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The Town of Somerset is a suburban community in Bristol County, on the west side of the Taunton River. This area was originally known as the Shawamat Lands and was incorporated as a town in 1790. Although there was a significant Indian population when colonists arrived, by the end of King Philip's war in 1677 English settlers dominated the Pocassets, members of the Wampanoag tribe. The earliest colonists farmed and fished, both in the river and off-shore but the town developed shipyards, mercantile and shipping businesses early in its history. The first documented local shipyard was established between 1707 and 1712 on the Lee River by Samuel Lee. The dominant religious group in early Somerset were the Quakers, who established a meeting house about 1701, one of the few and earliest Quaker churches in southeastern Massachusetts. After the War of 1812, Somerset became one of the chief distribution points in New England for foreign goods with trade to China, the West Indies, Europe and the Atlantic coast. By 1847, 138 vessels were built and registered in the town with many engaged in the coastal trade. The most important shipyard was that of James M. Hood, whose yard launched several important clipper ships. This industry boomed after the Mexican War and the California Gold Rush, and spawned shipping related activities such as a ropewalk and the Somerset Iron Works, which made anchors. Aside from shipping related businesses, the largest early industry in Somerset was the making of stoneware. When steam began destroying shipbuilding, the anchor works was taken over by Job Leonard who proceeded to develop a nailworks which, by 1865, was the largest single industry in town. Through all of this industrial growth, south Somerset remained largely agricultural. The opening of the Somerset and Dighton Railroad led to the establishment in the town of the Old Colony's major coal port in 1872, while an enterprising former potter created a cannery operation in the early part of the 20th century. However, as the industrial development of Fall River absorbed Somerset's industry, the community turned increasingly from shipping and iron manufacturing to suburban services. The dominant industry in Somerset since the First World War has been power generation with the erection of the Montaup Electric Company plant in 1923 and Bryant Point in 1963. The dominant character of Somerset has been residential since the bankruptcy of Fall River in the Depression brought a flood of middle-class residents into the town. Unlike most communities in the area, Somerset increased its population by 74% during the Depression. The town is now a suburban community with some small scale resort and second home development and its 15 miles of waterfront are primarily used for recreation rather than industry. (Seal supplied by community. Narrative based on information provided by the Massachusetts Historical Commission)
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