Europeans first settled New Bedford in 1652. Plymouth Colony settlers purchased the land from chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag tribe. Whether or not the transfer of the land was legitimately done is a matter of debate; the tribe claims that they were unaware at the time that the land would be taken from them permanently. The settlers used the land to build the colonial town of Old Dartmouth (which encompassed not only present-day Dartmouth, but also present-day New Bedford, Acushnet, Fairhaven, and Westport). A section of Old Dartmouth near the west bank of the Acushnet River, originally called Bedford Village, was officially incorporated as the town of New Bedford in 1787. The name was suggested by the Russell family (Hodges, Lake, and Lackovich are Decedents of John Russell currently living in New Bedford), who were prominent citizens of the community. It comes from the fact that the Dukes of Bedford, a leading English aristocratic house, also bore the surname Russell. (Bedford, Massachusetts had already been incorporated by 1787; hence "New" Bedford.)
The late 18th century was a time of growth for the town. New Bedford's first newspaper, The Medley (also known as New Bedford Marine Journal), came into being in 1792. On June 12, 1792, the town set up its first post office with William Tobey as its first postmaster. The creation of a bridge (originally a toll bridge) between New Bedford and present-day Fairhaven in 1796 also spurred growth. (Fairhaven separated from New Bedford in 1812, forming an independent town that included both present-day Fairhaven and present-day Acushnet.) The town of New Bedford officially became a city in 1847; Abraham Hathaway Howland was elected to be its first mayor.
Prior to 1800, New Bedford and its surrounding communities were, by and large, populated by Protestants of English, Scottish, and Welsh origin. During the first half of the nineteenth century, however, a large wave of Irish people came to Massachusetts.
In 1818, Irish immigrants established the Catholic mission that built St. Mary's Church. Later in that century, immigrants from Portugal and its dependent territories of the Azores, Cape Verde and Madeira began arriving in New Bedford and the surrounding area, largely because of the whaling industry. As the Portuguese community began to increase, they established the first Portuguese parish in the city, St. John the Baptist (1871). The French (chiefly French-Canadian) also secured a foothold in New Bedford at about the same time, and they built the Church of the Sacred Heart in 1877.
Similarly, Polish-Americans established the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in 1903. A number of Jewish families, arriving in the late 19th century, were active in the whaling industry, selling provisions and outfitting ships. During the years leading up to the First World War, a sizable eastern-European Jewish community joined them in New Bedford, many of whom became prominent merchants and businessmen, mainly in textiles and manufacturing.
Lewis Temple was an African-American blacksmith who invented the toggle iron, a type of toggling harpoon, which revolutionized the whaling industry and enabled the capture of more whales. There is a monument to Temple in downtown New Bedford.
In 1838, Frederick Douglass, the runaway slave who became a famous abolitionist, settled in New Bedford. A historic building and monument dedicated to Douglass can be found today at the Nathan and Polly Johnson properties.
Frederick Douglas was not the only fugitive slave or freedman to see New Bedford as a welcoming place to settle. New Bedford had a small but thriving African-American community during the ante-bellum period. It was the home of a number of members of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, an American Civil War regiment which fought, with considerable distinction, to preserve the Union. The 54th Massachusetts was the first regiment in the country's history formed entirely by African-American troops (who served with white officers). The most famous of these soldiers was William Harvey Carney, who made sure that the American flag never touched the ground during the Union assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, near Charleston. There is a school in New Bedford named in his honor.
Bishop "Sweet Daddy" Grace, a native of Brava, Cape Verde Islands was a New Bedford resident who founded the United House of Prayer for All People, one of the largest African-American sects in America. He is buried in New Bedford.
