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Founded in the late 18th century, New Bedford was the nation's leading whaling port during the first half of the 19th century. Following the 1859 discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania and the decline of whaling, the town's fortunes were invested in a growing textile industry.
In composing this drawing, Bailey views New Bedford from the east, placing the seaport's waterfront in the foreground. While the waterfront was the central focus of the town's maritime activity during the first half of the 19th century, it also reflects the transition to an industrialized economy.
The central portion of the waterfront is dominated by wharves and a mixture of steam powered ships and sailing ships, most likely including a few still involved in the whaling industry. Meanwhile, at the southern and northern ends of the town's waterfront, the artist depicts the town's two new cotton textile factories the Potomska and Wamsutta Mills. The latter, which is also depicted in the lower right vignette, became the nation's largest cotton weaving factory by the end of the 19th century.
The image's legend identifies the many public buildings that served this city with a population of 27,000 in 1880. These included the post office and custom house, city hall, public library, county court house, schools, hospitals, and twenty-six churches. The latter provide evidence of the many immigrants who came to New Bedford, initially to work in the whaling industry, and later in the textile factories. Several of the churches that can be identified with these immigrant groups are St. John Baptist (Portuguese, no. 34), St. Marys Roman Catholic (Irish, no. 28), and St. Lawrence Roman Catholic (French Canadian, no. 27).