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Once among New England's prime whaling ports, New Bedford is known today for its excellent whaling museum and for the ferry to Martha's Vineyard.


New Bedford, like Fall River MA, owed part of its living to textiles, but its fame rests on its history as a 19th-century whaling port.

Herman Melville set his American classic, Moby Dick, in New Bedford as the logical spot to begin a whaling epic, and so it was.

It wouldn't be far wrong to say that without understanding whaling, one can't understand 19th-century New England; and the place to find out about whaling is certainly New Bedford.

During the heyday of whale-oil lamps, New Bedford had about 400 ships out scouting the seas for the monster denizens.

A ship might be at sea for several years, and when it returned to port it could have thousands of barrels of whale oil in its hold, plus whalebone for corsets and collar stays, and priceless ambergris for the making of perfumes.

The story of whaling—how the ships were staffed and equipped, how the search was carried out, how the men pursued and killed the whale, and then butchered and rendered it to get the oil—is all told in the justly-famous New Bedford Whaling Museum on Johnny Cake Hill (map), just up the hill from the city's still-active waterfront piers from which a fast ferry goes daily in summer to Martha's Vineyard Island.

Johnny Cake Hill and New Bedford's historic waterfront district have undergone extensive renovation and restoration in recent years.

Going down to the water's edge along cobbled streets, the Custom House and many merchants' buildings have been restored. The historic center of the city now has an appearance much like it had during its 19th-century heyday—only today it's much cleaner.

At the State Pier, Seastreak operates fast passenger ferries to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. More...

—by Tom Brosnahan

Tourist Information

What to See & Do


Martha's Vineyard Ferry

Fall River MA

Southeastern Massachusetts

Cape Cod

Providence RI


Paris Girls Secret Society, the new novel by Tom Brosnahan


New Bedford MA

Whaling Museum on Johnny Cake Hill,
New Bedford MA.


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