New Bedford, Massachusetts

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© Image: Daniel Case
U.S. Customshouse, New Bedford, MA.

New Bedford is a city in Bristol County, Massachusetts, located about 56 miles (90 kilometers) south of Boston, Massachusetts, 31 miles (50 kilometers) southeast of Providence, Rhode Island, and about 8 miles (13 kilometers) east of Fall River. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 93,768 (93,102 during the 2005 census). New Bedford is nicknamed "The Whaling City" due to the fact that it was one of the most important ports for the whaling industry. The city is considered one of the two major cities along the area of Massachusetts known as the South Coast (along with Fall River, Massachusetts); Cape Cod is a peninsula on the South Coast and islands including Nantucket and Martha's Vinyard are in the waters off the Cape. The mayor of New Bedford is Scott W. Lang.


Early history

Before the 1600s, the Wampanoags, who had settlements throughout southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, including Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, were the only inhabitants of the lands along the Acushnet River. Their population is believed to have been about 12,000. While exploring New England, Bartholomew Gosnold landed on Cuttyhunk island on May 15, 1602. From there, he explored Cape Cod and the neighboring areas, including present-day New Bedford. However, rather than settle the area, he returned to England at the request of his crew.

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 the colony 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, 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 would be 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. Most notably though was the creation of a bridge (originally a toll bridge) between New Bedford and present-day Fairhaven in 1796. Fairhaven would later separate from New Bedford in 1812, becoming its own town that included both present-day Fairhaven and present-day Acushnet. The town of New Bedford officially became a city in 1847, with Abraham Hathaway Howland elected as its first mayor.

Immigration in New Bedford

The early 19th century brought with it the immigration of Irish people to Massachusetts. In 1818, immigrants in New Bedford set up a Catholic mission that built St. Mary's Church within the next two years. In the late 19th century, immigrants from Portugal began to make their homes in New Bedford and the surrounding cities. As the Portuguese community began to build, they established the first Portuguese parish, St. John the Baptist Parish, in 1871; the full church would not be completed for another four years. A French community would also come into being in the same decade, building The Church of the Sacred Heart in 1877. As the century came to a close, Polish immigration increased, with its rise marked by the establishment of the parish Our Lady of Perpetual Help in 1903. Finally, there was a sizable Eastern European Jewish community that came to New Bedford to participate in merchant affairs related to textiles and other manufacturing in the city.

African American history in New Bedford

In 1838, Frederick Douglass, a runaway slave who later became a famous abolitionist, settled in New Bedford. A historical building and memorial dedicated to him exist in the city today. New Bedford was also the home of some members of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, an American Civil War regiment fighting for the Union and the first ever all-African-American regiment in the country's history. Most famous of these soldiers was William H. Carney, who made sure that the American flag never touched the ground during the attack on Fort Wagner. There is a school named in his honor in New Bedford today.


New Bedford is located at 41°39′6″N, 70°56′1″W (41.651803, -70.933705).GR1 According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 62.2 km² (24.0 mi²). 52.1 km² (20.1 mi²) of it is land and 10.1 km² (3.9 mi²) of it (16.23%) is water. New Bedford is a coastal town, bordered on the west by Dartmouth, on the north by Freetown, on the east by Acushnet and Fairhaven, and on the south by Buzzards Bay.

The Acushnet River empties out into New Bedford Harbor, which empties out beyond Clark's Point (the southernmost point of the city into Buzzards Bay. To the west of Clark's Point is Clark's Cove, which extends inward 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, lays the Acushnet Cedar Swamp State Reservation.


At least three private ferry services originate at New Bedford. As of 2006, New England Fast Ferry company offers fast catamaran ferry service between New Bedford and Martha's Vineyard; and Cuttyhunk Boat Lines and Cuttyhunk Ferry Co. run scheduled ferry services to Cuttyhunk Island. Ferry service from New Bedford dates back to May 15, 1818, when the steamboat The Eagle carried 600 passengers across the Nantucket Sound.

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, a towered airport offering two 5000-foot 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 would be $800 million, and the project has not yet been funded by the state. CSX Transportation (formerly Conrail) provides freight rail service to New Bedford, terminating at the New Bedford Rail Yard in the port area.

