Dighton is a town in Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 7,086 at the 2010 census. The town is located on the western shore of the Taunton River in the southeastern part of the state.
Dighton’s location has long made it a crossroads for travel The “Old Bristol Path” took early settlers from the Pilgrim settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts to Bristol, Rhode Island, the home of Massasoit.:1 A ferry took travelers across the Taunton River.:34 Later, a stage coach ran through Dighton, connecting Taunton and Bristol.:2 Dighton was also along the route between Fall River and Taunton.:16
Dighton was originally part of Taunton’s South Purchase and other surrounding towns. It was separated in 1672, officially incorporated in 1712. It was named for Frances Dighton Williams, wife of Richard Williams, a town elder. At the time of incorporation, the town included land on both sides of the Taunton River, including the land of Assonet Neck, which includes Dighton Rock, a rock found in the shallows of the river which includes cryptic carvings whose origins are debated to this day. However, in 1799, that land on the east bank of the river was annexed by Berkley, thus giving that town the claim of being the home of the rock.
In 1765, shortly after the renewal of the Molasses Act, Dighton’s wharves were the site of the “Molasses Affair,” a protest of British taxes on molasses similar to the more famous Boston Tea Party. A local ship reported a cargo of 63 casks of molasses to the British custom officials, but the ship actually contained double that number. The customs official ordered the ship’s cargo impounded while he departed for Newport for assistance. While he was gone, forty local men with blackened faces stole the cargo, ran the ship aground, and drilled holes in the hull to protest British tax policies.
During the time of the American Revolutionary War, Dighton gave refuge to several refugees from Newport, Rhode Island who had fled the British occupation there. These included Ezra Stiles and William Ellery.:104 Stiles kept a diary of his time in Dighton.:104 In January 1778 the town council voted in favor of the Articles of Confederation.:116
As it was located at the beginning of the tidewater of the river, Dighton was a shipbuilding community, and even had status as a port of call. North of Dighton the Taunton River becomes too shallow for ships to navigate,:152 and this, along with its centralized location, allowed Dighton to become a shipping hub for southeastern Massachusetts. In 1789 Dighton was made a port of entry for the surrounding towns. Ships would unload in Dighton and goods were either transferred to smaller boats or towed by oxen along a tow path on the east side of the river to Taunton.
Herring were plentiful in the Taunton River, and at one point Dighton’s herring fishery provided more income to the town than any other industry.:144 Fish were preserved in salt and exported as far away as the West Indies.:144
Shipbuilding started in Dighton as early as 1698. Thomas Coram built Dighton’s first shipyard on the west side of the Taunton River.:148 Shipbuilding grew into a significant industry after 1800, peaking around 1850.:149–150 During 1840-1845 twenty-two schooners, two sloops, four brigs, and three barks were built in Dighton.:149–150
There were also cotton mills, paper mills, manufacturers and farming concerns in the town. From before the Civil War to at least 1912, the town was regionally known for its strawberry farms.:233 With time, however, many of these industries left, leaving the town as a rural suburban community with some small farms.
In 2012, Dighton celebrated its Tricentennial with town selectmen donning historic costumes and crossing the Taunton River to Ferry Landing. Afterwards they held a ceremony at Founders Hall.
Dighton is served by the Dighton Public Library. As of December 2009, the Library Director was Jocelyn Tavares.
Dighton and its neighboring town Rehoboth comprise one school district, the Dighton-Rehoboth School District. It was founded in 1987 to oversee the schools of both towns. The high school, Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School, was founded in 1958 to serve both towns. The school itself is located in North Dighton, mere yards away from the Rehoboth town line. Its athletics teams are known as the Falcons, and its colors are green and gold. The Dighton Middle and Elementary Schools are located near the corner of Center Street and Somerset Avenue (Route 138) at the center of town.
The town is also the home of Bristol County Agricultural High School. The school operates a large farm along the banks of the Taunton River at its Center Street location. The town does not have any affiliation with a regional vocational school system, the closest one being Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School, located in Taunton, Massachusetts.
As of the census of 2000, there were 6,175 people, 2,201 households, and 1,718 families residing in the town. The population density was 275.9 people per square mile (106.5/km2). There were 2,280 housing units at an average density of 101.9 per square mile (39.3/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 97.80% White, 0.53% African American, 0.19% Native American, 0.49% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.28% from other races, and 0.70% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.07% of the population.
There were 2,201 households, out of which 37.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 64.5% were married couples living together, 9.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 21.9% were non-families. 18.8% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.78 and the average family size was 3.17.
In the town, the population was spread out, with 26.1% under the age of 18, 6.3% from 18 to 24, 30.4% from 25 to 44, 24.3% from 45 to 64, and 12.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females, there were 96.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.4 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $58,600, and the median income for a family was $64,792. Males had a median income of $41,427 versus $28,250 for females. The per capita income for the town was $22,600. About 1.0% of families and 2.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 3.8% of those under age 18 and 1.2% of those age 65 or over.