Navigator Magazine

Fairhaven, MA
NAVIGATOR was a monthly magazine that focused on local life, including the arts, history, culture and entertainment in southeastern Massachusetts. It was published once a month, from December 2001 through February 2011, by Lori and Christopher Richard. Approximately 5,000 copies were distributed free of charge at more than 80 locations, primarily in Fairhaven, New Bedford, Mattapoisett, Acushnet and Dartmouth.

Regular features in NAVIGATOR included The Artful Codger column, NB Barflies, Times Gone By articles, DVDevelopments (DVD reviews), Culinary Corner, Music Scene, Outdoors and Ramblings & Refections. Other highlights are Coming Events, Looking Around, Then and Now (photos) and Ask Mr. History Person. From people, business and history stories to original fiction and poetry, we covered the area from Ned's Point to Westport Point.

Early Years in Acushnet

by Mr. History Person

The town of Acushnet is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Although the town’s incorporation in 1860 makes it one of the younger communities in Bristol County, most local historians agree that the area was home to some of the region’s first European settlers. The village that grew up on the east side of the Acushnet River early on became the center of population and industry in the territory, with the next closest development being in the vicinity of Russell’s Mills in present-day Dartmouth.

The territory, initially home to the Cushena band of Wampanoag natives, had been purchased from Indian leader Massasoit and his son Wamsutta in 1652 by thirty-six Plymouth colonists. An earlier mention by Governor Bradford names the "Acushente river" two miles to the west of West Island and extending "8 myles up into ye countrie." It was to this river that Arthur Hathaway, son-in-law of Mayflower passenger John Cooke, came sometime around 1659. In 1660, three men were taxed for their homesteads. They were Arthur Hathaway, James Shaw and, most likely, Samuel Cuthbert.

One of the earliest deeds within the old Dartmouth territory, which included Dartmouth, Westport, part of Tiverton, New Bedford, Fairhaven and Acushnet, was for a ten-acre lot of land on the Acushnet River that the original purchasers granted to a John Howard in 1659. Howard did not settle there, but seems to have been sent to the territory to explore it and prepare for settlement. He was paid for his services with this piece of property. The land given to Howard was alongside a spring and brook that ran into the Acushnet River. The mouth of the brook was at a neck of land that extends out into the Acushnet River north of what later became the "Laura Keene Farm," and to the southwest of the location of the Century House today. Howard, with John Cooke, laid out the first public road in old Dartmouth from the Indian trail (now South Main Street, Acushnet) to that neck. Historian Henry Worth, examining the earliest documents and land records, concluded that the sheltered neck, with its spring-fed brook and clear view of the river, was where the first European settlers established their initial base camp. There are documents establishing both a road and a burial ground there and Worth suggests there was probably a community structure of some sort there as well.

The lots first laid out on the east side of the Acushnet River were, from the Fairhaven-Acushnet town line to the head of the river, the properties of Arthur Hathaway, James Shaw, John Howard, Samuel Cuthbert, William Spooner and Samuel Jenney. Later the Shaw, Howard and Cuthbert properties were owned by Hathaways and Spooners. The Pilgrim John Cooke, who arrived around 1662, settled further to the south near the junction of Adams Street and Howland Road in North Fairhaven. Cooke did, however, purchase the neck of land with the road and the burial ground from John Russell, who had bought it earlier from Samuel Cuthbert. Cooke later transferred the point and its burial ground to his son-in-law Arthur Hathaway and it remained in the Hathaway family until the 1830s.

Those who moved from Plymouth to this new territory were generally Baptists and Quakers, though neither groups seems to have built a meetinghouse at first. The earliest church was the meetinghouse built by the Presbyterians on land owned by John Jenney. The lot for the church and its adjoining cemetery was deeded by Jenney in 1713/14, but that deed states "where the meeting House built by Sd. Presbyterians now stands." The building was probably built several years earlier, since Rev. William Hunt was hired as the minister in 1708 and the organization of the group is said to date to 1694. This land bounded on the south by the "County Road" is where Acushnet Cemetery is located today.

The Quakers built their meetinghouse near Parting Ways about 1729.

The earliest roads in town generally followed the earlier Indian trails. The main way across town from the Middleboro line, through Long Plain, over Perry Hill and on to a wooden bridge at Head of the River was known as early as 1711 as the "long Plain rode." That was officially laid out as the Post Road in 1724 and is now known as Main Street and North Main Street. Part of that stretch was called "County Road" in the Jenney’s deed mentioned above, but the main stretch of the County Road was what’s now Acushnet Avenue leading toward Freetown and eventually Taunton. What is now South Main Street, first called "the Fairhaven Road" was laid out about 1724 like the Post Road. At the present Fairhaven town line, the Fairhaven road forked with what’s now Alden Road extended toward Sconticut Neck in 1724 and what’s now Main Street, Fairhaven, and Adams Street laid out in 1728. Perry Hill Road followed an ancient trail from the "long Plain rode" to Plymouth. Up to the time of the Revolutionary War there were few other roads, aside from narrow paths between farms.

Farming was the primary occupation of the residents of Acushnet up through the Revolution, but there were some shops and some early mills powered by water that provided some basic necessities. Samuel Joy had a blacksmith shop near the river beginning around 1711. One of the earliest named locations was the "Mill Lot" in the vicinity of the later Acushnet Saw Mill property. Located there were a grist, a saw mill, and early carding and fulling mills for processing wool and cotton. In the 1730s there was an iron mine and a forge. Somewhat later Daniel Summerton had a blacksmith shop near Meetinghouse Hill in the 1750s. A tannery for processing animal hides into leather is mentioned in a 1775 deed.

Historian Franklyn Howland rightly claimed "For one hundred years after the incorporation of ancient Dartmouth, 1664, this Acushnet tract took the lead of every other section of the town in settlement and development." The Fairhaven Village and Oxford Village areas in Fairhaven didn’t even begin until after 1760 and not until 1761 was the first house built in the area that would develop into Bedford Village on the west side of Acushnet River. When the American Revolution began, Oxford, Fairhaven and Bedford were just teenagers while Acushnet Village had already reached its century mark.

It would not be a separate town for another eighty-five years.
But that story will have to wait for another time.