cheryl Finley (no relation) speaks about Lois Mailou Jones Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum — an opportune time to see the much talked about exhibit if you haven’t.

The Cottagers Inc. Annual Fashion Show is at Lola’s Thursday, August 6 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and you can check in at

Next Thursday, the Advancement Project, the national Civil Rights and racial justice group, hosts From Selma to Ferguson: The Movement Then & Now at Lola’s at 3:30 p.m. It’s a free, first come first serve panel of folks including Benjamin L. Crump, who represented Trayvon Martin’s family and the family of Ferguson’s Michael Brown, and Bukky Gbadegesin of the Don’t Shoot Coalition.

On Wednesday, August 12, from 7 to 9 p.m. a documentary about Althea Gibson will be shown at the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center with a talk by Traci Green, the head coach of women’s tennis at Harvard University, sportscaster Michael Holley from WEEI-AM in Boston and New York Times sports columnist William C. Rhoden. The film is sponsored by the Wharton Sports Business Initiative as part of the 13th Annual Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival. See for more details.

I came across an astounding Act in Massachusetts State archives: “An Act authorizing the town of Oak Bluffs to Erect a Town Hall on Niantic Park. This act shall take effect upon its passage. Approved February 25, 1922.” Judging from the condition and design of our old and present town halls I can only imagine what that might have looked like.

Keep your foot on a rock.

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