TOWN OF MATTAPOISETT
Mattapoisett is a pleasant New England coastal town with a large harbor on Buzzards Bay whose name is said to come from an old Indian word meaning "a place of resting". Settled about 1750, Mattapoisett was part of Rochester until 1857, when it was incorporated into a separate town.
The draw for both Indians and colonials were the rich fish, shellfish, water-fowl and game possibilities of the town as well as the seasonal eel and fish runs on the Mattapoisett River and eel ponds. Historians believe that the sheltered harbor may have been used by European explorers long before any settlements in the community. There are, also, some Indian burial sites in the town. The earliest settlements after the King Philip wars occurred around 1680 with residents dealing in lumbering, tar and turpentine production.
Shipbuilding was established around 1740 and before the Civil War the principal businesses in the town were shipbuilding and whaling, with four shipyards in operation before 1800. In the 1800’s, Mattapoisett was one of the most important shipbuilding towns on the East Coast – building some 400 ships over a period of 100 years. Many of the whaling ships that sailed from New England ports were built in Mattapoisett. The town traded with Nantucket, Newport, New York and Savannah and a shipping complex was developed at the head of Mattapoisett Harbor in the first half of the 18th century. There were few streams and therefore few mills using waterpower in town, but by 1855 there were 16 whaling ships in operation. Those residents who were not involved in maritime trades farmed and raised sheep.
Following the decline of the whaling and shipbuilding industry with the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in the 1870’s, an influx of well-to-do summer residents built summer homes on big estates, not in densely packed groupings as in other shore communities. The town became a summering place for residents of New York and Boston. Among the famous summer residents was Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
The old village offers a glimpse into the past with its many historic homes. Plaques on the old houses remind one of names made famous in bygone days. Many ships, including famous New Bedford whaling vessels, were built in the shipyards on our shores. Among the ships built here were the Acushnet, on which Herman Melville sailed. Ship Yard Park is the site of Jonathan Holmes’s shipyard, where in 1878, the last whaler of Mattapoisett, the Wanderer, was built. The flagpole in the park originally was the mizzenmast from that ship. However, lightning strikes and hurricanes took their toll and the pole was replaced in 1993.
The town boasts a fine Historical Museum dedicated to the preservation of significant articles from its past. A few moments spent at Ship Yard Park on the harbor shore or at Ned’s Point lighthouse will remind visitors of the days of sail and confirm the Wampanoag judgment that Mattapoisett is a place of rest.