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New Bedford City

New Bedford City Hall is located at 133 William Street, New Bedford, MA 02740; phone: 508-979-1400.

William Rotch Jr. House, 15 Johnny Cake Hill (Bethel Street) New Bedford, MA
Photo: William Rotch Jr. House, 15 Johnny Cake Hill, New Bedford, MA; Historic American Buildings Survey [HABS MASS,3], Ned Goode, Photographer, 1961.

Beginnings [1]

Bartholomew Gosnold came in 1602, bringing a group of gentlemen adventurers, among who was an accomplished journalist, as well as a historian who wrote an account of the voyage and presented it to Sir Walter Raleigh. Gosnold was searching out a direct course to Virginia, and he discovered a group of islands at the mouth of Buzzards Bay, building a fortification on an islet in a fresh water pond on the island of Cuttyhunk. This was Gosnold's rendezvous. He crossed the bay and discovered the Acushnet River, on the west bank of which New Bedford was built. Here Gosnold found "stately groves, flowery meadows and running brooks." Even at that day the hospitality of the people was conspicuous, for it is recorded that "on the shore he was met by a company of natives, men, women and children, who with all courteous kindness entertained him, giving him skins of wild beasts, tobacco, turtles, hemp, artificial strings colored (wampum) and such like things as they had about them."

The Town of Dartmouth was incorporated in 1664, and the village of New Bedford, along the river, developed within the town.

The land at the mouth of the Acushnet River on the west side was the homestead farm of the Russells, and in 1760 John Loudon bought the first acre sold from that estate. His purchase lay just south of Union and Water Streets and upon it he built a house in 1761. He was a caulker by trade and bought his land in a location suitable for a shipyard, the tide then flowing as far west as South Water Street. In 1761 Benjamin Taber bought land and erected a structure suitable for boat building and block making, and there built the first whale boat in the village. Joseph Russell, the founder of the village, was also the founder of the New Bedford whale fishery, in which a few small vessels were engaged as early as 1751.

Joseph Rotch settled here in 1765. His coming was an event of great importance to New Bedford, as he possessed capital, business experience, sagacity and initiative, which he placed at the disposal of the young but healthy whaling industry. This marked a new era of prosperity with houses and shops multiplying, and the river front becoming a place of great activity. Two of the many New Bedford ships built by Rotch (the Dartmouth and the Bedford) were closely associated with 2 great events — the "Boston Tea Party," antedating and aiding to incite the Revolution; and the first appearance of the victorious Stars and Stripes in the waters of the nation from whom independence had been won.

In 1795 the population of New Bedford was about 500, and by 1795, about 1,000.

In what might be called "The Golden Age" of New Bedford, its whaling vessels in number and tonnage exceeded the combined fleets of all other whaling ports, and New Bedford became known as the foremost whaling port of the world.

  1. Zephaniah W. Pease, editor, History of New Bedford, Volume I, The Lewis Historical Publishing Company, New York, 1918.
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