CPA Act at Annual Meeting October 8

Community Preservation Act is the Focus of  

New Bedford Historical Society Annual Meeting

The public is invited to attend the New Bedford Historical Society’s 18th Annual Meeting on Wednesday, October 8 at 6:30 PM in the 3rd floor conference room of the New Bedford Free Public Library. The meeting will include a report to the membership by President Lee Blake and committee chairs. Reports will include future plans for programs and a presentation on the Community Preservation Act. “We want everyone to get the chance to hear of all the resources that may benefit from the passage of the Community Preservation Act which will be on the ballot in November”, says Lee Blake, President of the Society. “New Bedford is a great example of how historic preservation can serve to rebuild a community and CPA can bring additional support to strengthen the efforts to share our local history and the legacy of people of color.”

In addition to a presentation on the Community Preservation Act, the guest speaker will be Marilyn Halter, Professor of History and American Studies at Boston University. Professor Halter is a Research Associate at the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs. Her books include African & American: West Africans in Post-Civil Rights America (with Violet Showers Johnson); Shopping for Identity: The Marketing of Ethnicity; Between Race and Ethnicity: Cape Verdean American Immigrants, 1860-1965; and The Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Cape Verde with Richard Lobban. Professor Halter serves as co-editor of the “New England in the World” series at University of New Hampshire Press and co-chairs the Boston Immigration and Urban History Seminar in conjunction with the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The New Bedford Historical Society was founded in October 1996 as a non-profit historic preservation organization dedicated to documenting and celebrating the history, legacy and presence of African Americans, Cape Verdeans, Native Americans, West Indians and other people of color in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The Society’s signature accomplishment has been the acquisition and restoration of the Nathan and Polly Johnson House, the first free home of Frederick Douglass.

A reception with light refreshments will follow the business meeting and program.  All members and guests are welcome to attend the annual meeting. To RSVP for the meeting please call the Society office at 508-979-8828 or email us at as seating is limited.

The Veteran’s Legacy

Press release  October 19, 2014

The Veteran’s Legacy: A Documentation and Preservation Workshop

We all know the old question, “What did you do in the war, Daddy?” In 2014 we are commemorating events from several wars in our nation’s past—some, like the War of 1812, the Civil War, and World War I, whose last veterans passed long ago, some, such as World War II   and the Korean War, in which we are in a race against time to record the memories of those who fought and those who kept them in the field. In honor of Veteran’s Day, the New Bedford Historical Society is reaching out to the community to make sure the stories of our veterans are saved. On November 8, museum consultant Madelyn Shaw will lead “The Veteran’s Legacy: A Documentation and Preservation Workshop” at 2:30 to 4:30 PM.  Shaw will discuss how to document and preserve a veteran’s story or acknowledge their service. The workshop will be held at the Corson Building at the New Bedford Whaling National Park at 33 William Street.

World War II veterans are now entering their 80’s and many have unforgettable accounts that contribute to family as well as national history. Recently the National Archives and Library of Congress teamed up on The Veterans History Project, which gives every veteran the tools and opportunity to contribute their own record of military service. Using the website as a guide, this workshop will walk participants through the kinds of documents, photographs, letters and diaries, memorabilia, and other artifacts that constitute the archival record of a veteran’s service and how it can be collected or recovered. We will discuss how best to preserve papers and artifacts, and look at the questions a museum or library would ask before accepting a collection. References will be available for those interested in sharing any findings with their local military museum and other cultural and historical centers.

“I started learning about military history because of a curiosity about my father,” Bob French, board member of the Society explains. “Documents like discharge papers and old letters connect us to our past and gives us a glimpse of our own family history. There is a lot more in that paperwork than meets the eye.” French will also lead an oral history project that will interview veterans of color and their families that can be kept as family archives.

Most of us know a veteran – a grandfather, a mother, a son, or a niece. Learn how to preserve their stories, and acknowledge their service. For more information on the program or to reserve a seat, please contact the New Bedford Historical Society at or call (508) 979-8828.

