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New Bedford’s Early Villages; Turning Sprawl into a City


New Bedford, the village. The two don’t seem to go together, but as hard as it is to believe, there was a time when New Bedford was a small village. The entire region had hamlets, villages and towns and New Bedford was one of many. I have personally come across approximately 15 villages that surrounded the village of New Bedford. These villages eventually sprawled into one another, and as the region progressed the particular village called New Bedford stood out and raced ahead of the others. For this reason, when the villages became one, the city that they became was dubbed New Bedford. These villages still “exist” in the sense that they are now referred to as neighborhoods. In all likelihood you have heard of these villages or neighborhoods. As a matter of fact, you may use the names on a daily basis!

As is always the case with these historical articles, they simply can’t be “trued” without contributions from readers. The oral history and anecdotes help improve the articles. If these articles are looked at as a sort of “Wiki” with the community contributing, confirming, and adding, the articles’ accuracy can only be improved. So, please, by all means speak up. Don’t be shy! If you see an error, let us know in a comment here or e-mail us at info@newbedfordguide.com. As I mentioned above, I have come across 15 villages, but you may know of one I missed. I’d love to add her in! Lastly, since there is a serious lack of images from the 17th and early 18th century, for obvious reasons, I’ve chosen to illustrate the time using the absolutely gorgeous paintings of New Bedford resident William Allen Wall (1801-1885).

So here are the 15 villages and a little bit of information on each. Do you live in one?!

17th Century Beginnings
New Bedford harbor as many of you may already now, had Europeans putting around in it a few decades before the Pilgrims arrived. Bartholomew Gosnold we know was her on May 31, 1602. This is the fellow that gave Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod their names. It can’t be proven, but it is said that he made landfall somewhere around the South Terminal, northwest of Palmer’s Island in a spot called the “Smoking Rocks.”

Gosnold at Smoking Rocks by William Allen Wall
Gosnold at Smoking Rocks by William Allen Wall – Courtesy of N.B. Whaling Museum

After the purchase of the Olde Dartmouth region in 1652 by Bradford and the Proprietors, people began to slowly populate the area. In the early to mid 1700s the prominent Russell family came to New Bedford village and scooped up large tracts of land along the Acushnet River and began to farm and develop commerce and trade. The Russell family traced its roots to the Duke of Bedford, and in tribute to him named the village Bedford. No “New” yet as New Bedford was simply called Bedford or Bedford Village, and it was called this as “recently” as the Revolutionary War. Indeed, many war documents make reference to the the “village of Bedford” being torched.

The Russells, Rotches, and the Duke of Bedford
By 1760 the Russells, particularly Joseph Russell, began to sell lots of his land and because of the proximity of these lots to the waterfront, it began to attract fisherman, shipbuilders and the ilk. At that point, New Bedford included Acushnet and “Fair Haven” until they broke away in 1860 and 1812 respectively. As the village began to develop, the officials decided to make a distinction between another Bedford that was already established in Massachusetts and of course, the Bedford that already existed in England. New Bedford grew into a town and was officially granted its’ charter in 1787. This is how New Bedford, got its “New.” Faster, stronger, higher.

Leonard Oil Works by William Allen Wall
Leonard Oil Works by William Allen Wall – Courtesy of N.B. Whaling Museum

With the influx of fishermen, shipbuilders, and laborers, it was a no-brainer for Russell to begin to put some of his investment behind the growing whaling industry. When business mogul and whaling merchant William Rotch, Jr. got wind of what was going on, he came to New Bedford and began to ply his trade. Many captains soon followed. Once this happened the town began to attract merchants, banks, peddlers, and unskilled laborers. These are the biggest reasons that New Bedford grew and progressed so much faster than its surrounding villages and winning the contest to name the city they would aggregate to become.

Population Growth
By 1800 the town started to grow exponentially and by 1805 the number of dwellings had nearly doubled from 185 to 300. In 1847 it earned its city charter. By 1850 the population had again doubled and wouldn’t double again until 1890 reaching almost 35,000 people. People continued to relocate to the city until it reached its highest population, mainly due to the textile boom, in 1920 at 121,217 people. New Bedford’s population has declined slowly since then but has perked up a bit in recent years.

Here are the many villages that make up New Bedford in alphabetical order:

1. Bedford
Well. This obscure, unknown village outpaced the other villages to become New Bedford. Or so I’ve heard.

2. Belleville or Bellville
Belleville village is in the eastern part of New Bedford. Belleville Avenue runs through it. It was noted as a launching site for many of the whaling vessels, and a family called the Stetson’s were well-known shipbuilders who operated here. I’d imagine the name originated from the volumes of bells used whether to alert people of ships being launched or returning, or perhaps due to the number of Bethel’s or Church’s in the village.

