OPINION: A nation divided – an optimistic west and a pessimistic east

During the Civil War, in 1862, the United States created a piece of legislative history entitled The Homestead Act. This important piece of American history served many purposes and essentially said that any U.S. citizen or an intended citizen could claim a parcel of land up to 160 acres in the western parts of our early nation for a mere filing fee.

The Homestead Act served many purposes and worked to put people that had never before been eligible to own property into ownership positions. For the first time, freed slaves, as well as women and even unnaturalized immigrants, were given the opportunity to become landowners.

The reasoning behind this act of incredible generosity by the U.S. government was excessive population on the eastern-most cities was leading to density levels that were becoming a problem for our growing infrastructure, and with newly acquired and cleared land in the west, the government saw an opportunity to gain a little breathing room.

Another reason was that the government felt that if the land won from wars with the Native American Indians wasn’t soon settled, the tribes would return to claim their land, the battles would have to be refought or the U.S. would lose ground that they had successfully taken from the Native inhabitants.

Upon hearing of this offer of free land, and what could only be described as the bargain of the century, the densely-packed residents of the east coast and Massachusetts specifically could probably be described as falling into one of two categories: the naysayers, and the go-getters.

The naysayers looked at the Act with skepticism. They didn’t trust anything that seemed too good to be true, and since never before had the government done anything but take from them, they saw this as a scam and a trick. Likely, many of them made statements like ‘if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.’ They probably saw people that were going west to take advantage of the opportunity as gullible, idealistic or maybe even downright foolish.

The go-getters, being gullible, idealistic and maybe even a tad bit foolish, didn’t even hear what the naysayers had to say about the matter. They, having just heard the news, were too busy loading up their families and all their earthly possessions into large, covered wagons to set off on the greatest adventure of their lives. They believed that opportunity for fortune and stability and innovation lay in their future, and they were going to seize that opportunity. They were likely the type that trusted blindly, were often taken advantage of, but were the dreamers of society, envisioning change and growth.

While many times things that seem too good to be true, are false, this rare and special time in history, it wasn’t. The effects of this have, quite possibly, had some of the furthest reaching changes and developments our nation has ever seen.

Because the go-getters had their dreams come true, had trusted blindly and been rewarded for the trust and faith that they had in their government, and because they were able to see their dreams and goals reach fruition, they developed an ultimately optimistic outlook. They went on to raise their children with that optimism and the general thought that you can do and have absolutely anything you put your mind to. They taught their children to trust first, that dreams do come true and that if they take chances, though they may fail, they have the possibility of achieving any goal they set before themselves.

Because means of communication over long distances was in its infancy, and because nobody likes to hear about opportunities that they missed out on, the information of the government’s claims being true were either poorly communicated to those who had remained in the east or were largely ignored. The naysayers went on naysaying, raising their children to be cautious and not immediately trusting of others. They encouraged rational and logical planning over extravagant and possibly foolish or unobtainable dreams and goals. While they wanted to see their children succeed in life, they were more realistic and limiting of their assertions of the future their children could realize.

This one simple act effectively split our nation into an optimistic west and a pessimistic east. The results of this are still seen to this day, not only in the general attitudes of people you will meet and interact with on either coast of our nation but also in the ventures that have come from these regions. The west has been responsible for nearly all of our technological companies and continues to lead the nation in new innovations.

The west coast has more start-ups and more failures than the east, but there is a higher percentage of people willing to take that risk. It could be argued that the west is full of gamblers, constantly rolling the dice of life. Some of the largest west coast companies include Google, Microsoft, Apple, Intel, eBay, Expedia and Amazon. The businesses seen on the east coast are more of an ‘old money’ origin, focusing on banking, investments and securities. These are traditionally seen as the safer, more conservative entities, less likely to take a risk and always requiring proof before offering faith and rarely taking a gamble.

Some of the largest East coast companies include JP Morgan, Berkshire Hathaway, New York Life, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Bank of America and Prudential. Although there are exceptions to this, and this is in no way anything more than mere speculative theory, having lived on both coasts, owned properties in both places, and begun businesses on both the west coast and the east coast, this is the most significant difference I’ve noticed between the two.




What’s in a name? A travel through history, culture, and ethnicity through New Bedford’s surnames: “Cabral”

Intro to Series: Skip, if you just want the “goods.”

People are fascinated by their family’s background and asking someone what they “are” will uncover a lot about a person’s identity, family history, and their sense of identity – or lack of it. America being a melting pot more than any country on earth, a person’s surname, ethnicity, or heritage is a popular topic of discussion.

When you tell someone you are Irish, German, Kenyan, Wampanoag, Mexican, Brazilian, et al you are sharing a quick symbol that describes a lot about you. Even if it’s not accurate, or you call yourself “a mutt,” are “half” this, a little “this, that, and this” you still say a lot about who you are. Often you will hear two sets of identity: “On my mother’s side, I am ‘x’ and on my father’s side, I am ‘x.'”

It may come as a surprise to many Americans, but this is something very…well, American. The rest of the world thinks it’s odd or even make us a butt of their jokes. The American fascination with heritage and ethnicity goes even further than that – we love to spend money on DNA kits, to debate and argue over race and/or skin color, and no political discussion is without it.

It’s hard for most Americans to not filter everything through these things. A surname is more than just a person ethnicity and identity: it’s also a connection to the “Old World,” the history of those nations, and the cuisines. Those things make surnames an interesting topic of discussion!