Johnson House Tours, July 3, 2014

Tours to be offered at three historic buildings

uring the Charles W. Morgan Homecoming, three of the city’s old­est historic buildings will be open to the public.
From 1 to 4 p.m. on July 3, vol­unteer members of each organi­zation will be offering free tours of the Nathan and Polly Johnson House, the Spring Street Friends Meeting andThe First Unitarian Church in New Bedford, accord­ing to a press release.
The Nathan and Polly John­son House at 21 Seventh St. was a destination on the Under­ground Railroad that became “the first free home of Fred­erick Douglass” when he and his wife, Anna Murray, a free woman, arrived in New Bedford in September 1838. The John­son house now belongs to the New Bedford Historical Society, which was founded to preserve and celebrate the history and culture of the city’s diverse peo­ple of color.
Nathan and Polly Johnson were free African Americans who worked as live-in cooks and caterers for Charles W. Morgan and his family. After the Johnsons moved to 21 Sev­enth St., they sheltered fugitives from slavery and helped them find employment and lodgings of their own. Polly’s delicious cakes and candies made with “free labor sugar” were very popular with New Bedfordites, many of whom were opposed to slavery and protective of both free and self-emancipated per­sons.
New Bedford offered social and economic opportunity to ambitious African Americans in the whaling industry and in professions whose practitio­ners offered apprenticeships to conscientious workers. Freder­ick Douglass started out doing menial jobs such as shovel­ing coal for Unitarian minister Ephraim Peabody and subse­quently became a lay preacher at one of the city’s African churches. Douglass also sold subscriptions to William Lloyd Garrison’s antislavery news­paper The Liberator before he was hired as a paid lecturer for the Massachusetts Antislavery Society.
Diagonally across the street from the Johnson House is the Spring Street Friends Meeting House (No. 83). Built of brick in 1828, it replaced the old wooden Meeting House at 17-19 Spring St. and is still the city’s gather­ing place for Quakers, who were – and still are – staunch foes of slavery, war and all forms of oppression and injustice.
When a schism divided the New Bedford Friends dur­ing the 1820s, many Quakers – birth-right Quaker Charles W. Morgan included – joined The First Congregational Soci­ety (Unitarian) whose wooden building later became Liberty Hall. Thanks to Morgan and other wealthy members of the Unitarian Society, the impres­sive stone building housing the First Unitarian Church in New Bedford at Union and County streets opened for worship in 1838.
Visiting the Nathan and Polly House, the Spring Street Friends Meeting, andThe First Unitarian Church in New Bedford July 3 will inspire you to learn, imag­ine and experience the city’s illustrious history in places where that history was made.
Nathan and Polly Johnson were free African Americans who worked as live-in cooks and caterers for Charles W. Morgan and his family.

City was bastion for abolitionism

AAA Southern New England
February 2014 / In Your Backyard
By Poornima Apte

AAA-tourgoersVisitors to New Bedford, Mass., might give the Frederick Douglass monument a passing glance, but the city’s vibrant history actually includes its role as a major hub on the Underground Railroad.

Frederick and Anna Douglass, a newly married couple at the time, came to New Beadford in September 1838. “The Nathan and Polly Johnson House was Douglass’ first home in freedom after his escape from the Wye Plantation in Maryland,” said Lee Blake, president of the New Bedford Historical Society.

The home is part of the city’s Black History Trail; other highlights include the Lewis Temple Statue, Sgt. William Carney Memorial Homestead and Paul Cuffe Park. “The Black History Trail includes about 24 stops of importance to the history of African-Americans and Cape Verdeans in New Bedford,” Blake said.

Underground Railroad tours are held on a regular basis. Every February, the society hosts a Frederick Douglass Community Read-a-Thon, which is a continuous reading of “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave Written by Himself.” Selections of the book are given out to readers, and anyone can participate; this year’s reading is scheduled for Feb. 9.

Blake encourages the public to learn more about the rich history of the city. “New Bedford was well-known for creating a welcoming environment and protecting freedom seekers. The city had a large free African-American population that was actively involved in the abolition movement and the activities around the country to end enslavement,” Blake said. “Additionally, the city had a number of Quaker merchants who believed that enslavement was a sin and organized antislavery organizations.” New Bedford Historical Society, 21 Seventh St., New Bedford:, 508-979-8828. To read more about other educational attractions, click here.