New Bedford Harbor is actually the estuary of the Acushnet River where it empties into Buzzards Bay. The river empties into the bay beyond Clark's Point, the southernmost point of the city. To the west of Clark's Point is Clark's Cove, which extends landward approximately one and a half mile from the bay. Just south of Palmers Island, even with Fort Phoenix in Fairhaven, lies a hurricane barrier, constructed in the twentieth century to protect the inner harbor, where the fishing fleets are anchored. Along with Palmer's Island, the city also lays claim to Fish Island and Pope's Island, between which the New Bedford-Fairhaven Bridge spans the harbor. Two immobile bridges span to the mainland, making the New Bedford-Fairhaven bridge the only entryway for boats anchoring north of the islands. In addition to the harbors, there are several small brooks and ponds within the city limits.
There are several parks and playgrounds located throughout the city, the largest being Brooklawn Park in the north end, Fort Taber Park (also referred to as Fort Rodman, the name of another fort built there) at Clark's Point, and Buttonwood Park, directly west of the downtown area near the Dartmouth town line. Buttonwood Park is also the site of a lagood which feeds into Buttonwood Brook, and the Buttonwood Zoo. In the northwest part of the town, extending into Dartmouth, lies the Acushnet Cedar Swamp State Reservation.
Highways I-195 and US 6 run from east to west through the city. US 6 leaves the city over the New Bedford-Fairhaven Bridge, a swing truss bridge, and the Popes Island Bridge. New Bedford is the southern terminus of MA 140, which is a freeway from MA 24. MA 18, also known as the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, is a freeway for the short stretch connecting I-195 to US 6 and the port area.
The Port of New Bedford serves as a break-bulk handler of perishable items, including fruit and fish; the port also handles other cargo. For 2006, the port expected upwards of 30 cruise ship calls. One public and several private marinas offer limited transient dockage for recreational boats. As of November, 2005, the port is the top U.S. fishing port in terms of dollar value of catch.
New Bedford Regional Airport EWB, a towered Class D airport offering two runways and a precision instrument landing system, is located in the central portion of the city with easy access to highways. Frequent scheduled passenger service is provided to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard by Cape Air, and scheduled cargo service to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard by Boston-Maine Airways. Charter services, including seaplane charters, are available for destinations throughout the southern New England/New York region. In addition, the airport provides a range of general aviation and corporate jet services including aircraft maintenance facilities and flight instruction.
The city bus terminal offers local and long distance bus connections. A free shuttle bus connects the bus terminal and the ferries. The Southeastern Regional Transit Authority (SRTA) provides bus service between the city, Fall River, and the surrounding regions. As of October, 2006, private carrier DATTCO provides daily commuter bus service to Boston via Taunton. Private carrier Peter Pan Bus Lines no longer offers bus service to Boston.
The MBTA has proposed providing commuter rail service to the city. As of May 14, 2006, total capital costs for commuter rail service to New Bedford were projected to be $800 million, and the project has not yet been funded by the state; which is still reeling financially from the financial excesses of the Big Dig project in Boston. CSX Transportation (formerly Conrail) provides freight rail service to New Bedford, terminating at the New Bedford Rail Yard in the port area.
As of April 6, 2007, Governor Deval Patrick has proposed a 1.6 billion dollar plan to bring commuter rail service to New Bedford and Fall River.
The New Bedford Police Department patrols the city from four stations. The main station is located on Rockdale Avenue in a converted supermarket plaza and replaces the former headquarters located downtown). There are also branches in the North End (at the intersection of Tarkiln Hill Road and Ashley Boulevard), South End (along Cove Street near the end of Route 18), and Downtown (on Pleasant Street near City Hall).
The Fire Department is full-time, and has seven firehouses distributed around the city. The Fire Department headquarters (sta. #2) is located on Purchase Street in the downtown district which houses administrative offices of the department as well as personnel.
There are four post offices, the Central (a scaled replica of New York's Penn Station Post Office) located downtown, one located in the South End, and two more located in the North End. The city formerly operated a trash dump located in the Mount Pleasant area of town between the regional airport and the Whaling City Golf Course. However, due to pollution concerns, the dump was closed in the 1990s.
The school district, headquartered in the former high school building on County Street, is made up of twenty-eight schools, including:
New Bedford High School is one of the largest high schools in the state. The school colors are red and white and the school mascot is a whale. The school fight song, "On, New Bedford!," is sung to the tune of "On, Wisconsin!."