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The Surname Cabral, its origin, variations, and history

The surname Cabral has etymological roots in the Latin “Capraria,” and you will come across variations like Cabrallo, Cabrales, Cabrera, Cabrini, Cabrone, Cabrotti, Cabrilli and many more. As the more astute of you have already figured out or can see, the name has links to nearby Spain because of the close proximity and history of the two nations. However, it is Italy, specifically Aragano, Sicily, that it has its origin going back to 1040 A.D. where history records a Ponzo Cabrera who was Viscount of Cabrera, Girona, and Anger.

Being primarily a surname that is job descriptive, anyone who speaks Portuguese, Spanish or Italian can see the root “cabra” (“capra” in Italian) meaning goat and the obvious job description would be that of a goat farmer, or even one that lived near a goat farm. While that might sound strange and one may think “Who would be so high on living at a goat farm that they would adopt it as their last name?” we should recall that many of the first surnames meant “Son of” e.g., “Steven-son,” “Ander-son” or they meant “from,” e.g, De la Hoya, D’Augustine, De Cervantes, De Balzac, van den Vondel, von Goethe, etc.

The entire reasoning for the adoption of surnames was to specify which John one was referring to. Was it John the son of Anders? Or the John the son of Steven? As one might surmise, it would take long before there were multiple Johns that also had fathers named Steven. This led to using a person’s city, town, village or, in this particular case, their job as a way to discern between the many Johns who also shared fathers with the same name. Combine them and you can get even more specific – John Stevenson Cabral, would then mean the John whose father is Steven and is also a goat farmer. Phew, that’s a mouthful, so surnames were utilized for a very practical reason.

Alternatively, or fictitious John may not have been the farmer or landowner, but simply a worker. This highlights the idea that up to about as late as the 14th century, surnames initially were not used as actual names but part of a long sentence used to describe who a person was specifically by who their family was, the village they were from or their occupation. Eventually, out of practicality, that long sentence about who your father was, what you did for a living, or where you were from, was shortened and all the “fillers” removed. Point being, that the surname was just used as a descriptor and not hereditary or a source of family pride as it is today. So, being “John, son of Steve, who works at a goat farm.” served a very useful function and wasn’t tied to your family outside of identifying your father.

Besides, what’s wrong with being a goat farmer or worker? Society is comprised of a myriad of parts and the quality of its whole is determined by a balance among those parts. Centuries ago, the goat farmer was a very necessary facet of society and was often a beloved one – he was the person who brought the community yogurt, cheese, milk, and meat. At one time in Europe’s history, the goat farmer was one of the most important jobs in any village, town or city! Especially during times that disease or viruses would sweep through cattle who served a similar purpose as the goat.

One of the interesting times in recorded history that the surname crops up is, believe it or not, 18th century Mexico with the name Ybanez Cabral. Spain was, of course, trying to colonize Central America and parts of South America and start a New Spain, and a new line of the name was forged and found in high concentrations in Spanish speaking Mexico, Peru, and of course, Portuguese speaking Brazil. By this time European governments fell in love with the idea of a surname because it meant they could find you when you didn’t pay your taxes and so they began to force the idea on citizens.

By the 19th century, the name began to spread north into the US, first through Puerto Rico and then into the continental mainland. I think it would be redundant to mention that the South Coast of Massachusetts was one of the very first places to have Portuguese communities of any size, but many Portuguese also made Hawaii home and you will find many Cabrals there as well.

In summary, Cabral is a name that has its origins in Sicily and from there spread into Portugal and Spain before arriving in the New World across both continents. While today, the surname is common here on the South Coast and is equated with being Portuguese, it is actually Sicilian and it is likely that those Portuguese Cabrals living on the South Coast will find Italian DNA if they use any of the tests that are popular these days. Some of those tests will only generalize and will show up as “Iberia” on those tests, which refers to the Iberian Penninsula of Spain and Portugal, but that spills into Italy and interestingly enough, France.




Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE (WHALE) to restore the historic The Capitol Theater building

“WHALE is thrilled to announce another new restoration project: The Capitol Theater building, located in the North End on Acushnet Avenue. We have partnered with the Community Economic Development Center (CEDC) on the transformative project, which will restore and rehabilitate the 1920 mixed-use film theater and commercial building for use as a resource hub for the North End. CEDC recently became owner of the building and WHALE is the development partner to assist CEDC on their first historic preservation bricks and mortar project.”

Get involved, become a member, click here.

Read the history of the Capitol Theater and see some historic images in our article New Bedford’s Forgotten Theaters: The Capitol Theatre.


Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE Facebook photo.




New Bedford’s Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE (WHALE) to restore historic Hillman Street Firehouse

WHALE is excited to announce one of our new restoration projects: The Hillman Street Firehouse, located at 109 Hillman Street.

The building was slated for demolition, but WHALE has taken on this project to restore and rehabilitate the historic Engine No. 5 House into nine residential units for community housing, including three market-rate and six affordable units.”-Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE (WHALE).

Want to get involved? Become a member by clicking here.


WHALE Facebook photo.




Who Remembers … New Bedford school in the 1970s and 80s?

What school or schools did you attend in New Bedford growing up? What is more fun than reminiscing? It’s a favorite universal past-time. While many of us hated school growing up – having to get up instead of sleeping in, listening to teachers give dull lectures using Ben Stein’s ‘dry eyes” voice, being chosen last for teams, et al – in truth, there was a much that we loved.