Government, services, and education

State and National Government

New Bedford is represented by four state representatives, representing the Ninth, Eleventh, Twelfth and Thirteenth districts. The Ninth includes Dartmouth, as well as parts of Freetown and Lakeville; the Thirteenth includes parts of Freetown, Lakeville and Middleborough; and the Eleventh and Twelfth are both entirely within New Bedford. The city is represented in the state senate in the Second Bristol and Plymouth district, which includes the towns of Acushnet, Dartmouth Fairhaven and Mattapoisett. New Bedford is patrolled by the Third Barracks of Troop D of the Massachusetts State Police, located nearby in Dartmouth. On the national level, the city is part of Massachusetts Congressional District 4, which is represented by Barney Frank (D). The state's senior (Class II) Senator, up for re-election in 2008, is John F. Kerry, re-elected in 2006, and the state's junior (Class I) Senator is Scott Brown (R), who won a special election after the death of Edward Kennedy.[

City Government and Services

New Bedford is governed by a Mayor-Council form of government. The mayor is currently Scott Lang, who was elected over incumbent Frederick Kalisz in 2006. He is a Democrat, and has been critical of the politics of the Kalisz administration, a platform which aided in his election.

The New Bedford Police Department patrols the city from three stations, the main station being located on Rockdale Avenue in a converted supermarket plaza (the former overcrowded and obsolete headquarters was located downtown). There are also branches in the North End (at the intersection of Tarkiln Hill Road and Ashley Boulevard) and South End (along Cove Street near the end of Route 18). The Fire Department is full-time, and has eight firehouses distributed around the city. There are four post offices, the Central (a scaled replica of New York's Penn Station Post Office) being located down town, 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.


As of the 2006-07 academic year, the New Bedford school district, under the direction of Superintendent Michael Longo, is one of several in Massachusetts labeled as "underperforming" under the state's MCAS guidelines. The school system, like that of nearby Fall River, is also in the process of major school upgrades and consolidations, having rebuilt several of its schools in recent years. The most recent, Keith Middle School, made headlines for the problems involved in the cleanup of the polluted ground soil on the site.

The school district, headquartered in the former high school building on County Street, is made up of twenty-eight schools, including:

Elementary Schools

  • Charles S. Ashley Elementary
  • Elizabeth Carter Brooks Elementary
  • Elwyn G. Campbell Elementary
  • Sgt. William H. Carney Academy
  • James B. Congdon Elementary
  • John B. DeValles Elementary
  • George H. Dunbar Elementary
  • Alfred J. Gomes Elementary
  • Ellen R. Hathaway Elementary
  • John Hannigan Elementary
  • Hayden-McFadden Elementary
  • Horatio A. Kempton Elementary
  • Abraham Lincoln Elementary
  • Sarah D. Ottiwell Elementary
  • Carlos Pacheco Elementary
  • John Avery Parker Elementary
  • Phillips Avenue Elementary
  • Casimir Pulaski Elementary
  • Thomas R. Rodman Elementary
  • Jireh Swift Elementary
  • William H. Taylor Elementary
  • Betsey B. Winslow Elementary
  • John B. Devalles Elementary

Middle Schools

  • Keith Middle School - serving the central part of the city
  • Normandin Middle School - serving the North End
  • Roosevelt Middle School - serving the South End

High School
New Bedford High School is one of the largest high schools in the state. The school's athletic teams are nicknamed the "Whalers," in honor of the city's whaling legacy. Their teams wear red and white, and compete in the MIAA's Division I. The athletics teams have always been fairly successful, especially, in recent years, the football and men's basketball teams. Additionally, the school has an award-winning drama club and marching band. The marching band has been successful in recent years, having won several regional and state championships. The school fight song, "On, New Bedford!," is a remake of "On, Wisconsin!." Traditionally, the school has had a deep rivalry with Fall River's B.M.C. Durfee High School, their Thanksgiving Day rivalry having been played over one hundred times.

Other Public Schools 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. In addition, the school operates an alternative junior-senior high school, West Side High School, out of the original Voke school building. There is also a charter school, the Global Learning Charter School, which serves grades 6-12.

Other Schools 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) and a satellite campus of Bristol Community College, located in the former Star Store downtown.

