New Bedford Communities of Whaling: People of Wampanoag, African, and Portuguese Island Descent, 1825-1925
In 2008, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park initiated a Special History Study to examine the presence and contributions of Wampanoag, African American, West Indian, St. Helenian, Azorean, and Cape Verdean people in whaling and shoreside whaling industries. Principal Investigator/Project Director Russell G. Handsman of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, along with Kathryn Grover, a historian with extensive experience with African American communities and New Bedford history, and Donald Warrin, a historian based in California who studied Azorean and Cape Verdean communities in whaling, began research on these communities of New Bedford using documentary evidence and personal interviews to paint the picture of the people who provided the labor of the whaling industry.
Handsman, Grover, and Warrin completed the first phase of the project in 2010, submitting a final draft of the report. The park, then, shared the draft study with a small group of community stakeholders representative of the communities highlighted in the research. Based on their feedback, the park decided to take a step back and rethink how, best, to move the study toward completion. Obtaining the funding to conduct a final edit of the study took several years, and once the funding was secured in 2019, the park hired Kathryn Grover to edit the study. Ms. Grover contacted Dr. Handsman and Dr. Warrin to obtain their support in this endeavor. After over a decade, we are excited to share the report with the communities of New Bedford whose ancestors were the backbone of the industry as well as all those interested in whaling history.
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Praise for the Publication:
The research that Handsman, Grover and Warrin have done highlighting the People of Wampanoag, African, and Portuguese Island Descent and their contributions to whaling helps us deepen the stories we tell at the park through a variety of media. For far too long, the image of the white male whaling merchant has dominated the American whaling narrative. This study helps us better understand the people supporting the global industry and whose sacrifices and hard work made New Bedford the City that Lit the World!
-Jennifer Smith, park superintendent
The work of this ethnographic study informs the American public of the many contributions of immigrants, the formerly enslaved, and the Indigenous community to the 19th century whaling industry. The park staff is honored and excited to share this information with the American public. Thank you to Kathryn Grover, Russell Handsman, and Donald Warrin for conducting the research to prepare this study that focuses on New Bedford’s local community.
-Jan da Silva, Acting Program Manager, Visitor Experience & Community Engagement
Excerpt from Introduction:
New Bedford is not a made-up, recreated museum village like Old Sturbridge Village or Plimoth Plantation; it is a living, post-industrial city still being shaped by ethnic communities. The roots of some of these communities reach back to the glory days of whaling in the 1850s—or even long before. New Bedford has a present and future, both of which are tied to a historical past that can be seen still in its landscapes, built environments, and, most importantly, in the faces and histories of its living communities.
Here the focus is longer, concerned with a century-long span, from 1825 to 1925, during which the industry in New Bedford grew, persisted, and then declined. Yet our focus has steadfastly remained on the people—the ethnic groups (beyond the well-known Yankee masters and seamen) whose skills and courage built the industry, kept it alive, and then saw it through its “death” between 1900 and 1925. In 2016 New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park published its first special ethnographical report on Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and the Jewish community in New Bedford whaling and the city’s early efforts to capture the industry’s heritage. This second study examines Wampanoag Indians, African Americans, Azorean and Cape Verdeans, West Indians, and St. Helenians, all of whom have descendants still working and living in the New Bedford of the twenty-first century.
About the Author:
Kathryn Grover is an independent researcher, writer, and editor. She is the author of Make a Way Somehow: African-American Life in a Northern Community (1994) and The Fugitive's Gibraltar: Escaping Slaves and Abolitionism in New Bedford, Massachusetts (2009). Along with Janine da Silva, Grover researched and wrote a historic resource study of significant sites on the historically Black north slope of Beacon Hill in 2002 for Boston African-American National Historic Site. Grover recently completed To Heal the Wounded Nation’s Life: African Americans and the Robert Gould Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial, a study for the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park. She researched and wrote a context statement about fugitives and fugitive assistance in Massachusetts with the architectural historian Neal Larson for the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the National Park Service's Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Grover also worked on Nantucket under a James Bradford Ames Fellowship on the role of whaling and kinship among Black whalers on the island and the mainland. She has prepared numerous National Register of Historic Place nominations of African-American and Underground Railroad properties.