New Bedford schools working on Frederick Douglass Curriculum

Frederick Douglass will soon be getting his due in the city’s public school curriculum.

Beginning next year, students in Grades 8-10 will study the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” the autobiography written by the then-young future abolitionist who arrived in New Bedford in 1838.

Students in the middle and high school grades will also read Douglass’ “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” — one of the renowned former-slave-turned-abolitionist’s most admired speeches. read full story

Your View: All New Bedford students should read Frederick Douglass’ 1845 narrative

Some 6,000 American slave narratives exist, and one of the best of the genre is the 1845 “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself.”

It is a short, powerful, accessible and inspiring book written by the greatest, most eloquent and best-known self-educated individual ever to have lived in New Bedford. Learning how an enslaved and viciously beaten youngster became a free man by learning to read and write (largely on his own and despite serious obstacles), and having the opportunity to discuss the first and shortest of his three first autobiographies with their classmates and with informed and insightful teachers might actually give disaffected, struggling students the courage to stay in school. read full story

A heritage ignored no more – Exhibit highlights Cape Verdean backbone of New Bedford’s whaling industry

By James Sullivan
Globe Correspondent / June 24, 2011

President Pedro Pires of Cape Verde lauded the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s exhibit exploring the ties between the city and the island nation. (Photo By Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe)

NEW BEDFORD — Jim Lopes’s great-grandfather was a New Bedford whaler who emigrated from Cape Verde in 1873. Lopes’s grandfather also worked on the ships in the waning days of whaling prominence in this coastal city.

For him and others with similar backgrounds, he recalled, “It was not a welcoming place.’’Yet Lopes, who grew up four blocks from the New Bedford Whaling Museum on Johnny Cake Hill, remembers feeling little connection to the city’s chief cultural institution, chronicler of his ancestors’ livelihood. In those days, the museum emphasized the industry’s Yankee captains and financiers, not its diverse crews.

That impression has changed dramatically in recent years, with the staff of the 107-year-old museum working diligently to honor those from other cultures — the backbone of an industry that made New Bedford the wealthiest city on earth, per capita, in the mid-19th century.

A new exhibit opening July 5 will focus on Cape Verdean heritage and the island nation’s contributions to New Bedford whaling. To kick off the exhibit, the museum will host several cultural events next week.

Lopes, an entertainment lawyer and professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, now serves as the museum’s vice president of education and programming. He was instrumental in soliciting the Cape Verdean community for donations of family keepsakes — photos, uniforms, logbooks — for the new exhibit, which opens on Cape Verde’s Independence Day. For more than a decade, he has been filming interviews about Cape Verdean whaling in America.

Read more

Teachers become students of New Bedford’s abolitionist history

NEW BEDFORD — In an upstairs room at the Main Library, in the midst of July’s swelter, 80 students searched for new friends after they were instructed by their teacher to form groups for a reading activity. read full story

“Traveling” the Underground Railroad in New Bedford

Teachers across the United States are already circling the month of July 2011 on their calendars.

That’s when they’ll have a chance to come to New Bedford to learn about the city’s important historical role in the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad.

The opportunity is being made possible through an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture program. “Sailing to Freedom: New Bedford and the Underground Railroad” is a collaborative project between the University of Mass. Dartmouth, the New Bedford Historical Society, the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the Rotch Jones Duff Museum and the National Whaling Historical Park. read full story

Boston Radicals Found a Home in New Bedford

It was called “the New Bedford Annex for Boston Radicals,” and at the dawn of the 20th century, the well-appointed house on Arnold Street was one lively place.

Owned by African American lawyer Edwin Bush Jourdain, the house in the West End section of New Bedford saw the likes of W.E.B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter debating strategies that challenged the accommodationist policies of Booker T. Washington.

To this day, Jourdain’s descendants confirm that at one time their ancestor’s house had been frequented by the black intelligentsia, who exchanged ideas, rehearsed speeches and executed plans for curing the ills facing black Americans. read full story