Recalling your first schools, your favorite teachers, making friends that would last for life, field trips, your first boyfriend or girlfriend, your first date, and other aspects don’t bring a smile to your face should evoke a smile, fond feelings, and send you into a daydreaming spell. How did time fly by so fast? It seemed like just yesterday is such a cliche but one that is true.

While I was born in Plymouth and spend my formative years in Plymouth, Kingston and Duxbury in about second grade my family moved to New Bedford in the mid-late 70s and I attended Hayden McFadden at a time when Mr. Beaver was a principal. I lived in various places – La France Court, Myrtle Street, and County Street right next door to what was then Kinyon-Campbell School.

I have fond memories of arriving at the playground before school started and playing with all my friends. We’d race up “the wall” made of Belgian setts that separated the baseball field from the playground. When school was about to start a bell would ring and everyone would run to “line up” for a headcount. Boy, if you talked during that lineup you got an ear beating from a teacher. No one could enter the building until we were no longer unruly.

Once inside we’d head to our homeroom class for attendance and the Pledge of Allegiance. From then on, the next hour or so was a fight to not fall asleep in class! “C’mon Joe, just have to make to lunch.” At my age, I remember very little about my teachers during elementary school, but I do have some recollection of them when I attended Keith Junior High School when it was next to Caribiner’s Climbing & Fitness.

When I went to Keith Junior High School I would walk from my County Street home a mile and a half away, sometimes alone, and always rain, shine, or snow. Looking back at that daily walk, it would be considered child abuse in this day and age when kids literally line up a block apart for their bus stops. I never understood that. I loved walking that distance to school especially if I had a bunch of friends to do it with. It was an exercise in developing social skills.

These days kids would rather avoid each other by either burying their heads in their phones or refusing to simply pool together at a bus stop. How many of us have been behind a bus and it stops every block for 4-5 blocks? In my opinion, this is enabling kids to be lazy socially and physically. They become anti-social, not lifting a finger to talk to a stranger and not lifting a foot to walk a little. How about having a bus stop every half mile so kids developed good health and fitness habits as well as social skills?

One thing I wasn’t fond of was being disciplined. Who enjoys that? However, in the 70s even though it was slowly being phased out corporal punishment was allowed. While the Dunce Cap was no longer allowed you could be sent to stand in the corner, write a penance on the board 100 times in front of the whole class in full embarrassment, and even have a rule smacked across your hands. The last one was always done by a Catholic nun, why was that?

Remember the awful, uncomfortable plastic chairs? Those were bad for cheak sneaks, because if you weren’t careful with the sneak part those chairs would echo so loudly that you went from sneak to busted. We had Trapper Keepers to hold all the important documents, cut paper grocery bags to turn them into protective book covers which your friends would draw and scribble on, pencil sharpeners were mounted on a desk or the wall.

On lucky days we would watch a movie in class – no DVD here, a massive projector using 35mm film that needed to be wound up was utilized. Personal computer, cell phone, or laptop? Haha! When computer class finally rolled around we’d have to share the few computers the school had. Everything was stored on a floppy disc – remember having to be careful not to touch the center? At best you could store a few pictures on the disk. We thought it was so state of art when the reversible floppy disk came out and you could actually flip it over and store more files.

Reports, essays, and papers would often had to be done on a typewriter. For doing good school work, you would get your name on the board for the week, perhaps one of those puffy scratch and sniff stickers which you could put in your personal sticker book, on your protective book cover, or lunch box. Remember the lunch box with its little Thermos? I had a Six Million Dollar Man and Superman one.

Needed a book? You’d have to use the Dewey Decimal System and look up the book number and see if it was available.

The school had programs like Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say ‘no!'” campaign, a few times a year we’d get Troll and Scholastic book forms where you’d try to raise money by having friends and family order books, and there were the pink disclosing tablets that would either proudly display how well you brushed your teeth or embarrass the heck out of you and show everyone how poor of a job you did.

For fun, we would make these folding paper message thingies, play Redneck on our friends (wetting your hand and slapping them on the neck), make “snappers” out of paper clips, and listen to cassettes played on our Walkmans. The girls had side ponytails, bangs formed using a round brush, and so much hairspray that it formed a helmet.

when you were mad at someone you scribbled their face out of your yearbook or wrote something nasty across their face. Boys popped up their collars, wore combat boots or Moccasins, and would roll up their pants legs into a cuff – pants could be ripped jeans, Parachute pants with a million zippers, or “Hammer” pants when MC Hammer became huge.

We had to pick a Valentine to the chagrin of everyone. Same with PE class and its Square Dancing and Dodgeball. We would have Cowboys and Indians day where you would pick one or the other. We would often sit in “Indian Style” and have arts & crafts revolving around cowboys and Indians. You could bring your Swiss Army Knife to school, something like cookies or cupcakes that your mom baked, and even eat any lunch from home that you wanted it and eat it in front of anyone. I think all of these things are no longer politically correct.

Boy have times changed!




Flashback to New Bedford plane crash in 1957 where ten perished

On Monday, November 4th 74-year old Paul Vidal of Westport perished in his 1977 Cessna 150M as it crashed into New Bedford’s Rural Cemetery. By all accounts, Mr. Vidal was doing something he loved and was passionate and had nearly 25 years of piloting experience. In 2010, he had earned his private pilot license.

