A neglected piece of nostalgia and Americana is the origin of street names. We give directions, our home address, or mention events that happened on particular streets with no afterthought. However, many street names have deep history and/or interesting stories behind them. How did they come about? Are they randomly assigned names? What exactly is a “Coggeshall”? Purchase Street is called so because that’s where people bought merchandise, right? William Street is named after some famous historical personage named William or is it a last name? Union Street? Is it named after an actual Workers Union or did it come about because of the Civil War?
Each week I hope to shine some light on the origins and history of street names. Some will be dull, others exciting, but all will be a light hearted journey through the history of the region. If you read these installments, learn a bit about local history and historical figures and maybe walk down these streets with a slightly different outlook, our mission will have been accomplished. Many of the streets are named after families that are still extant in the area, and hopefully you come away with a greater appreciation for the last names of friends or even your own family.
Since the history of the area is so vast, I would encourage our readers to share any tidbits of information they may have, even if only anecdotal. Let’s discover and explore together. We could build a local resource that contributes to the community.
This week we’ll take a journey down William street. Our inaugural street turned out to be an incredibly daunting task. Most street names that are named after a person borrow the surname. In this case, a person’s first name was used. There is an obvious difficulty associated with researching a street named after a person’s first name.
The history of William street goes back before the history of New Bedford as a city or even a town. It also begins, as is often the case with the origins of New Bedford with the Russell, Kempton and Allen families. We’ll get to them in a moment. Let’s set up our series.
New Bedford’s Earliest European Arrival
The first instance of a European setting foot on soil that would eventually be called New Bedford, was an Englishman named Bartholemew Gosnold in May of 1602. Gosnold is known for giving Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard their names. Cape Cod for its abundance of the fish, and Martha’s Vineyard named after his beloved daughter. The spot where Gosnold first landed in the local area is what is called Round Hill in Dartmouth. Eventually he made it to that harbor where New Bedford is today, before heading back to England in June of 1602. However, he had paved the way for the many Europeans to follow that came to the region.
In the early 1600s waves of Pilgrims and Puritans began to arrive and settle in the region. By 1628 John Endecott settled at Salem and began the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1630 John Winthrop brought over 900 people to settle the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and by 1640 more than 20,000 colonists came to New England. Settlers headed into the interior of the continent, and made their way to area that would be New Bedford.
Dartmouth Township; First Families
On March 7th, 1652, the region called by the local Wampanoag tribe “Acushnea, Ponagansett, and Coaksett” was sold to elders of what was called Plymouth Colony. Familiar names like William Bradford, Captain Myles Standish, Thomas Southworth, John Winslow, John Cooke, crop up as part of this group. Wampanoag sachem Massasoit and Wamsutta sold this land to the elders for “thirty yards of cloth, eight moose skins, fifteen axes, fifteen hoes, fifteen pairs of shoes, one iron pot, and ten shillings’ worth of assorted goods.” The land was dubbed Dartmouth and comprised of what would eventually become Westport, Fairhaven, Acushnet, and New Bedford. Settlers arrived in droves and the area of Dartmouth would be incorporated in 1664. Families like the Russells, Kemptons, Hathaway, Howlands, Aldens, and others would begin to make their presence known.
Between 1700-1750 the Russells, Kemptons, and Allens, who owned large parcels of land and cattle would start many businesses and begin to develop the area of Bedford Village. The first areas settled and developed were on the western side of the Acushnet river within what is now downtown, and particularly along what is now called County Street. Joseph Russell gave New Bedford its name after the Duke of Bedford-a relative that was involved in Whaling. As there was already (and still is) a Bedford,
Massachusetts the town was dubbed New Bedford.
The first mention of William Street that I could find went back to 1714 with a description of how the Kempton family and the Russell family would have their estates and properties deeded and bounded. A boundary line that was between Elm and William street split the Kemptons to the North and the Russells to the south. Joseph Russell was born in 1719 and lived at the head of William Street. So by the early 18th century the street has been named already. So which Williams were known in the almost hundred year span from Gosnold to 1714?