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Sawyer Free Library, Gloucester, Mass.

Gloucester Fishermen's Memorial
Gloucester Fishermen's Memorial

History of Gloucester fisheries

Fishing has been a part of American life since Colonial times. Seaports that supported the fishing industry dotted the Atlantic coast. New England coastal towns, including Gloucester, exploited the abundant ground fishing of cod and haddock at George’s Bank, located about 100 miles east of Cape Cod, and the Grand Banks, 1,000 miles beyond. Besides the booming fisheries, Cape Ann area businesses that supported the fishing industry grew and thrived, including fish processors, ice producers, salt importers, rigging suppliers and ship-builders. Population increased, especially by immigration.

By the mid-1800s, men of Italian, Canadian, West Indian, and especially Portuguese descent flocked to Gloucester, Massachusetts, to find work in the fisheries and escape the discrimination they encountered in other New England communities. By 1888, approximately 200 Portuguese families lived in Gloucester, making it the largest Portuguese community on the East Coast. By the late 1880s, nearly 400 vessels fished out of Gloucester.
Fishing has always been a dangerous profession. Between 1866 and 1890, more than 380 schooners and 2,450 Gloucester men never returned from the fishing grounds. In a single storm on August 24, 1873, nine Gloucester vessels and 128 fishermen were lost. The tragic lost of life continues into the modern day. As chronicled in The Perfect Storm, the fishing boat Andrea Gail was lost in November 1991, during a trip to the Grand Banks. The crew of six men was never seen again.

List of vessels belonging to the district of Gloucester

The List of vessels was an annual publication which chronicled the fishing industry of the Cape Ann area. Each volume lists the name of the vessels, tonnage, masters, where and when built, and owners or fitters. Also included is a summary of the fisheries for that year, including the ships and men lost at sea. The Sawyer Free Library and the Cape Ann Historical Museum own various volumes of the List of vessels from the years of 1869-1908.

Access to the List of vessels

The List of vessels volumes are available for viewing at the Sawyer Free Library and the Cape Ann Historical Museum. In addition, the volumes have been transformed into digital images (.pdfs) that can be accessed through this site.

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