Eyewitnesses on scene said it appeared to them that he made every effort to avoid homes in residential areas. Wife Carol said that they had discussions in the past about what he would do if he was in trouble while flying and that he would do just that very thing: to avoid further loss of life he would do what he could to land it in an area away from the public.

This, however, was not New Bedford’s first plane crash with a casualty. On the foggy night of September 15, 1957, a Northeast Airlines DC-3 carrying 24 passengers and flying from Martha’s Vineyard (originating from Boston with a New York destination) crashed as it was approaching the New Bedford Regional Airport killing the pilot, copilot and eight passengers.

Incredibly, 14 passengers survived the crash and just as incredible they were alone for approximately 3 hours waiting for first responders. The plane went down in a swamp just half a mile from the airport making it difficult for emergency personnel to reach them as they had to carry their equipment and trudge through the oil and gas-filled mud swamp on foot.

Adding further delay was that responders had to make several attempts to find the safest, quickest path but had to track back when coming across impassable sections. Firefighters laid their rescue ladders in spots where they plunged almost up to their waists. Time was also spent trying to free some of the firefighters, paramedics, and doctors who were stuck in the mud.

According to court proceedings, the fog created dangerous conditions and the pilot was flying low enough to skim the trees. Pilot Vincent Pitts was a veteran combat flyer during WWII and had flown and became a captain for Northeast Airlines in 1953. Those who were alive at the time of the crash recall hearing sirens for hours in the night.


Spinner Publications photo.

When the rescuers arrived they came upon a horror scene consisting of injured, bleeding and battered survivors – some stuck in the mud and still strapped into their seats. The plane itself had been snapped in half 50 feet apart with both wings snapped free.

Some of the survivors walked away with as little as a fractured rib or broken leg, but the mental scars certainly lasted a lifetime. Charles Chase of New York those who managed to survive the crash succumbed to his injuries while in the hospital later the next morning.

The list of those who perished:

• Captain Vincent L. Pitts of Wellesley
• Co-Pilot Roger W. Sweetland of Arlington, MA
• D.L. Chapman of New York
• Eli Schless of New York
• Alan Melhado of Nantucket and New York
• Phoebe J. Bradshaw of Elmhurst, New York.
• Althea Eccles of Jaima, New York
• Russell D. Bell of Montreal and New York
• Mary Brownell of Fall River, MA
• Charles Chase of New York




Before & After: B. Dawson & Son Brewery Building

Benjamin Dawson had humble beginnings as a business owner in New Bedford: he opened a grocery store on Purchase and Merrimac Streets in 1868. His mixture of superior customer service and quality products was such a smashing success that he expanded it to include general goods within 2 years.

To fill the demands of his customers, he had to expand physically. He purchased the building and another on Hazard Street and then added wine and spirits to the list of products for sale. After seeing how popular booze was, he had the idea to start a brewing company which he did in 1880.

His status and love for the city led to Common Council and Alderman positions. His son would follow into his footsteps in the family business as well as into politics where he was on the city council and even council president.

Does the name sound familiar? If you are a local history buff or one of beer, you have heard of Dawson and Son Brewery which thrived from the time it opened its doors in 1889 until the Prohibition came steaming along in 1918. At the time Benjamin Dawson is listed on the city directory a “bottler of Ale, Porter and Cider” who resided a bit further down at 639-647 Purchase Street.

In 1933, Benjamin Rockman bought the facility and re-opened it as Dawson’s Brewery for the next 35 years and in the process would become one of New England’s largest. In 1967 the brewery and its buildings were purchased by Piels and brewing mogul Jacob Ruppert who also owned Rheingold Beer, Jacob Ruppert Inc. Forest Brewing Co., and the Knickerbocker label.

The brewery fell on some hard times in 1975 but made another go at it for a year before it accepted its fate, closing for good in 1977. The main building would be used off and on for shady “off the books” usage until the city stepped in. A suspicious fire struck the building in 1999 while it was being used as an auto repair shop, but the cause was never discovered.

In 2000, the state gave the city of New Bedford $110,000 to clean the building up so it could be reused again.




No North American Beaver, no New England, no America

While the American Bald Eagle is a symbol for America, in many ways it should be Castor canadensis, the North American beaver for without it and the industry that developed around its pelts, America as a nation may have never had gotten of the ground, so to speak.

There are too many industries to list when it comes to the overall success of the United States as a nation. New Bedford itself had eras when textile was the primary industry, followed by whaling which was replaced by fishing, lighting (New Bedford was once called “The city that lit the world”) and as of late alternative energy. Some would suggest marijuana will be America’s next major industry – one that New Bedford will join perhaps sometime around 2050.

It is the fishing industry, particularly cod, that drew Europeans in large numbers to the shores of the New World. The Atlantic fishing grounds were rich with life and it fueled Europe’s economy. The first documented case of a European exploring the Atlantic beyond Europe’s shores is with Icelandic explorer Erik the Red (ca. 950–1003). He reached Greenland and began a short-lived colony and interacted with natives called “Skraelings.” He inspired his son Leif Erikson (c. 970–1020) with tales of his exploits so when he was of age Erik decided to go farther and he made it to Newfoundland and built a small settlement called L’Anse aux Meadows (Jellyfish Cove).