The school's athletic teams are named the "Whalers," in honor of the city's whaling legacy and compete in the MIAA's Division I. The athletics teams have always been regularly dominant in regional and state competitions and in recent years the wrestling teams, men and women soccer teams, men and women volleyball teams, and men's basketball teams have all come out on top. Traditionally, New Bedford High School has had an intense rivalry with Fall River's B.M.C. Durfee High School. Their Thanksgiving Day football match-up has been played over one hundred times.
New Bedford High school has had a long tradition of excellence in the arts regionally, state-wide, and nationally with its award-winning drama club, choral program [including show choir], jazz ensemble and whaler marching band. Stretching as far back as over the past 20 years. The New Bedford High School drama club was awarded the Moss Hart Award [named after the famous playwright and director] as presented by his widow, Kitty Carlisle-Hart. The choral program excelled earning 1st place in the Massachusetts All-States Choral competition. The marching band has been successful over the past several years, having won 1st place in regional, state and national championships.
Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School New Bedford is also the home to Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School, a large vocational high school serving New Bedford, Dartmouth and Fairhaven. Its teams are called the "Bears," and wear green and gold.
Other Public Schools In addition, the school operates an alternative junior-senior high school, West Side High School, out of the original New Bedford Vocational High School building. There is also a charter school, the Global Learning Charter Public School , which serves grades 5-12.
There are seven Catholic schools within the city. Many of the students who attend these schools go on to attend Bishop Stang High School in neighboring Dartmouth. There are also two preschools and the Nazarene Christian Academy, a school operated by the Church of the Nazarene. The city also is the site of the marine campus of University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (located at Fort Rodman) as well as its satellite visual art campus located in the former Star Store building downtown.
New Bedford is also home to one of Fisher College's neighborhood campuses. Located on Church Street in the north end of the city, they serve adult learners from the greater New Bedford region and the surrounding communities of Taunton, Wareham, and Fall River.
Closed Schools Two Catholic high schools closed recently: Saint Anthony High in 1978, and Holy Family High School, which closed in 1984. Both schools were small in registrations but were considered by some to be influential in New Bedford's 20th century culture. As of the end of the 2006/2007 school year, Our Lady Of Mt. Carmel, located on Crapo St in the city's South End, had closed down due to financial difficulties.
As of the census of 2000, there were 93,768 people, 38,178 households, and 24,090 families residing in the city. The population density was 4,660 people per square mile (1,799/km²). There were 41,511 housing units at an average density of 2,063/sq mi (797/km²). The racial makeup of the city was "officially" 78.86% White, 4.39% African American, 0.62% Native American, 0.65% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 9.51% from other races, and 5.92% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 10.21% of the population. Due to the complex issues of race and ethnicity in New Bedford with its multiracial Spanish and Portuguese-surnamed citizens, an accurate racial background is near impossible. The ethnic makeup of the city is estimated to be 38.6% Portuguese, 9.1% French, 8.0% Cape Verdean, 7.9% Irish, 7.3% English, and 7.1% Puerto Rican.
There were 38,178 households out of which 31.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.5% were married couples living together, 18.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.9% were non-families. 31.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.40 and the average family size was 3.01.
In the city the population was spread out with 24.9% under the age of 18, 9.5% from 18 to 24, 28.8% from 25 to 44, 20.2% from 45 to 64, and 16.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 89.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $27,569, and the median income for a family was $35,708. Males had a median income of $31,388 versus $22,278 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,602. About 17.3% of families and 20.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 29.1% of those under age 18 and 15.7% of those age 65 or over.
In 2001 New Bedford had the biggest cocaine drug bust in Massachusetts history with a total of 251 kilograms. The leader was kingpin Rafeal Yeje Crabrera.
