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Native Place Names

Acushnet: Place at the head of the tide

Apponagansett: Place of the still water

Paskamansett: Place of the broken rocks

Sassaquin: Possibly the name of the Native sachem (leader or chief) of the area meaning he who dispenses justice

Native History

New Bedford lies on the southern shore of PARPs area of focus and has a good harbor in the Acushnet River, which furthered the citys growth throughout its history. This river has its headwaters at two Middleboro ponds, Apponagansett or Long Pond and Aquitticaset, approximately 10 miles from New Bedford (Ricketson 1858:91). The other larger river is Paskamansett River which begins at Sassaquin Pond, also called Myles Pond, in the western part of the city which eventually drains into the Slocums River in Westport. There are also numerous small brooks that drain into Apponagansett Bay in South Dartmouth. There are three large swamps that are either completely or partially in New Bedford. The largest is the Acushnet cedar swamp wholly within the west end of the city, this swamp drains into the Paskamansett River, the southern portion Bolton cedar swamp is in the north end of the city on the boundary with Freetown, and the very eastern edge of the Apponagansett swamp is located on the western border with Dartmouth. There are six small to medium sized islands in New Bedford harbor. These are Palmers Island the southern most, which once was covered by many cedars; Crows Island which is near the Fairhaven side of the river and in the nineteenth century had a ropewalk that extended from the mainland to the island; Popes Island, which was still covered with many cedars in the nineteenth century; Fish Island which by the nineteenth century was covered by wharves, workshops and the railway; a rocky bluff near the Fairhaven side called the Isle of Marsh; and a small unnamed island north of todays Route 195 colloquially called fish hawk island (Ricketson 1858:91).

The main Native travel route that is known was probably present day Route 18. This road goes from New Bedford to Middleboro (Ricketson 1858:95).

There has not been a great deal of archaeological excavation and testing in the New Bedford area. What has been done is the result of cultural resource management (CRM) studies completed prior to development and construction. If one were to view the Native occupation relying solely on the results of this testing a very skewed picture would result. Until a town wide archaeological survey is done or documents are found which highlight discoveries made accidentally by residents or purposefully by avocational archaeologists, then, at the present time we must rely on what we know or can predict.

The only reference that has been found to artifacts that have been discovered in New Bedford is by Daniel Ricketson. In 1858 he wrote "Several Indian burial places have been discovered in the vicinity of New Bedford within a few years, near the shores of the Acushnet upon high dry places. The remains of a large number of these once noble possessors of our soil have been exhumed, and at one time the writer examined the skulls of a number. Arrowheads, stone hatchets, adzes, gouges, &c., have been from time to time turned up by the plough share. The writer has in his possession a handsome and curiously wrought tobacco-pipe, manufactured from a dark-coloured soft stone, taken from one of the Indian graves- also a quaint glass bottle and some trifling brass ornaments, indicating the burial to have taken place after the arrival of the white people. The bottlewas found with its nose resting upon the mouth of the skeleton." (Ricketson 1858:36).

From Ricketson writings it is apparent that the Native people around New Bedford lived and buried their dead near the Acushnet River, as well as elsewhere, and that there were persons in the area at the time of contact with the Europeans, as is evidence by the recovery of the bottle and brass from the one grave.

Professional archaeologists have discovered seven sites in the citys North end that exemplify the use of inland resources by Native people. Four of these sites are in the municipal golf course off Hathaway Road, one is off Morton Avenue, one is in the Industrial Park and one is located near the airport. What all of these sites have in common is that all except one are situated close by either the Acushnet or Apponagansett swamps. The other site is located on the eastern shore of Sassaquin Pond.

The sites on the golf course possibly represent short-term occupations to exploit the natural floral and faunal resources associated with the swamp. The faunal resources would have included birds, turtles, frogs, deer and other mammals. The floral resources would have been used either for consumption, medicinal purposes or as raw materials for making other objects.

The golf course sites ranged in size from a less than five square meter findspot locus to a possible long term camp measuring approximately 90 x 60 meters. Unfortunately, no arrowheads or spear points that could be stylistically dated were recovered and no charcoal was sent out for radiocarbon dating so we can not say conclusively when these sites were used. What was recovered was 1 hornfels projectile point, 1 argillite biface, turtle and mammal calcined bone, 1 quartz core and 48 quartz, argillite and felsite cd from one site which also had two to three firepit or storage pit features; 4 quartz, 1 felsite, 1 argillite chipping debris from another site; 1 attleboro red felsite and 1 piece of quartz chipping debris from another; and 13 quartz shatter and flakes from the final one.

The Pele site located off of Morton Avenue in the north end of New Bedford on the eastern shore of Sassaquin Pond, is another possible short-term lithic reduction location. At this site two pieces of quartz chipping debris were found at what were identified as two loci of a single site. These loci were located approximately 30 meters apart. One piece of chipping debris was recovered from each locus. Unfortunately again, there were no diagnostics recovered and no real conclusions can be drawn about this site.