Closed Schools Two Catholic high Schools that had very significant additions to New Bedford culture and history were Saint Anthony High School, which closed in 1978, and Holy Family High School, which closed in 1984. Both schools were small in registrations but were influential in New Bedford's 20th century culture.


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 1,799/km² (4,660/mi²). There were 41,511 housing units at an average density of 797/km² (2,063/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 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. The ethnic makeup of the city is 38.6% Portuguese, 9.1% French, 8.0% Cape Verdean, 7.9% Irish, 7.3% English, and 7.1% Puerto Rican.

New Bedford is the Seventh largest city in the state of Massachusetts. 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 2000, crime had dropped to a 20-year low with 3,166 total crimes tracked by the Crime Reporting Unit of the Massachusetts State Police, of which 789 were violent crimes (the lowest violent crime rate since 1975), and 2,377 were property crimes.

The Lizzie Borden murder trial was held in New Bedford. Almost a century later, the defendants in the Big Dan's bar gang rape on March 6, 1983 were held in the same courthouse. The film The Accused, starring Jodie Foster, is based on this event.

One of the first Roman Catholic priest pedophilia cases, that of Father James Porter who was accused and convicted of multiple accounts of molestation and rape of young children in the 1960s and 1970s, was tried in New Bedford.

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. New Bedford offered no tips. In another example of the code of silence that shrouds New Bedford homicides, an "America's Most Wanted" segment that featured three local unsolved cases yielded unusual results for the show: few calls and no useful information. "I can tell you this — they don't call New Bedford the 'Secret City' for nothing," said "Most Wanted" senior correspondent Tom Morris. "We got almost no calls. We aired three unsolved homicides. I was amazed at how minimal the response was." The brief segment on the murders of Marcus Cruz in 2001, Cecil Lopes III in 2004 and Dana Haywood in 2005 ran as part of a report on the Stop Snitching phenomenon that has hindered police investigations nationwide. Mr. Morris, who spoke with sources in New Bedford for the piece, said he usually can't talk about the number or content of calls in response to a particular segment. But he said he'd make an exception in this case. "I'm still wondering if we actually aired the show or not," he said. "We expected people to call in and maybe say 'Hey, I was there July 4 when Dana Haywood was killed ... but we received no useful information." The show received just a handful of calls and one e-mail thanking its producers for running it, Mr. Morris said. "I've been doing this for 13 years," he said. "I was really surprised by this." He said the show, which aired Feb. 11, received good ratings.

On Dec. 12, 2006, the city experienced another shocking killing spree when gunman Scott Medeiros gunned down 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 aliens 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.



View of historic New Bedford harbor. 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 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. Whaling in New Bedford eventually came to a halt in 1925, with the last whaling expedition being made by the John R. Manta schooner.

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.


View of ships docked at New Bedford.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 (miscellaneous 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 has had a sporadic history of successful musicians. During the 1970s, the Tavares, a soul music group made up of five brothers from New Bedford, became a chart topping success with such songs as "Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel" and "More Than a Woman". In 1999, the pop group LFO (Lyte Funky Ones), whose group member Harold "Devin" Lima is from New Bedford, had a hit single with their song "Summer Girls". Most recently, the hardcore punk band A Wilhelm Scream has gained some success, having been added to the 2005 Warped Tour lineup.

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.


New Bedford is the home of The New Bedford Whaling Museum, the centerpiece of the Whaling National Historical Park. It is the country's largest museum on the subject of whaling and the history of interaction between humans and whales. The Museum has large skeletons of a 66-foot-long baby blue whale (obtained in 2000), a 35-foot-long adult humpback whale (obtained in 1900), and a 45-foot-long sperm whale (obtained in 2004) on display. All whales died in New England waters and were cleaned and assembled for display.

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.

© Image: Leonardo Dasilva
Buttonwood Park Zoo


  • Ashley Park
  • Buttonwood Park (designed by Frederick Law Olmsted) and Buttonwood Park Zoo
  • Brooklawn Park
  • Clasky Common
  • Fort Taber Playground
  • Hazelwood Park - located in the South End, the park overlooks the beaches of Clark's Cove, and is enjoyed for the unique game of Bowls, or bowling on the green.
  • Prince Henry the Navigator Park - located on Pope's Island.
  • Riverside Playground