Around 1400 AD Easter Islanders land on the coast of Chile, themselves Polynesian settlers and shortly after in 1473 Portugal’s João Vaz Corte-Real was exploring the Northeastern Coast of the United States No one knows for sure where he visited but he called it Terra Nova do Bacalhau or the New Land of the Codfish, which suggest somewhere between New England or Canada.

After Corte-Real come a slew of familiar explorers and conquistadors like Columbus, Cabot, Vespucci, Ponce de León, Cortés, Magellan, de Soto. The oldest permanent European settlement is founded by Spain’s Pedro Menendez de Aviles at St. Augustine, Florida in 1565. By 1584 Walter Raleigh lands north of Florida to find land for Queen Elizabeth and calls it Virginia where the infamous story of Roanoke begins.

What is clear is that the tales of these European explorations and of the New World’s abundant resources return to the Old World surely piquing the interests of countless Europeans, especially royalty and merchants whose eyes must have been seeing “dollar” signs and the gain in repute. The New World and its Amerindians had no idea what was about to come.

Now, I know in the back of many of our minds is the sad reality of American consumerism: while we appease our unquenching thirst for products it comes at the cost of our planet and the creatures that live on it, including ourselves. It is a resource that is not limitless and the more we take from our environment, the less we leave our children and their children. It’s a necessary topic for discussion and one that must happen, however it is a fact that without these consumption industries there would be no America, no us.

All forays into America’s history, any nation’s history for that matter, are to dive into this gray area. The value in history is in the lessons to be culled while looking back, the desire to repeat our mistakes. We can look at our history, recognize those mistakes and also acknowledge and appreciate the risk and sacrifice and that went into forming our country. Sacrifices and risks that led to the point in time where you are sitting right now – the home, career, car, and family you have.

So this is not a celebration by any means, simply a recognition.

The idea of using pelts as trade was not one conceived of by the explorers, settlers, and frontiersmen upon arrival to the New World as Amerindians had a robust one in place already since approximately 10,000 BCE. While Europeans were also trading pelts in the Old World it wasn’t an industry at the scale and degree that it would eventually become in America’s formative years, one so monumental that it would fuel and fund the basis for, and creation of, an entire nation.

Initially, it was exploration that drove Europeans across the Atlantic but with tales of the ocean’s abundance, fish, specifically cod, would be the first industry of the nation to come. Combined with explorers’ tales – often exaggerated – there was plenty of incentive and opportunity for merchants, royalty and the general populace alike.

Of course, merchants and royalty were drawn by the natural resources they could exploit to their financial benefit, but for the people there was opportunity to improve their station and escape impoverished conditions, lower social status, or religious persecution.

The very first resource to attract investors and businesses was that of fur trading and it was with the French starting in the 16th century along the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers. The primary reason it began with the French is that the entire European hat-making industry was centered in France and they needed to sate the demand. As the French dug in, their colony New France, expanded beyond the St. Lawrence River and Ottawa Rivers through the Great Lakes region.

Trade began in colder aspects of North America, what we now call Canada and New England, because the severe winters predicated the need for fur to not only keep warm but survive the harsh climate. Initially, modest in nature it started with simply trapping beavers, skinning and then tanning their hides for hats not only in North America but as a commodity for transatlantic trade with Europe since Europe had already hunted beavers into virtual extinction.

In fact, the demand for beaver hats turned into an obsession for Europe and thus began the first case of a relationship when it comes to trends going across the Atlantic from America -a trend that continues to this day. They were highly desirable for European aristocracy, royalty, and the well-to-do. They became a status symbol and fashion statement.

Seeing how lucrative this trading in fur was pushed the trade routes and networks southward as far as the Mississippi River and westward as far as the Rocky Mountains. It was the Appalachians that trappers found a new source for revenue and trade: deer, which were found there in abundance.

As other nations became involved in the New World the trade routes created by the French began to develop exponentially and they were followed in quick fashion by the English, then the Dutch, Spanish, even the Russians all creating quite elaborate networks throughout the eastern seaboard. Of particular note, are the English who in 1670 granted Hudson’s Bay Company a charter and established trading posts in the Hudson Bay in present-day Canada.


Check out an interactive map that allows you to zoom in here.

At these trading posts, trappers, frontiersmen, and settlers could exchange their harvest for flint, fishhooks, hatchets, pots, pans, tobacco, blades, guns and gunpowder, fishing nets, blankets, alcohol, needles, utensils, clothing, and a hundred other necessities and luxuries. So, you can see how the fur trade attracted all walks of life and was spurred on and fueled.

England got a monumental boost in 1685 when King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes which declared Protestantism illegal – though you were allowed once chance to convert to Catholicism on the spot. Overnight, Protestants fled France, and any French Protestant in its colonies and territories who had power in any facet were rendered impotent.

How did this significantly help England within the fur industry? Part of this exodus included France’s skilled workforce and that included hatters, 10,000 of whom fled to England. Think of the magnitude of this revocation: if 10,000 hatters fled – a tiny portion of the overall workforce of France – it doesn’t take much math to calculate how many skilled and unskilled people relocated to other countries. A negative impact on France’s economy was a boon for the nearby nations, particularly England which now became the center for hat production.

