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New Bedford Whaling Museum announces Early Settlement of the Old Dartmouth Region exhibition

New Bedford Whaling Museum announces “Conduct us to our hope” The Early Settlement of the Old Dartmouth Region a new exhibit, opening February 28th, interpreting the settle­ment of the Old Dartmouth region. From when Gabriel Archer (died 1609-10) first made his prophetic assessment in 1602 that the Acushnet River area “may haply become good harbors, and conduct us to the hopes men so greedily do thirst after,” the stage was set for the growth of a great American maritime community. Archer accompanied the English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold (1572- 1607) and both recognized the potential commercial value of the region, a value that would be realized with the Quaker settlements in the mid-18th century.

“Endecott and the Red Cross,” by William Allen Wall (1801-1885). Oil on canvas.(1987.19.1) In this scene John Endecott cuts the cross of St. George out of the English flag while Roger Williams looks on and a Quaker, not present at the time but nonetheless included in the scene, is shown in the stocks.

The Puritan settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony saw their religion as one with their governance and both as paths to freedom. John Endecott’s (1601-1665) famous desecration of the English flag in 1634 in defiance of King Charles I, made a bold statement about both colonial political independence and religious intolerance. The colony was largely a theocracy by 1640, albeit with the intent of commercial gain for company managers in England. It was nonethe­less hostile to religious diversity regardless of profitability.

For all of the Quakers later commercial success, the 1672 Colonial Laws of Massachusetts defined the religion of the “Society of Friends” as heretical: “there is a cursed set of hereticks [sic] lately risen up in the world which are commonly called Quakers…” It was against the law for any Quaker to set foot in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and any attempting to settle nearby were brutally persecuted. Endecott himself put four Quakers to death. The Society of Friends was only founded in 1647, but by 1658, at great risk to their own personal safety, two meetings of the Society of Friends grew up almost simul­taneously – one on the borders of the Plymouth Colony at Sandwich on Cape Cod and the other in Newport, Rhode Island under the infinitely more tolerant religious climate fostered by Roger Williams. Newport was the easiest pathway of entry for Quakers into New England, but by the late 17th century the island of Nantucket was also a Quaker stronghold, shortly to begin its successful offshore whaling adventure. That success was further enabled as the lands along the Acushnet River, just south of the ancient intersection of Wampanoag footpaths between Cape Cod and Narragansett, called Parting of the Ways, were settled by Quaker seafarers in the years after King Philip’s War.

The Plymouth Colony purchased the old township of Dartmouth, comprising the settlements at Sconticut (Fairhaven), Apponegan­sett (Dartmouth), Acoaxet (Westport) and Acushnet (as they were known in the native tongue of the period) from the Wampanoag people in 1652.1 A display of goods representing the purchase price for the region paid by the Pilgrims to the Wampanoag will be a significant part of the new installation. The colonists traded a specific list of items in exchange for the land and the exhibit will display wampum, cloth, shoes, breeches, stockings, axes, other tools, and moose hides. The hides in particular had value as moose are not native to this region but were exceptionally valuable then (as now) for making moccasins. Additionally, landscape paintings of the region, photographs of some of the oldest houses, maps, charts, portraiture, decorative arts, furniture, and ethnographic objects will tell the compelling tale of Old Dartmouth’s early history. –

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