The 19-BR-339 (Clayton) site is located at the southern edge of the Apponagansett Swamp in the north end of New Bedford. At the Clayton site a small Middle Archaic campsite was discovered as well as a Late Archaic workshop. The entire site is 1380 meters long and the material recovered consists of one Neville point, one Stark point (both of which date to the Middle Archaic), one Small Stem point, one Orient Fishtail, (which both date to the Late or Transitional (Terminal) Archaic as well as 2 argillite cd, 15 quartz shatter, 2 quartz cd, 1 quartz biface, 1 quartz point midsection, 2 quartzite shatter and 1 felsite biface. This material indicates that the site was probably used for the manufacture and maintenance of stone tools and, judging by its location adjacent to the swamp, for the procurement of faunal and floral resources from the Apponagansett Swamp.

The final site is the 19-BR-338, or Missio site, located in the south end of the New Bedford industrial park. This site dates to the Middle and possibly Late Archaic and is located to the north of the very large Acushnet cedar swamp. At this site, one argillite neville variant (dating to the Middle Archaic), 38 quartz shatter, 38 quartz flakes, 1 quartz core, 1 quartz blocky frag and 1 piece quartz angular shatter were recovered during the initial intensive (locational) survey and subsequent site examination. This site, like the others probably represents a place where Native people manufactures and possibly maintained stone tools as well as harvested resources from the swamp.

The number and distribution of precontact Native archaeological sites identified by amateur collecting as well as systematic archaeological survey appears to indicate that during the Middle to Late Archaic periods people generally occupied the inland regions of new Bedford, and that swamps formed an important part of their cultural landscape. Judging from the number of burials that Ricketson mentions around the Acushnet River, during the Late Woodland and Contact periods, Native people may have had more of a riverine and coastal focus. This may have been due to the incorporation of horticulture into their lifeways during this period. Horticulture may have led to a focus on fertile river floodplains and settlement near shellfish beds on the coast. The difference that appears to be present between the Archaic and Woodland period site distributions may also be artificial and merely the result of the limited archaeological work that has been done in the area. This may be a model to test in the future though. Unfortunately, most of the archaeological sites that were located on the western bank of the Acushnet River have undoubtedly been destroyed over the centuries by construction. Subsequently, there may not be much to ever recover form here. The same can be said for much of the seacoast around Clarks Cove and Clarks Point. These areas are also heavily developed and built upon.

Seventeenth Century

As far as is known at the present time, there was no settlement on the western shore of the Acushnet River before 1700 (Boss and Thomas 1983:15). Although this is probably not true because it was reported in the same source that there was a garrison on Palmers

Island in 1675-76 during King Philips War (Boss and Thomas 1983:18). It would not make any sense to have a garrison in an area where there were no people. Garrisons were generally used as a place of refuge for all of the families living in a particular area.

The area that is now New Bedford was part of the "Dartmouth Purchase" of 1652.

New Plymouth, November the 29th 1652.

Know all men by these presents, that I, Wesamequen, and Wamsutta my son, have sold unto Mr. William Bradford, Captain Standish, Thomas Southworth, John Winslow, John Cooke and their associates, the purchasers or old-comers, all the tract or tracts of land lying three miles eastward from a river called Cushenagg, to a certain harbour called Acoaksett, to a flat rock on the westerward side of said harbour. And whereas the said harbour divideth itself into severall branches, the westernmost arme to be the bound, and all the tract or tracts of land from the said westernmost arme to the said river of Cushenagg, three miles eastward of the same, with all the profits and benefits within the said tract, with all the rivers, creeks, meadows, necks and islands that lye in or before the same, and from the sea upward to go so high that the English may not be annoyed by the hunting of the Indians in any sort of their cattle. And I, Wesamequen and Wamsutta, have fully bargained and sold unto the aforesaid Mr. William Bradford, Captain Standish, Thomas Southworth, John Winslow, John Cooke, and the rest of their associates, the purchasers or old-comers, to have and to hold for them and their heirs and assignes forever. And in consideration hereof, we the above-mentioned are to pay to the said Wesamequen and Wamsutta as followeth: thirty yards of cloth, eight mooseskins, fifteen axes, fifteen hoes, fifteen pairs of breeches, eight blankets, two kettles, one cloak, 2 lb in wampam, eight pairs of stockings, eight pairs of shoes, one iron pot, and ten shillings in another commoditie. And in witness hereof we have interchangeably set to our hands the day and year above written.

In the presence of JOHN WINSLOW




This area was made the township of Dartmouth in 1664 (Ricketson 1858:32) and the bounds were laid out by Massasoits son Philip as follows:

Whereas, according to an order of court, held at Plymouth, bearing date the third day of October Anno Domini 1664, wherein Philip, Sagamore of Pockannockett, &c., was desired to appoint and agent or more to set out and mark the bounds of Acushna, Coaksett, and places adjacent, the said Sachem sent John Sassamon, on the 19th day of November, in the year aforesaid, to act in his behalf in the premises, whoe hath set the bounds of the said tract and tracts as followeth, viz: at Acushena three miles to the east according to the deed bearing the date November 29th 1652, from a black oak marked on four sides, running upward north into the woods eight miles, and downward south with so much of the island Nakata as falls within the said line; at Akoaksett, from a white oak marked on four sides, standing on the west side of the head of the cove, ranging up into the woods north six miles and an half to a great pond, unto a white oak marked, standing on the west side of the pond, near the south end of the said pond; by reason of the running of the pond, one mile on the east side upward to a black oak marked on four sides, standing near a maple tree on the side of the said pond, about the middle of it, which pond is called Watuppa; the upper bounds to run from tree to tree upon a strait line, and at the head of the westernmost arm from the said white oak to the flat rock expressed in the deed aforesaid.