But of course, the French would continue to fight for its top position and did so through strengthening its network and relationships with other European nations as well as those with local Indian tribes. For decades the French and English would swap positions of being top dog but within a century, this foothold in the region would eventually lead to a British stranglehold on the New England region. The nail in the coffin for the French was the conquest of New France in 1763 by the English after the Seven Years War from 1756-1763.

The war would include all the major European powers of the time broken into two coalitions, one consisting of Great Britain, Portugal, Prussia, various German states, and the other being France, Spain, Russia, the Austrian-led Holy Roman Empire, Sweden and Saxony. By proxy other nations who had interests with these powers were drawn into the far-away battle and included parts of West Africa, the Philippines, South America, and even India.

The war ended with two major treaties: the Treaty of Paris between Great Britain, Spain and France and the Treaty of Hubertusburg between Prussia, Saxony, and Austria. This was a massive windfall for Great Britain and their stranglehold on the burgeoning fur trade: they gained not only some Caribbean islands, Senegal, and the French trading posts in India but the vast majority of New France and all the outposts. In addition, a new relationship began with the Scottish merchants who were already operating out of Montreal.

The demand for beaver hats by this point was so high that trappers had overharvested and beaver populations were depleting. This created a need to make aggregate versions of beaver hats, combining beaver with other hides from rabbits, mink, deer, et al. This depletion of the beaver population was devasting to the ecosystem and to the Amerindian tribes – those who weren’t part of the fur trade and needed the beaver pelts to survive the harsh winters and those who lived in the ecosystems devastated by their overharvesting.

With the conclusion of the American Revolution in 1783, America’s borders were altered, we took over the outposts, trade routes and overall industry and forced the English northward into Canada.

By the 1850s, the demand for North America’s fur took a massive blow when the European fashion trends blew in a different direction and the subsequent collapse in fur prices devastated the industry. This forced Americans looking for work into other industries like textile, whaling, fishing, coal, iron, lumber, glass, rail, food processing, shoes and sadly creating another example of overharvesting, Bison.

The fur trade collapse was a reprieve for the continent’s animals that were the primary source for pelts and hides and while many populations rebounded some never have. However, this collapse wasn’t a total one it just meant that merchants and corporations would have to diversify to survive. When it came to surviving, the damage to the beaver populations was catastrophic: from an estimated 60 million with the arrival of the first trappers to around 9 million by counts in 1988.

The Hudson’s Bay Company would maintain its supremacy in the North America fur trade up until the mid-1990s when the social climate had changed wearing fur represented centuries of the slaughter of animals – a slaughter that was no longer necessary in a world where warm clothing could be obtained with other materials.

Wearing fur was by then solely a status symbol of one’s wealth and the middle and lower class felt were united in agreement that it was “toxic.” Hudson’s Bay Company under this pressure and society’s new view on animal rights decided to totally and completely end its that aspect of its operations.

This, however, did not lead to an end of the fur trade in North America and today it is responsible for 15% of the global fur industry – an industry that worldwide pulls in $15 billion dollars.

A constellation of causes and conditions in the 16th century led to the singling out of Castor Canadensis. The fact that the European beaver population had been decimated didn’t cause the demand for beaver hats to abate. The demand was still high and when explorers returning from the New World described the continent’s resources, including the discovery of another beaver population, the powers-that-be dumped resources and virtually limitless funds into the fur industry and the side industries of trapping, felting, tanning, etc.

It was the lone beaver that created a monumental flow of both money and human traffic “across the pond” and this drove a transatlantic economy that was responsible for fueling the financial success of two continents. Without the beaver would there have been such a robust connection between the Old World and the New World? While there was a myriad of other natural resources that attracted merchant companies and many industries were rather large sources of revenue for these companies it was the fur trade, particularly sourced from the beaver, that was the “main artery,” the lifeblood, a large slice of the pie, that was responsible for the founding of the thirteen colonies that would become the foundation for what would become the United States of America.




The tragic story of Massachusetts’ leper colony and the “lights of Penikese Island,” Dr. Frank Parker and wife Marion

The term “leper” typically conjures up images of people in India or biblical stories, but beyond that, there is not a heck of a lot known about the disease, its history or even that it has a connection with Massachusetts.

Leprosy, or Hansen’s disease named after the Norwegian doctor Dr. Gerhard-Henrik Armauer Hansen who first identified it in 1873, is an infection by the bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae. While 95% of the world has a natural immunity to it, 200,000 new cases are reported each year with about 150 of those cases here in the USA. Approximately, 60% of those are in India due to the isolation of many communities from medical facilities, poverty, lack of education leading to its identification by someone infected, and the stigma associated with it.

Leprosy is not only mildly contagious, but curable if caught early enough. If not recognized, or treatment is not sought out in a timely manner the bacteria spreads from the nose and mouth of an infected person to the skin and nerves of the body. The feet and hands are the first to suffer the effects and the nerve damage leads to numbness, loss of sensation, and muscle paralysis. This lack of sensation removes feedback the brain gets to things like heat and/or pressure, and in everyday life or the workplace, this can lead to loss of those digits – what most people associate with the disease.

Interestingly, there is only one other animal in the animal kingdom besides humans that can host the bacteria, armadillos. In places like Brazil, reports show that half of the nation’s population carry leprosy and here in the US, particularly in the south, the rate of armadillos hosting the bacteria is on the rise.