Four Corners 1807 by William Allen Wall
Four Corners 1807 by William Allen Wall – Courtesy of N.B. Whaling Museum

3. Cannonville
Not to be confused with the Cannonville in the southern part of Mattapoisett, this Cannonville was located in the western part of New Bedford, what was or is the 2nd ward. Cannonville included Oak Grove Cemetery, Clasky Common Park, Kempton Street, Union Street, and was really at the heart of the city. Samuel Leonard & Sons ran the largest oil refinery in the nation out of Cannonville near Water Street and there is still a Leonard’s Wharf today in front of the recently built Fairfield Suites. There is still a small strip of Cannon Street left today and this was one of the villages that had a post office in the early years. Its eastern border reached the waterfront where the whaling vessels docked. There were cannons here that were used to defend the city and this is one possible way that the village got it’s name, but it’s pure conjecture.

It is possible that it is named after a surname as is the case with the Cannonville in Utah as there were a few Cannons living in New Bedford, particularly a James Cannon that was a surveyor, Henry Cannon, a boat steerer and Philip, Edward and Nathaniel Cannons that were owners of a number of whaling vessels. It was Henry Cannon that the street that still exists today was named after and is a likely candidate if this is the case. Regardless, the 1790 census turns up a Philip (perhaps the son of the above Philip) and a John Cannon who are also likely candidates.

4. Clark’s Point
Clark’s Point Village is the specific spot where the southern coast between Clark’s Cove and the entrance to the New Bedford Harbor is and the homesteads that surrounded it. There was a fixed white light at this point that was a lantern about 70 feet above sea level and said to be visible upwards of 13 miles. Clark’s Point’s first lighthouse was erected in 1797 by a small group of merchants. It is likely that one of the merchants – a Clark- named the point. Dear reader, if you know better, please let us know.

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About Joe Silvia

When Joe isn't writing, he's coaching people to punch each other in the face. He enjoys ancient cultures, dead and living languages, cooking, benching 999#s, and saving the elderly, babies and puppies from burning buildings. While he enjoys long walks on the beach, he will not be your alarm clock, because he's no ding-a-ling.

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  1. Wow…great in depth “short” history of NB Joe! I will use this as a reference in the future!

    • Joe, thanks for the infor and one question: many of the villages have little or no information. Where did you learn or suspect that there was a village by that name at all?

  2. Thank you Freddie!

    Danny, we have multiple sources to cull the information from, private and public. In the case of this article, I exhausted all of them! I went one source at a time and recorded every mention of a village. A few of the villages were only mentioned once and were in a directory with no info. Once I had a “keyword”, I circled back to all the documents I had already gone through and searched again. Winterville for example, has virtually nothing.

    My hope and intention with many of these historic articles, is that the readers will share anecdotes and help fill in the holes.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. former west ender

    Nothing on Sassaquin?

  4. Joe, in your section on Germantown, you mention the “Independent Order Of Red Men”. It caught my eye because of the similarity to the “Improved Order Of Red Men”, a Patriot Fraternal Organization said to have taken part in the Boston Tea Party and touts itself as the oldest Fraternal Organization in the U.S.

  5. Jesseville School was a Quaker school on Linden St. The building is still there on the south side of Linden almost at the top near Summer St. It is an aparment house now. Dates from the 1830s .

  6. Not a German -only club, the IMPROVED Order of Red Men were a fraternal organization (still in existance) that were an outgrowth of the original Sons of Liberty in Colonial (tea Party) times. They have a odge in Wareham today. My dad was a member for many years in New Beford when the RedMen hall (Kalife Hall) was on the NE corner of Summer and Linden Sts. (now an apartment) in the 50s and early 60’s.

  7. You guys are a fount of information. Thank’s for the feedback and the improvements.

    @former west ender, my primary concern was with those villages that existed at the beginning of New Bedford’s history, or at least in the first century or so. There are more recent “villages” that I did not include for that reason.

    It is my understanding – and it may be incorrect – that Sassaquin is a relatively recent “village.” I’ll confess that I know very little about Sassaquin.

  8. Cannondale…corner of rockdale and kempton.

  9. Great piece~ I really enjoyed reading it! One of my favorite things about this city is that there’s so much history here, and much of it still visible in the architecture.

  10. I thought the area in the west was Acushnet Village which Clasky or Common Park was known as Acushnet Park. There are condos on County St and Robertson St known as Acushnet Heights because that area was Acushnet Village. This is what I have heard over the years. It may be wrong

  11. You do excellent work. Great story.

  12. Cindy Agostinho

    What about the sassaquin area? How did that name come about and where did those boundaries start and end?

  13. Thanks again gang. I sincerely appreciate the comments. Some of these articles require a lot of reading and research. Sometimes it takes an hour or two to confirm just one fact/sentence. Your enthusiasm makes it all worth it.

    @Karen: Acushnet Village refers to the early name of Acushnet proper.

    In the 18th century when Olde Dartmouth was yet to be broken up and New Bedford was yet to be a city, there were 4 primary population centers which were pragmatically sectioned because of the river: Bedford, Fair-Haven, Long Plain and Acushnet Village – which included Rochester up to 1747 I believe. These population centers were all in “Dartmouth.”

    In 1787 New Bedford, separated from Dartmouth. New Bedford at that time included Fair-Haven and Acushnet Village up. New Bedford/Fairhaven/Acushnet remained “New Bedford” up to 1812 when Fairhaven separated. Acushnet became its own entity in 1860 leading up to the Civil War. However, Acushnet continued to be called Acushnet Village even into the 1900s.

