New Bedford, city (1990 pop. 99,922), seat of Bristol co., SE Mass., at the mouth of the Acushnet River on Buzzard's Bay; settled 1640, set off from Dartmouth 1787, inc. as a city 1847. Formerly one of the world's greatest whaling ports, it then became a leading port for the fishing and scalloping industries, but dwindling fish populations and government regulations have hurt those industries. New Bedford handles transatlantic and intracoastal trade. Its manufactures include clothing, textiles, electrical and electronic equpment, rubber and metal products, medical supplies, and prepared foods. During the Revolution the harbor was a haven for American privateers, prompting the British to invade and burn the town in 1778. The whaling industry boomed after the Revolution, reaching a peak in the 1850s. The first cotton-textile mill there was built in 1846; the textile industry declined in the 1920s. The Seamen's Bethel, described by Herman Melville in Moby-Dick ; the Bourne Whaling Museum; the Old Dartmouth Historical Society; Friends' Academy (1810); and campuses of the Univ. of Massachusetts Dartmouth are in New Bedford. The Free Public Library holds a large collection of material on whaling. A sizable Portuguese-speaking population is in the city.
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