The historic period in Westport is categorized as beginning with Native/European contact and includes both Native American and Euro-American cultural components through the modern period. Explorations along the Buzzard’s Bay coastline probably occurred over a period of several hundred years, and likely included sporadic contact between the area’s Native population and various non-Native peoples.
Westport’s seventeenth- and eighteenth-century history is linked with neighboring Dartmouth, which encompassed the present-day town through most of the early periods. Prior to that time, Old Dartmouth encompassed portions of Tiverton and Little Compton, Rhode Island as well as the Massachusetts communities of New Bedford, Westport, Acushnet, and Fairhaven. As a result, many of the early historic period population figures and land use patterns for Westport must be inferred from the larger Old Dartmouth parcel.
The town reportedly earned its name as the westernmost point of the early Massachusetts Bay land grant that extended to Eastport, Maine (Macomber 2003). Westport was incorporated as a town in 1787, with periodic land annexes from Dartmouth in 1793, 1795, and 1805. The Westport/Dartmouth town boundary was established in 1828; the western boundary between Westport and Rhode Island was defined in 1861; and the Fall River/Westport town line was defined in 1894 (MHC 1981a).
While the town contains a central municipal/civic area (Central Village), Westport is made up of many smaller and somewhat independent activity areas. The early creation of a network of villages led to a number of unique cores around which settlement grew. Each of the town’s villages has its own history, although common themes, represented in the current study by specific historic research contexts, bind the various communities into a whole.