A Chronological History of New Bedford

(Note: This section is in the early stages of development. Please send contributions, suggestions, and corrections to rleary@newbedford.com.)


1602 - First visit by a European to Cape Cod and Southeastern New England. Adventurer and explorer Bartholemew Gosnold makes landings on Cape Cod, the Elizabeth Islands, and the coast of Buzzard's Bay.

1652 - Thirty-six settlers join together and purchase a parcel of land - encompassing what is now New Bedford, Acushnet, Fairhaven, Dartmouth and Westport - from Massasoit, Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag, and his son Wamsutta. The entire area is named Dartmouth and incorporated in 1654.

1661 - Death of Massasoit.

1675-6 - Metacomet, aka King Phillip, launches full-scale war on the Europeans in Massachusetts in response to continuing theft of Indian land, degrading treatment, and continuing treaty violations. By the end of the war, six hundred European men are killed and and thirteen towns completely burned. Six hundred homes are destroyed. Old Dartmouth suffers greatly. All is lost except one or two outlying homes and the home of John Russell, known as Russells' Garrison. The war ends with the the destruction of the Wampanoag Federation as a nation. Together with the Pequod Massacre, this was the beginning of the Native American holocaust.

1699 - First ecclesiastical body in old Dartmouth organized by the Society of Friends (the Quakers).

1700-1750 - The Russell family effectively founds New Bedford with land purchases along the Acushnet River and the overlooking heights, and with subsequent planning and development, in particular by Joseph Russell III.

1765 - Ten years before the Revolutionary War, Nantucket whaling merchant Joseph Rotch purchases ten acres of land from Joseph Russell III and moves his business to New Bedford. Bringing experience, capital and technological innovativeness, Rotch and his sons revolutionize whaling and put New Bedford on track to domination of the whaling industry.

17nn - First Naval engagement of the Revolutionary War takes place in Buzzard's Bay.

1772 - Establishment of New Bedford fire department with purchase by Joseph Rotch of hand fire engine built in London.

Sept. 5, 1778 - British land at Clark's Cove and proceed to torch the city.

1780 - Paul Cuffe, a Black Quaker and son of a freed slave and a Wampanoag Indian wife, and six others petition the Colonial government of Massachusetts for the right of Blacks to vote as taxpayers. This right was officially recognized three years later. Organized black nationalist movements in the United States appear to have begun with Cuffe.

1787 - Bedford Village becomes the town of New Bedford.

1792 - City's first newspaper, The Medley, or New Bedford Marine Journal.

1794 - First post office in city.

1796 - Toll bridge connects New Bedford and Fairhaven.

1812 - Fairhaven set off from New Bedford, incorporating Acushnet in her corporate limits.

1818 - Irish immigrants exist in sufficient numbers to warrant a Catholic Mission. St. Mary's Church erected two years later.

May 15 1818 - The Eagle makes the first steamboat crossing of Nantucket Sound, carrying 600 passengers from New Bedford to Nantucket Island..

1822 - Construction begins on the first large factory town in the United States - Lowell, Massachusetts. It was built around cotton textile production. By the start of the civil war, this industry dominates the cities and towns of New England, with 600 cotton textile mills throughout the region.

1822 - Several southern states pass the racially restrictive "Negro Seamen Acts" proscribing the entry of African Americans into the major ports of the South.

1827 - New Bedford High School established.

1837 - Runaway slave Frederick Douglass arrives in New Bedford. His trip from Providence is facilitated by a chance encounter with two of New Bedford's leading citizens, William C. Taber and Joseph Ricketson.

1841 - The whaler Charles W. Morgan is launced in New Bedford.

1847 - James Arnold and other men form the New Bedford Horticultural Society

1847 - City charter granted by the legislature. Abraham Hathaway Howland elected first Mayor.

1848 - Lewis Temple develops the toggle harpoon, the most important technological innovation of the nineteenth century whale fishery.

1849 - Gold discovered in California. Many whalemen desert ships to seek riches in the West.

1851 - Sarah Arnold gives a home she had inherited to the Port Society for use as a mariners' home. This home still stands as such on Johnny Cake Hill next to the Seamens Bethel and across from the Whaling Museum.

