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Fairhaven Town

Fairhaven Town Hall is located at 40 Center Street, Fairhaven, MA 02719; phone: 508-979-4023.

First settled ca. 1653, the Town of Fairhaven was incorporated in 1812.

Beginnings [1]

On the shore of Buzzards Bay, across the harbor from New Bedford, lies the town of Fairhaven. In the early 1600's it was known as Sconticut and was frequented in the summer by the Sconticut Indians, a branch of the Wampanoags. Each spring members of the tribe left their winter quarters in Wammastaquett, now known as the Middleboro lake region, and headed south to Sconticut, carrying with them their meager housekeeping possessions and a supply of arrows, spears, and other implements of the hunt. In the fall, the tribe returned to winter quarters, the squaws lugging cured venison, dried fish, and corn, the braves traveling light, burdened only with their favorite hunting and fishing gear.

Two distinct summer camps were maintained by the Sconticut tribe, one on the east bank of the Cushenagg (now Acushnet) River and the other close by the high rock on Sconticut Neck. Local historians have generally agreed that the east-bank site was on the Fairhaven side of the Acushnet River, either on or closely adjacent to the high bluffs near the present Fairhaven-Acushnet town lines. The second site is placed on the west side of Sconticut Neck near the present Dean estate. At both these locations numerous Indian relics have been discovered, including arrow and spear heads and pestles.

Some historians have attempted to identify Fairhaven with the brief settlement established in 1602 by Bartholomew Gosnold, the English explorer who crossed the Atlantic in his ship Concord and gave Cape Cod its name. It is at least true that from his camp on Gosnold Island of the Elizabeth group, the Fairhaven shores across Buzzards Bay are plainly visible on a clear day. The explorers may possibly have sailed over; if they did, no tangible evidence of their visit remains.

Plymouth colony records do reveal that less than twenty years after the Pilgrim band had made a permanent settlement at Plymouth, several of the colonists were casting covetous eyes to the south. In 1639, at the December session of the General Court, some of the "old comers" made known their desire for plantations of their own, and designated Sconticut, among other tracts, as a suitable site. The location was approved, but it was not until 1652, after the colonists had feted the Indians at several Thanksgiving feasts, that the land was acquired. On November 29th of that year the sachem Wesemequen, called by the white men Massasoit, and his son Wamsutta affixed their crude crosses to a deed conveying "all the tract or tracts of land lying three miles eastward from a river called Cushenagg, to a certain harbor called Acoaksett (now Westport), to a flat rock on the westward side of the said harbor."

The purchase price was "thirty yards of cloth, eight moose skins, fifteen axes, fifteen hoes, fifteen pair of breeches, eight blankets, two kettles, one cloak, a quantity of wampum, eight pair of stockings, eight pair of shoes, one iron pot, and ten shillings in other commodities." The "other commodities" are believed to have been rum and tobacco, though Thomas Morton had been exiled by the Pilgrims for selling rum at Merrymount, north of Plymouth. The chief of the Wampanoags and his son also agreed to the clause, "And I, Wesemequen and Wamsutta, do promise to remove all the Indians within a year from the date hereof that do live in said tract."

The deed conveyed all the land then called Ponagansett to Governor William Bradford and others, designated as "the purchasers or old comers," and was signed for the English by John Cooke and John Winslow. The territory, embracing the present townships of Fairhaven, Acushnet, Dartmouth, part of Westport, and the city of New Bedford, was later divided into thirty-four shares; and the whole area was at first called Dartmouth, after the seaport town of Dartmouth, England.

Two of Fairhaven's present thoroughfares, Adams and Washington Streets, roughly follow the two Indian trails found here when the first white settlers arrived. Adams Street, then a vaguely marked path, led to the winter retreat of the Sconticut tribe near what is now Middleboro. The path which became Washington Street branched off at Sconticut Neck and thence went eastward to the lands of the Sippican.

In 1653 Thomas Pope settled on Fairhaven territory and erected a grist mill on the Neck. Between that year and 1660 several other Plymouth colonists took up their abode within the present town limits. One of them was John Cooke, cosigner of the Indian deed, who had landed at Plymouth as a boy with the Mayflower colonists and later became a Baptist preacher and a representative to the General Court at Plymouth. Three of his sons-in-law either came with him or followed shortly after. The Cooke homestead, fashioned from heavy logs out of the surrounding forests, was situated just south of the present Oxford school, at approximately the junction of Coggeshall and Adams Streets. Cooke died in 1695, and his grave at Pilgrim Avenue and Cherry Street in the Oxford section of Fairhaven is marked by a large boulder with a bronze plaque.

  1. Federal Writer's Project pf the Works Progress Administration in Massachusetts sponsored by the Board of Selectmen of Fairhaven, Fairhaven Massachusetts, American Guide Series, 1939.
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