Your Town, Your Life: New Bedford

 By: Alexandra Cowley 

In this weeks Your Town, Your Life we take you to the Southcoast of Massachusetts to the Whaling City of New Bedford. The sixth largest city in Massachusetts. At one point during the 19th Century, New Bedford was the most important whaling and fishing port in the world. As you can imagine, this created a ton of jobs. It also made New Bedford the cultural melting pot that it is. During that time, the Underground Railroad was thriving in the city.

Along Seventh Street in New Bedford, there are more than a dozen historic homes. One of them, the Nathan and Polly Johnson house, was a key stop along the Underground Railroad.

Lee Blake is president of the New Bedford Historical Society. She says, “we have the history of at least 8 of the people that lived here who fled from slavery either in Georgia and Virginia and other places.”

She says people’s biggest misconception of the Underground Railroad, is that it’s underground. That’s not the case in New Bedford.

The term railroad signified “safe spots” along an enslaved persons journey to freedom.

“You’ll hear a lot of spirituals talk about get on board the train to freedom, that’s the underground railroad,” explained Blake.

During that time, the whaling industry had a shortage of workers and many of the Abolishioners in New Bedford would give fugitive slaves work on the ships.

“Quakers did not believe in slavery so they tried their best to help some of the fugitives that ended up in New Bedford by employing them,” she explained. 

The whaling ships traveled all over, picking up people at ports at Cape Verde and Polynesia and putting them to work. Many of those people ended up back in New Bedford.

“New Bedford really had this reputation of being tolerant because they had all these different ethnic groups working on the whale ships,” said Blake. 

Blake teaches the history of her city, because she says its important for rebuilding it.

“We need to highlight and make connections with our young people to the past so that our city can move forward,” Blake said. 

Some business owners downtown have really noticed the city’s comeback. Recently, the city decided to remove the pavement poured over the original cobblestone near the port on Union Street, to bring out the city’s history. Shops are popping up and doing well. Carlos Chammorro owns The Landing Gift Shop which just opened 6 months ago.

Chammorro said, “It’s really nice we’ve seen more shops opening you know what I mean in a couple years its going to be a huge difference.”

Chammorro’s shop started out making bags for scallops and selling them at the pier. Now, his gift shop has shirts, pillows, and a bunch of New Bedford memorabilia.

So far our journey has taken us to more than a dozen cities and towns throughout Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts. We want to know what stands out about where you live. Look for the your town logo on our website and fill us in about your home town’s character.

(C) WLNE-TV 2014