The Wampanoags, who had settlements throughout southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, were once the only inhabitants of the lands along the Acushnet River and the area now known as New Bedford. Approximately 12,000 Wampanoags thrived in this area before Bartholomew Gosnold explored Cape Cod and the neighboring areas, including present-day New Bedford. It is unknown why Gosnold and his crew didn't decide to settle in this area but instead returned to England. Reports of the area were circulated by Gosnold and his crew, and by 1652 colonists were negotiating with Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag, for some of the tribe's land for settlement. However, because land "ownership" was a foreign concept to the Wampanoag, they were unaware that the land would be permanently taken from them. After years of negotiation and court battles, the Wampanoag now control a portion of their original territory on Martha's Vineyard where they run a cultural center that has become a popular tourist destination, a successful shellfish hatchery, and provides several services to their members.
Fishing and manufacturing are two of the largest businesses in the area. Most recently, healthcare has been added as a major field of industry with Southcoast Hospitals Group, as well as Titleist (miscellaneous manufacturing), and Riverside Manufacturing (apparel manufacturing). New Bedford tourism centers on fairs and festivals including the Summerfest Folk Music and Arts Festival, the traditional Blessing of the Fleet, and the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament (the largest Portuguese cultural celebration in the nation). Tourism also focuses on the historic whaling industry, and the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park is the only national park unit that focuses on the whaling industry's impact on the history of the United States.
Other notable attractions include The Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum, a 28-room Greek Revival mansion was built for whaling merchant William Rotch, Jr. in 1834. Weddings are popular in the rose garden. The Rotch-Jones-Duff House also has a summer concert series as well as an annual "Cookie Contest." The New Bedford Art Museum is located in the heart of New Bedford's historic downtown. The Museum offers engaging exhibitions of artwork from around the corner and across the ocean. Not far from it is Gallery X, a community art gallery. New Bedford's park system rounds out the opportunities for recreation and entertainment in the area. Concerts, playground facilities, hiking and biking trails, swimming and nature trails can be found at Asheley Park, Buttonwood Park and Zoo (designed by Frederick Law Olmsted), Brooklawn Park, Clasky Common, Fort Taber Playground, Hazelwood Park, Prince Henry the Navigator Park, and Riverside Playground.
New Bedford can also boast a history of successful musicians over the years. During the 1970s, the Tavares, a soul music group made up of five brothers from New Bedford, recorded several chart topping songs such as "Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel" and "More Than a Woman". In 1999, the pop group LFO (Lyte Funky Ones), whose group member Harold "Devin" Lima is from New Bedford, had a hit single with their song "Summer Girls". Most recently, the hardcore punk band A Wilhelm Scream has gained some success, having been added to the 2005 Warped Tour lineup. A more unusual distinction, New Bedford became part of the Ghost Hunters series as they investigated the New Bedford Armory, which has been a long history of ghost sightings and strange happenings.