Quakers from Plymouth Colony purchased the land from the indians in 1652; King Philip chartered its territory as part of Dartmouth township in 1664; when, in 1787, the village in the west bank of the Acushnet at its mouth became a town of its own, local grandees the Russells insisted it be named after their remote cousin the Duke of Bedford. But there was already a Bedford chartered inland to the northwest of Boston, and so the village became New Bedford.
In the mid-19th century, New Bedford surpassed Nantucket as the whaling capital of the United States; and since at the time the entire civilized world read at night mostly thanks to whale oil, it was only logical that the town's motto should be "I Spread Light", or Lucem Diffundo.
Whales since 1859 are very, very lucky that in that year the enterprising Edwin Drake built the first successful petroleum well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and launched the oil industry that provides an oil which is more abundant and more humane than the kind of oil they used to get here.
Today's fishing fleet at New Bedford fishes no whales. View from Peregrinus, hanging from a mooring, July 24.