Hispanic Division: Back to Whaling in Southeastern New England

Whaling Industry and Portuguese Immigration Centered in New Bedford, Mass.

With the shift of the whaling industry from Newport, Rhode Island, to New Bedford, Massachusetts, during the first half of the nineteenth century, the latter community became the focus of Portuguese immigration and settlement. In fact, New Bedford was eventually known as the "Portuguese capital of the United States." At the beginning of the twentieth century, New Bedford was the town with the largest Portuguese population, counting 7,300 first- generation Portuguese and 4,600 Americans born of Portuguese parentage. The total constituted 16 percent of the city's entire population.

The vast majority of the Portuguese residents came from the Azores, reflecting their early involvement in the whaling industry. After completing one or more whaling voyages, many remained in New Bedford, settling in the southern and western sections of the town. This area was known as "Fayal," deriving its name from one of the islands in the Azores where many of the immigrants had previously lived. Following the decline of the whaling industry in the 1870s and 1880s, Azoreans continued to settle in New Bedford, finding employment in the city's burgeoning cotton-textile industry.

New Bedford and its harbor are depicted on this 1846 Coast and Geodetic Survey chart, documenting the importance of its coastal location for the whaling trade. Charts such as this, which were first published in the 1840s by this new federal agency, aided in the safe navigation of the United States coastal waters.

The Harbor of New Bedford The Harbor of New Bedford. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Coast Survey, 1846. Engraving. Geography and Map Division, Title Collection, Mass.-New Bedford (10).


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