On March 10, 2008, According to a news release, the New Bedford Police Narcotics Unit executed a search warrant in the city’s South End. In addition to the 65 pounds of marijuana they found in the residence and in vehicles on the property, they also recovered packaging, digital scales and an accounting of distribution to smaller dealers in the area.
On May 01, 2008, A New Bedford man was charged with attempting to conceal 278 grams of crack cocaine in a DVD player. Police opened the DVD player and found two bundles, wrapped in plastic heat-wrapped packaging, containing a total of 278 grams of crack cocaine.
On May 07, 2008, A 17-year-old was shot around 11:30 p.m. Saturday in the city’s West End. The suspect was arraigned Wednesday morning in juvenile court. He is charged with attempted murder, discharging a firearm within of a dwelling, unlawfully carrying a firearm, assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, and armed robbery with a firearm.
According to witnesses and police, on February 1, 2006, Jacob D. Robida attacked and seriously wounded three patrons of Puzzles Lounge, a New Bedford gay bar. He fled to Arkansas where he murdered a female companion and a police officer and later died from wounds (seemingly self-inflicted) received in a shootout.
New Bedford was on "America's Most Wanted" on February 11, 2006 for three unsolved murders: that of Marcus Cruz in 2001, Cecil Lopes III in 2004 and Dana Haywood in 2005, run as part of a report on the Stop Snitching phenomenon that has hindered police investigations nationwide. New Bedford is called "The Secret City" because of the Stop Snitching phenomenon. The show, which aired Feb. 11, received good ratings, but "almost no" calls, being one of the first episodes, if not the first for such to happen. New Bedford has seventeen unsolved homicides since 2000. Most stem from the ongoing feuds between UFP (United Front Housing Project) and Monty Park gangs, located in the south and west ends of the city.Also the NBHP (New Bedford Housing Projects) and the police have trouble with the north side of New Bedford.
On Dec. 12, 2006, gunman Scott Medeiros shot and killed a doorman and a manager at the Foxy Lady nightclub, shot a patron and two police officers and then killed himself.
On March 7, 2007, Michael Bianco, Inc., a leather products factory, was raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. 361 illegal immigrants were arrested by over 500 ICE officers. About 90 were transported to Texas in preparation for deportation, some without being contacted by the Department of Social Services regarding infants and toddlers without care. About 20 DSS case workers were sent to Texas.
The economy of the Pilgrim settlement in the New Bedford area was initially based around a few farming and fishing villages. The early Bedford Village quickly became a commercial zone and from there became a major whaling and foreign trade port. In the early 1700s, the Russell family purchased this area and developed it into a larger village (Joseph Russell III having made the most significant contributions). By the 18th century, entrepreneurs in the area, such as whaling merchants from Nantucket, were attracted to the village and helped make it into one of the top whaling cities in the country. The most significant of these merchants was Joseph Rotch, who bought 10 acres (four hectares) of land in 1765 from Joseph Russell III on which he and his sons ran the family business. Rotch moved his business to New Bedford since it would be better for refining whale oil and manufacturing candles made from whales. As these parts of the whaling industry had been monopolized by a merchant cartel in Boston, Newport, Rhode Island, and Providence, Rhode Island, Rotch felt that it would be better for business to handle these himself by moving to the mainland.
The relationship between New Bedford and Nantucket allowed the two cities to dominate the whaling industry. In 1848 New Bedford resident Lewis Temple invented the toggle harpoon, an invention that would revolutionize the whaling industry. This helped make New Bedford more powerful than Nantucket, thus making it the most powerful city in the whaling industry. As a result of its control over whaling products that were used widely throughout the world (most importantly whale oil), New Bedford became one of the richest per capita cities in the world.
Many whalers would quit their jobs in 1849, though, as the Gold Rush attracted many of them to leave New Bedford for California. During this time Herman Melville, who worked in New Bedford as a whaler, wrote the novel Moby-Dick and published it in 1851; the city would be the initial setting of the book, including a scene set in the Seaman's Bethel, which still stands today. Despite the power it gave to New Bedford, the whaling industry began to decline starting in 1859 when petroleum, which would become a popular alternative to whale oil, was discovered. Another blow came with the Whaling Disaster of 1871, in which twenty-two New Bedford whalers were lost in the ice off the coast of Alaska. The New Bedford firm J. & W. R. Wing Company, the largest whaling company in the United States, sent out its last whaleship in 1914, and whaling in New Bedford came to its final end in 1925, with the last whaling expedition being made by the schooner John R. Manta.
