The area that now makes up Fairhaven was purchased from Wampanoag Chief Massasoit in 1652 by a group of colonists from Plymouth. Settlement began about 1659. Among the earliest settlers were John Cooke, one of the original Mayflower Pilgrims, and his cousin Jonathan Delano, and ancestor of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The first settlers engaged primarily in agriculture and coastal trade, with ship building and whaling developing just prior to the Revolution. In 1775, Fairhaven men fought the first naval engagement of the war, capturing two British-held vessels in the outer harbor. Fort Phoenix, completed in 1777, helped protect the harbor through the Civil War. In September 1778 the harbor came under attack when about 4,000 British troops undertook a two-day raid resulting in burned homes and sunken ships.
The Town of Fairhaven was incorporated on February 22, 1812, separating from New Bedford over political differences concerning the War of 1812.
During the 1800s, the whaling industry and its related marine trades contributed greatly to the town’s growth. Whaling brought Fairhaven in contact with people from around the world, including Manjiro Nakahama, who became the first Japanese person to live in America after being rescued from a Pacific Island by Capt. William Whitfield. Manjiro lived in Fairhaven for several years before returning to Japan and gaining national prominence there.
Also during the 1800s, a retired sea captain, Joseph Bates Jr., wrote a religious treatise that became the foundation of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Fairhaven is also where famed sailor Captain Joshua Slocum rebuilt the small sloop Spray before sailing it around the world alone from 1895 to 1898.
Between 1885 and 1906, Fairhaven benefited greatly from the gifts of magnificent European style public architecture donated by native son Henry H. Rogers, a multimillionaire from his career in the Standard Oil Company. A grammar school, library, town hall, high school, Unitarian Church, and the public water system were among the gifts given by Rogers.
After the decline of whaling, the New Bedford textile mills brought many English, French Canadian and Portuguese workers to the area, resulting in further increases in population. Maritime interests shifted to fishing and ship maintenance. These endeavors are still part of the town’s economy, although retail trade is now the leading segment of the economy.
Historical brochures and guided walking tours are provided to visitors, tour groups, schools and residents by the town’s Office of Tourism.