    The area that you mention may colloquially be called Acushnet Village today because of its proximity to Acushnet Avenue – but all historical documents, atlases included refer to Acushnet as Acushnet Village. Map: http://www.historicmapworks.com/Map/US/8868/Acushnet+Village/New+Bedford+1881/Massachusetts/.

    I’m open to the possibility that there was a second Acushnet Village, however I just haven’t seen it mentioned in historical documents. Of course, there are thousands and it would be easy enough to miss it!

    @Cindy, when it comes to Sassaquin, I had an extremely difficult time finding much info or history or even much mention that it is indeed a “village.”

    What little mention of Sassaquin in historical documents revolves around the pond (also known as Myle’s Pond) and the Sachem it was supposedly named after. Sassaquin is always referred to as a pond (and an early open air school) and not a village. I think what may be the case here, is that Sassaquin is an unofficial residential village and when giving directions it’s an easy geographical landmark.

    I find this interesting, because I was always under the impression that it was a village. I will continue to dig!

    • Sassaquin was once called Clifford and is still Clifford on maps. I have letters of my moms with the address being. ____ Broadway, Clifford, ma. Broadway later became Sassaquin Ave. and Clifford, Sassaquin. So it may be the Clifford Village because we had a Post Office just up the street. Very interesting writings. Glad I came across it.

  14. PeggySue Carvalho

    Great read! Regarding #11. I think you meant to end with Rockdale Ave. not Street. Also about #15, there is also a Winterville Rd. Off Rockdale Ave. facing Rural cemetery.
    Do you know any history about the Padanaram Ave area in New Bedford? I wonder if it was named that as the road to Padanaram Village? I read somewhere that Padanaram was a village in the bible. I do know that the whole street was owned by Patrick Sweeney who used it as a dump, then sold off lots to his friends. I also wonder why this area has an 02740 zip code when there is a 02744 post off yards away. I read that it was more prestigious to have the 02740 zip code, so the map lines were skewed. All interesting info I think….

  15. Hi Peggy! Thanks for correction and kudos.

    Padanaram was named by Laban Thatcher who found some similarities between his life and the biblical Laban. Padanaram, is not a local Amerindian word, but is actually Aramaic and means “Field of Aram.” I went in depth about Padanaram in an article on all of Dartmouth’s villages that will be published subsequently.

    Curious anecdote about Patrick Sweeney. Thanks for sharing. I’ll have to dig a little.

    • Peggy Sue Carvalho

      I think the Padanaram Avenue lot sales were in 1944 if I recall the deeds correctly. Every lot was 45’ wide. Patrick Sweeney sold them off by word of mouth. They went quickly and many people he knew were upset they didn’t get one. He even donated two waterfront lots to the city to be used as beach access for the lots on the non-waterside of the street. It’s on all the deeds of every lot he sold. Most people were fearful of hurricanes and only built small summer beach houses. Over the years the city tried to sell off the lots as surplus property to be rid of the liability. Most times a neighbor would see the legal notice and we would band together to stop the sale. We would be told it was put up for sale in error. As the years went by one lot slipped through and was sold. The buyer legally has to allow anyone to walk through his yard. To date it hasn’t been built on.The other lot remains but has eroded over the years. There is a chain across it for safety. My father built a retaining wall on his property when I was a kid. Bushels and bushels of intact glass bottles were dug up about three feet down! I’m the older generation now so I pass on this info from my grandfather, dad and personal experience.

  16. East of Rockdale ave and Carter Elimentary…..South of Durfee St……West of the old dump, there was a huge
    flat rock that was in a wooded clearing As a kid, we would climb and play in this area often.
    The rock from the memory of a child would have been ar least 15 feet long and 10 feet wide.

  17. The rock in question for Rockdale Ave. might be Sullivan’s Ledge. The ledge was used as a quarry on Hathaway Road before it became a industrial waste dump site. The ledge extends from the 195/140 ramps to near the intersection of Rockdale Ave. and Wilbur St.

  18. Claudette (Tracey) Moorhouse

    I grew up on Coggeshall Street and our backyard backed up to a Club that known as German Club (that was on Adams st.) There were Germans, Polish, French in the area and little church St. Boniface known as the German church,

  19. Jeanne W Swiszcz

    Clifford Post Office. 1907 N. B. Directory Acushnet Ave. James Davis, Postmaster.
    I remember the building with the sign. West side of Avenue. There was Clifford Chapel near Churchill Street area.

    Shawmut Post Office Plainville Rd near Shawmut Ave. Plainville Charles B. Phillips,postmaster

  20. Steve (Scieska) Arruda

    From a family of Poles I remember going to weddings and events at the German club on Cedar Grove between State and Purchase Sts. Also a large population of Poles lived in the area of Cedar Grove, Blackburn St, Kilburn St etc. Not to be confused with the Mickiwicz Club on Purchase.

  21. There’s a rock with a plaque on Rockdale Ave right across from the old Keith near Roger’s St or before you take the fork down to the high school. It’s been there since I was a kid and for the life of me I can’t remember what the plaque says! It’s a little island like in the middle. Sometimes there are flags with it?

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