1859 - Petroleum discovered in Pennsylvania. Petroleum would soon replace whale oil as the primary lighting fuel, setting in motion the irreversible decline of the whaling industry.

1869 - City water system established.

1871 - St. John the Baptist Parish, the first Portuguese parish in the United States, is established in New Bedford. The parish's church will be completed four years later.

1871 - Early ice floes crush the entire Arctic whaling fleet including 32 ships from New Bedford.

1877 - The Church of the Sacred Heart, the city's first French parish, dedicated.

1881- World War I - Between 1881 and the beginning of World War I, 32 cotton manufacturing companies ,worth $100,000,000 and employing 30,000 people, were incorporated in New Bedford.

1891 - Charles S. Ashley elected Mayor. He would go on to serve as mayor for 32 years between 1891 and 1936.

1898 - New Bedford Textile School established. This would develop into a world famous textile institute and eventually metamorphose into UMASS Dartmouth.

1899 - Ahavath Achim synagogue completed.

1903 - Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the first of the city's Polish parishes, established.

July 29, 1914 - A spectacular parade of ships led by the excursion steamer Rose Standish sets sail in the late morning from New Bedford harbor for the official opening of the Cape Cod Canal. The Rose Standish is followed by the destroyer McDougall carrying then assistant secretary of the navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, followed in turn by seven magnificent yachts led by project financier Augustus Belmont's Scout. Six more destroyers escort the flotilla to the the approach channel entrance off Wing's Neck where two revenue cutters and two submarines stand by, along with hundreds of smaller craft.

June 30, 1924 - The ferry Sankaty catches fire and drifts across harbor, stopping alongside the whaleship Charles W. Morgan. The Morgan narrowly escapes destruction, while the Sankaty is lost.

1925 - Last whaling voyage from the city made by the schooner John R. Manta.

1928 - More than 20,000 workers strike for six months over drastic wage cuts imposed by mill owners. This was the largest labor strike in New England during the 20's. Legendary labor leaders Eugene V. Debs, Daniel DeLeon, and Samuel Gompers [1], [2] all come to New Bedford during this period.

Oct. 31, 1931 - Despite dismissal of charges in U.S. Courts related to strike activity, U.S. Immigration Service deports Augusto Pinto to Portugal. Fascist dictatorship sends Pinto to prison in Cape Verde but he dies en route under suspicious circumstances.

1938 - Plan B form of municipal government adopted by the city.

Sept. 21,1938 - A monster hurricane slams into the Southern New England coast with full fury. Wind gusts up to 183 mph. 12-16 foot storm surge. $3.5 billion (today) damage. 600 people killed.

Nov. 8, 1941 - With pleas for her support having failed, the New Bedford Whaler Charles W. Morgan leaves for her new home at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. The Morgan was the only American wooden sailing whaleship surviving from the "golden era of American whaling."

June 11, 1948 - Establishment of the New Bedford, Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket Steamship Authority. The first board was composed of Francis X. Hurley - Cambridge, Chairman; Philip Barnet - New Bedford; C. Edmund Hall - Falmouth; Stephen Carey Luce - Martha's Vineyard; Lawrence Miller - Nantucket. The Authority was formed after the Willis Commission determined that a private utility could not properly and profitably serve the islands on a year-round basis.

Fall, 1960 - Massachusetts legislature passes S.708 reorganizing the Steamship Authority and dropping New Bedford from the line. On Dec. 31, the last sailing of an Authority ferry from New bedford takes place with the departure of the Nobska. The special relationship between the islands and "The City," as it had been affectionately known, was no more.

1966 - Completion of the Hurricane Barrier protecting the inner harbor of New Bedford. With a length of 9,100 fet and standing 20' above mean sea level, it is the largest stone structure on the East Coast of the United States.

1980 - Promising boxer Andre McCoy dies in plane crash in Poland with 21 other members of the US Amateur Boxing Team.

1995 - Mother Theresa visits New Bedford.

©Copyright Richard G. Leary
PO Box 5810, New Bedford, MA 02742
(508) 994-2903

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