While today you can find a leprosarium or what is colloquially called a “Leper Colony,” in only a few countries, in the 19th century, they were found throughout the world including Europe and the U.S.A. In fact, one of the Elizabeth Islands right here in Buzzards Bay – just a dozen miles from New Bedford – was home to a leprosarium, the state’s only one. The 75-acre Penikese Island first discovered by Bartholomew Gosnold in 1602, was the site of the leprosarium from 1905-1921 – a site chosen because of the stigma associated with the disease and the general populace’s unfounded fear that it was highly contagious.

State hospitals simply weren’t interested in housing those afflicted with the condition because the trustees were more concerned about the “optics” of housing “lepers” so close to communities – that would hurt their “bottom line.” The idea of an isolated farm was bantered about but ultimately fear played a role in the locals and they did their darndest to make sure that wouldn’t happen.

No one, whether those in institutionalized medicine or the general populace, was interested in having lepers within their community. An “I wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot pole.” was the sentiment and policy with everyone.

Fortunately, not everyone is driven by greed, intolerance, and fear – choosing compassion and kindness instead. In 1905, Penikese Island was purchased by the Commonwealth for $25,000 and those with leprosy were rounded up: Jose Rogeriquez, Goon S. Dub, Frank Pena, Mary Barros, and Yee Toy. The five were placed on a Fairhaven Branch Railroad train, brought to Fairhaven before setting sail to the island aboard the sloop, “Keepsake.”

Rudimentary housing was erected along with a clinic run by one man who was bold and brave enough to go against the tide, a Dr. Frank Parker. He arrived with his wife Marion and a modest staff to tend to the colonists. The colony would then grow over the years to take in more people inflicted with the disease and at its height, the island had just shy of 40 patients.

Considering that both Dr. Parker and his wife were living a well-to-do lifestyle in Boston and the doctor had a thriving practice, he sacrificed much to the poor ignored souls desperate for help, pain relief and hopefully a cure. The vast majority of those interned at the colony were immigrants reflecting a potpourri of ethnicities and nationalities, e.g. Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, China, Japan, Russia, etc. What they all had in common was the affliction, poverty, being immigrants, and speaking little to no English. The doctor and staff sure had their work cut out for them!


Photo by Spinner Publications

Imagine what it must have felt like to not speak the language, not understand the nature of your disease and the prognosis, be ostracized by the medical community, despised by your neighbors, incapable of maintaining a source of income, own a home, start a family, and along comes a light like Dr. Parker, wife Marion and staff – a staff that could easily work anywhere else in the state.

The residents would not only receive medical attention, housing, and food but they would receive an education, work on the island doing light farming, landscaping, and doing leisure activities.

Often it is within humanity’s darkest moments that people rise to the occasion, step up to the proverbial plate. It is a shame that Dr, Parker’s work and that of his wife and staff don’t get the recognition in the state and nation’s history for what they did. They, in essence, ruined their reputation and income for a humanitarian cause.

In spite of the work being done on Penikese Island the Commonwealth never softened to the colony and preferred to end funding and shut it down. Dr. Parker had to frequently return to Boston to campaign and lobby for the colony to survive. However, there is little one can do when they powers-that-be have made up their minds. The governor of Massachusetts at the time, Channing Cox, fought hard to have the colony closed. He was likely heavily influenced by organized medical boards throughout the state, the majority of who did not want a leper colony anywhere in the state, even out of view.

A large federal hospital was being erected in Carville, Louisiana and the governer made the order to shut the colony down and ship all its last 16 residents to the unfinished facility. He couldn’t even wait for it to be finished – he wanted them gone. They were ferried to Fairhaven aboard the sloop “Keepsake” again before being brought to the Philidelphia & Reading Coal Wharf in New Bedford where they were greeted by news reporters and a curious crowd clambering to get a glimpse.

Ironic considering that a group of people who were shunned by a society who wanted them out of sight, out of mind, now quit everything they were doing to now place them in their sight and mind. The Mercury reported that Dr. Parker and his staff openly wept as they made their goodbyes.

Here is a goodbye letter handed to Dr, Parker by a colonist as he departed for Louisiana. Keep in mind as you read it that it is written by a person who is not only poor, had little schooling beyond what he learned at the colony, and had Greek as his first language, but likely had missing digits.

Having said that, he still writes better than half the people on social media that have English as a first language.

“My dear Mr. Parker,

I am here now 15 months with you, and now I go away from her I am sorry, very much, because I can’t repay that help you did for me. I thank you very much for your benefit you do to me and my sister. We never forget your noble feeling for us unhappy people.

I wish the God to help you and all your people as you desire, and I wish to meet you again outside some day. I say again I thank you very much. Excuse me because I can’t write very well to write you a few line words pleasant to you.

Farewell, Dr. Parker. Good-bye.

Gratefully yours,
John Marketakis


Photo by Spinner Publications

Devastated and heartbroken, Dr. Parker’s final assignment was to fumigate and raze all the structures on Penikese Island. All that is left is a small cemetery (containing the 16 that died while living there) and a few stone gate posts which you can still be viewed from Google Maps. Dr. Parker was very vocal with news reporters about the entire process and his feelings about the medical industry’s greed and lack of compassion – a compassion that is supposed to be driven by a Hippocratic Oath.

Because he dared speak against the medical community and what Governor Cox had done, he angered a lot of people. Governor Cox being a petty, vindictive individual decided that crushing Dr. Parker’s colony and breaking his heart wasn’t enough so he refused to give him his last few paychecks, cut off his pension, and even threatened to veto any attempt by legislators to pay Dr. Parker or re-institute his pension.