New Bedford was able to remain wealthy due to its textile industry. Starting in 1881, the textile industry grew large enough to sustain the city's economy. The creation of the New Bedford Textile School in 1895–1899 ushered in an era of textile prosperity that began to decline in the great depression and ended with the end of the textile period in the 1940s.
At its height, though, over 30,000 people were employed by the 32 cotton-manufacturing companies that owned the textile factories of New Bedford (which were worth one hundred million dollars in total).
Tool and die operations also left the area steadily, starting in the 1970s.
Until the mid-1990s New Bedford was home to a thriving commercial fishing community that fished Georges Bank, but in 1996 action was taken to reduce over-fishing, which devastated commercial fishing in the area.
Fishing and manufacturing continue to be two of the largest businesses in the area, and healthcare has become a major employer. The three largest single employers based in New Bedford are Southcoast Hospitals Group, one of the top ten employers in Massachusetts (healthcare), Titleist (golf clubs, balls, apparel, manufacturing), and Riverside Manufacturing (apparel manufacturing).
While accurate figures are hard to come by, tourism appears to be a growing industry. New Bedford tourism centers on fairs and festivals including the Summerfest Folk Music and Arts Festival, the traditional Blessing of the Fleet, and the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament (the largest Portuguese cultural celebration in the nation). Tourism also focuses on the historic whaling industry, and the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park is the only national park unit that focuses on the whaling industry's impact on the history of the United States.
According to a 2001 study by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Policy Analysis, the three largest employment sectors in the Greater New Bedford area (the area includes New Bedford and Acushnet, Dartmouth, Fairhaven, Freetown, Lakeville, Marion, Mattapoisett, Rochester, and Wareham) were as follows: services (26% of total employment); wholesale trade (22%); manufacturing (19%). The largest industries by employment in the area were as follows: health services, eating and drinking places, wholesale trade, food stores, and social services.
In 2002, the city received $61,194,358 in taxation revenue, $44,536,201 in local receipts, and $12,044,152 classified as other available.
In 2005 the unemployment rate was 7.3%, having dropped throughout the 1990s from 12.5% to 5.3% in 2000, and then having risen to 10.4% in 2003.
In 2005, the city received $104,925,772 for education, and $22,755,439 for general government from the State of Massachusetts.
New Bedford is part of the Providence, Rhode Island TV market but is the city of license for two TV stations. WLNE-TV Channel 6 the American Broadcasting Company affiliate for the market as well as WLWC Channel 28 the The CW affiliate for the market. Though Fall River and New Bedford together have a population larger than that of Providence, due to the closeness of the cities to Providence and Boston the communications from those cities often overshadow local TV, radio and newspapers.
In 2002, the movie Passionada was filmed in New Bedford, making it the first film to be shot in the city in 45 years. Previously, film director John Huston shot a scene for the movie adaptation of Moby-Dick in front of Seamen's Bethel in 1956. However, all other exterior shots for New Bedford in the film were shot in Youghal instead.
The Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum, is a 28-room Greek Revival mansion was built for whaling merchant William Rotch, Jr. in 1834. Between 1834–1981 three prominent families owned the House and chronicles 150 years of economic, social, and domestic life in New Bedford. The House and grounds can be toured and also rented for events. Weddings are popular in the rose garden. The Rotch-Jones-Duff House also has a summer concert series. It also hosts an annual "Cookie Contest."
The New Bedford Art Museum is located in the heart of New Bedford's historic downtown. The Museum offers engaging exhibitions of artwork from around the corner and across the ocean. Not far from it is Gallery X, a community art gallery.