Portraits of a Port (5, 8–12)

Grades 5 and 8–12

Pre-Visit Activities   |   Post-Visit Activities  |  Program Explanation & Notes (pdf)  |  Key Terms & Concepts (pdf)

From Bartholomew Gosnold’s encounter with the Wampanoag people in 1602 to the peak years of the whaling industry in the 1850’s, this region changed from a subsistence agricultural community to a prosperous port called New Bedford. Participatory activities include stories of explorers, settlers, entrepreneurs, whalemen, escaped slaves and numerous others who helped to make New Bedford historically unique.

Learning standards will be met as students:

  • Hypothesize on the ways location, resources, commercial needs, and sources of labor shaped the local economy
  • Identify important leaders and groups responsible for the growth of the port of New Bedford
  • Recognize the importance of maritime commerce in the development of the economy of New Bedford
  • Consider how changes in supply and demand affect the price of a product



Suggested Pre-Visit Activities

Review the reasons for European exploration and what explorers found.

Ask the students to list the problems early settlers might have faced. Encourage them to think about food, clothing, shelter, communication, tools, and trade.

Define the following terms: supply and demand, profit, industry, textiles, whaling agent, seamen’s protection papers, Boston Tea Party, boatsteerer, boatheader, master (captain), whalebone, scrimshaw, fo’c’sle

Use the activities in A New Bedford Voyage! to prepare your students, or request a hard copy from the Education Department.

Read the excerpt from Charles Nordhoff’s book, Whaling and Fishing. Ask the students to describe how they would respond in this situation. Could they work in such conditions for a day? What about for four years? When they visit the Museum, they will have an opportunity to smell whale oil.


Suggested Post-Visit Activities

Make a timeline. Divide the students into teams. Assign each team a different period of New Bedford history: pre-Columbian; 17th century; 18th century post-Revolution years; and the 19th century whaling years. Each team will list important events and people, as well as illustrate how they think New Bedford looked during the assigned time.

Ask students to create a journal as though they are crew members onboard a whaleship in the 19th century. What did they bring with them when they left port? What places do they visit? What is life like onboard? Are they green hands, boatsteerers, craftsmen, mates, or the master (captain)? What food do they eat? What are their duties onboard?


Click here to download a journal page for your students.


Create your own logbook using these step by step instructions


Have students research the Wampanoag tribes of Southeastern Massachusetts and their relationships with the colonial settlers from 1602 – 1775 (first interactions with Bartholomew Gosnold to the beginning of the American Revolution).

Ask students to write letters to the Museum’s docents thanking them for the tour and mentioning things they remember from their visit.