At 65-years of age, a social pariah, jobless and destitute, Dr. Parker and his wife relocated to Montana where one of their sons lived. Sadly, he would succumb to whooping cough shortly after. In 1996, the Massachusetts Statehouse held a ceremony where Dr. Parker was honored with a paltry plaque.

Today the Commonwealth still owns the island where it is used as a bird sanctuary. From 1973 to 2011 the island was a colony of sorts: it housed a school for troubled, special-needs juvenile boys, most recovering from opiate or alcohol addiction. You can view a documentary about the school called Castaways: The Boys of Penikese Island here.

In 2015, an opioid-addiction treatment facility named Penikese was opened but in little more than a year, it closed its doors because of a lack of funding.

The story of the Penikese Leprosarium is both a story of tragedy, cruelty, and apathy and one of loving-kindness, compassion, and service to fellow man. It is also one of insight into societal behavior, an insight that is crucial to remember lest history repeats itself. People who were devalued, dehumanized and stripped of their dignity and livelihood as well as their families and friends found solace in Dr. Parker, wife Marion, and staff who reminded them of their value, humanity, and dignity.

For every Governor Cox and callous, apathetic groupthink mob that rears its head within society, there is a Dr. Parker and his ilk waiting in the wings to restore our faith in humanity.




What’s in a name? A travel through history, culture, and ethnicity through New Bedford’s surnames: Beaulieu

If you want to get right to the meat and potatoes and are familiar with the series, skip the intro.

Intro
People are fascinated by their family’s background and asking someone what they “are” will uncover a lot about a person’s identity, family history, and their sense of identity – or lack of it. America being a melting pot more than any country on earth, a person’s surname, ethnicity, or heritage is a popular topic of discussion.

When you tell someone you are Irish, German, Kenyan, Wampanoag, Mexican, Brazilian, et al you are sharing a quick symbol that describes a lot about you. Even if it’s not accurate, or you call yourself “a mutt,” are “half” this, a little “this, that, and this” you still say a lot about who you are. Often you will hear two sets of identity: “On my mother’s side, I am ‘x’ and on my father’s side, I am ‘x.'”

It may come as a surprise to many Americans, but this is something very…well, American. The rest of the world thinks it’s odd or even make us a butt of their jokes. The American fascination with heritage and ethnicity goes even further than that – we love to spend money on DNA kits, to debate and argue over race and/or skin color, and no political discussion is without it.

It’s hard for most Americans to not filter everything through these things. A surname is more than just a person ethnicity and identity: it’s also a connection to the “Old World,” the history of those nations, and the cuisines. Those things make surnames an interesting topic of discussion!

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Meat and Potatoes
If you inferred by its appearance that Beaulieu is French, you would be half correct. While its origins are indeed French, it is an Anglo-Irish surname and you will come across variations like Bewlie, Beauley, Bewly, and Beuly, all spellings that are phonetically based.

The key to what type of surname Beaulieu is is right there within its etymology. The word itself is a compound word – the putting together of two or more words to create a new one, e.g. skylight, sunshine, windshield, et al. The first half of the word Beau is derived from the Old French “beu, bel” which means ‘fair’ or ‘lovely’ and where English has “beauty” or “bella.” The second half, Lieu means ‘place’, ‘location’ and in English “lieu” means “place” as well, as in “In lieu of…” It is also where our word Milieu, meaning “the physical or social setting.”

So, it goes without saying that it is a habitational surname – one derived from a locale or specific location.

Now, how in the heck is a French name now considered an Anglo-Irish one? Normandy is the northwesternmost region in France and that region was settled by Danish and Norwegian Vikings in the 9th century and the word Normandy itself means “Northmen.” For you geography buffs, you know that the only thing separating France from England is the English Channel which can be as close as 20 miles away.

The Normans invaded England by crossing the English Channel in the 11th century and conquered it bringing their customs, food, culture, and surnames. This is why the surname is a habitational one – you will find the name and its variations in hamlets, towns, and villages from Normandy all the way through England. In Southern France, you have Beaulieu-sur-Mer on the Cote d’Azur, in England you have Beaulieu Abbey and village, Hampshire which is literally directly across the English Channel from the shores of Normandy and is the seat of Noble House of Montagu. There is also Bewdley in Worcestershire, Bewerley village in North Yorkshire, and many others.

Once the New World opened up, France and England sent explorers and settlers and the name Beaulieu arrived here. Over time the French and French-Canadians would begin to gravitate to Louisiana and by the 1840s and would form one of the largest French communities in the New World for the following decades.

Eventually, masses of French Canadians would head to Maine – where it is now the state with the most Beaulieus – between 1840 and 1930 because of the mills which sprung up in New England during whaling and textile booms. Of course, they had to pass through Massachusetts to get there and since New Bedford was considered the richest city in America in 1856 due to whaling, many felt no need to continue on to Maine.

Some notable Beaulieus are Elvis Presley’s ex-wife Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Trace Beaulieu, television writer and performer, the lead guitarist of the band Trivium Corey Beaulieu, Johann Peter Beaulieu, an Austrian general (1725-1819), professional athletes Jean-Christophe Beaulieu (football) and Nathan Beaulieu (hockey).

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