In the seventeenth century, settlement near New Bedford focused on the eastern shore of the Achushnet River in present-day Fairhaven and in present day Dartmouth. In 1660 the following deed was drawn up which, while it refers to settlement on the eastern side of the Acushnet River, really represents the first English effort to settle the area:

Prince Governor

1660. A writing appointed to be recorded as followeth:

At a general meeting of the purchasers, at Plymouth, the seventh of March 1652, it was ordered and fully agreed unto and concluded by the whole that all that tract of lands lying from the purchasers bounds on the west side of the Acougheusse to a river called Accusshaneck and three miles to the eastward of the same, with all islands, meadows, woods, waters, rivers, creeks, and all appurtenances, thereunto belonging, should be given to those whose names are hereunder written, containing thirty four shares, and was given, allotted, assigned and set over to them by the whole, to have and to hold to them and their heirs and assigns forever, to divide and dispose; and they are to satisfy the Indians for the purchase thereof, and to bear all other due charges that shall any way arise about the same, according to their several proportions.



















Record of Deeds, Plymouth Colony Book 2d, 107

The names of those who by order of the purchesers met at Plymouth the seventh day of March 1652, who by joint consent and agreement of the said purchesers are to have their parts, shares or proportions, at the place or places commonly called and known by the names of Acushena, alias Acquessent, which entereth in at the western end of Weeckatay, and to Coaksett, alias Acoakus, and places adjacent, the bounds of which tract fully to extend three miles to the eastward of the most easterly part of the River or Bay called Acusshna aforesaid, and so along the seaside to the river called Coaksett, lying on the west side of Point Pritt (Gooseberry Point0, and to the most westernmost side of any branch of the aforesaid river, and to extend eight miles into the woods, the said tract or tracts of land so bounded, as abovesaid, which is purchased of the Indians, which were the right proprieters thereof, as appears by a deed under their hands, with all marshes, meadows, rivers, waters, woods, timbers, and other profits, privileges, emunities, commodities, and appurtenances belonging to the said tract or tracts above expressed, or any part or parcel thereof, to belong unto the parties whose names are underwritten, who are in number thirty-four whole parts or shares, and no more, to them and their heirs and assigns foresver (what followed this was a list of the people, the same list as previously written showing that everyone had one whole share).

Eighteenth Century

The first family that is known to have settled in New Bedford was Joseph Russell III who set up a small tryworks on the western shore of the Acushnet River in 1750 (Boss and Thomas 1983:25). His house was located at the head of present day Walnut street and he used what is now Union Street as his hiway to the shore. In 1760, Russel drew up a plan, which was his vision of a village on the western shore of the river. After Russell, the first settlers in what became New Bedford was Jack Loudon, a caulker, John Allen , a house carpenter whose home was at the corner of Union and Water streets, Elnathan Sampson, who established a blacksmith shop in 1762, a year after Allen moved to the area, on the corner opposite Allen (Boss and Thomas 1983:24). By 1765, all the land on the western shore had been sold and Joseph Rotch arrived to establish the town as a whaling port (Boss and Thomas 1983:24).

New Bedford received its name after the arrival of Rotch. At this time it was proposed that the town be called Bedford in honor of the Russells that established the town. The Russels had been in the town for years and Russell was the name of the Duke of Bedford in England, so the town was initially called Bedford, but because there was already one Massachusetts town called Bedford, it was changed to New Bedford in 1787 (Boss and Thomas 1983:24). By 1771, Fairhaven was still part of New Bedford and the town consisted of 321 houses, 119 shops and warehouses and 30, 648 feet of wharves (Boss and Thomas 1983:25). Most of the land in New Bedford prior to 1776 was owned by the Allens in the south end, then going north the Russells, the Kemptons, Willises, Peckhams, Hathaways and Wrightingtons (Ricketson 1858:46). One of the houses that had survived from this period was the Captain Cornelius Grinnel house, built in 1769 and located on the west side of Water Street between Madison and Walnut Streets (Boss and Thomas 1983:26). It was also reported that there were Natives living in traditional homes in the New Bedford area into the eighteenth century (Ricketson 1858:95).

1778 saw the invasion and burning of New Bedford by the British who, it is said, landed 4-5000 soldiers either in the south end at Clarks Cove or at the foot of Union Street (Boss and Thomas 1983:29; Ricketson 1858:18). This occurred on September 5, 1778. New Bedford was attacked because it was a haven for privateers who attacked English ships (Ricketson 1858:18). The British burned houses, warehouses and ships in their march from downtown New Bedford north along the Acushnet River to Acushnet and then down the east side of the river to Fairhaven. Here they were stopped by American troops lead by Fearing from Wareham (Boss and Thomas 1983:29).