"The earth has got to be very shifty to get out of the grasp of a people equally at home on land and water." - Thomas B. Reed.
New Bedford, Massachusetts is best known as a whaling era seaport and today is the number one fishing port in America. With a rich history, a designated national park in its historical downtown and an authentic working waterfront, the city of New Bedford today continues a remarkable transition from an economically depressed mill town to a culturally significant tourist destination.
Part of Bristol County, New Bedford is situated on the Southcoast of Massachusetts. A coastal city and a major seaport, 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. These towns along with New Bedford were once all part of what was once “Old” Dartmouth, but were divided up throughout the towns’ history, dating back to the 1670’s.
New Bedford has a population of approximately 100,000 residents, including the nation’s largest Portuguese population, and a large Cape Verdean community as well. Visits by New Bedford's whale ships to the Portuguese Islands in the eastern Atlantic, the Azores, Madeira, and also Cape Verde resulted in the immigration of many islanders to America. The New Bedford Historical Commission explains that this began in the 1830's or possibly even earlier. Today, Guatemalan and Mayan people are the area’s newest immigrants not only in New Bedford, but all around southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. They, like the Portuguese people of the past, are drawn to this area by the maritime and fish-processing operations.
Economically, New Bedford relies on fishing and manufacturing for the main industries in the area, and the local newspaper, The Standard Times reported recently that due to the expansion by local employer Southcoast Hospitals Group, it is now one of the top ten employers in the state of Massachusetts.
The port of New Bedford is one of our nation’s major fishing ports. In dollar value of the catch, it has been number one for the last several years. The fish sold here, and the fishing industry’s many shore side businesses, provide major support for the city’s and region’s economy. Seafood harvesting and processing contributes $5.5 billion to the New England economy and $850 million to our local economy. The fishing industry employees over 15,000 people in New England and 3,500 people in New Bedford, Fairhaven, Dartmouth and surrounding towns. Many people who work in the fishing industry are from families who have fished or done fishing related work for generations (Nelson, 23).
Tourism has become a growing industry in its own right and there are many fairs and festivals in the area over the summer and fall months that attract large numbers of visitors to the city. The most famous annual event that attracts hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world is the “Feast of the Blessed Sacrament”, or the “Portuguese Feast” that is held each summer in July. Begun in 1915 by Madeiran immigrants, the Portuguese Feast helped them to recreate the religious festivals that were so common in the villages of their home island and to commemorate their safe passage to America; this traditional mid-summer gathering is for family and friends and has become the largest Portuguese Feast in the world.
Another festival that has been attracting attention for some years called the Working Waterfront Festival, is held each year in September, celebrates the culture of the working
waterfront, and features many exhibits and activities designed to educate the public about its history and to give them a glimpse of the experience of a life at sea.