“A Burning and Shining Light”: Prosperity and Enlightened Governance in Antebellum New Bedford

Earl F. Mulderink III

in New Bedford's Civil War

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780823243341
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823243389 | DOI:

Series: The North's Civil War (FUP)

“A Burning and Shining Light”: Prosperity and Enlightened Governance in Antebellum New Bedford

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New Bedford was widely known in the antebellum era for its whaling, wealth, and staunch antislavery environment. At mid-century, the recently incorporated city of New Bedford enjoyed prosperity matched by few other communities in the United States. Despite heady profits and global expansion, some signs of distress in traditional whaling practices emerged before the Civil War. By the 1850s, whaling merchants began to depend on labor recruiters known as crimps. New Bedford's newly established association demonstrated a change in class relations and power in the city and its labor market, suggesting a decline in local Quaker control as whaling operations expanded around the globe. New Bedford's whaling enterprise generated a variety of supportive and profitable manufacturing enterprises. More than most northern communities, the city stood as a relative haven for African Americans in the mid-nineteenth century. This chapter examines New Bedford's antebellum economy and occupational distribution. It discusses the city's early industrialization, with special reference to the Wamsutta Textile Mills, and looks at its networks of capitalism, enlightened governance, religious life and reform, and public order through the 1850s.

Keywords: New Bedford; antebellum; whaling; manufacturing; African Americans; industrialization; Wamsutta Textile Mills; capitalism; enlightened governance; religious life

Chapter.  8289 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Military History

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