codfish border

George Merchant, Jr.
George Merchant, Jr.


Capt. George Merchant, born August 3, 1828 and died May 5, 1906 age 77 years, 9 months, two days.

The above dates mark the beginning and the end of a life for another of Gloucester's honored citizens and the breaking of a chain in a large family circle, with consequent sorrow and grief to many friends and acquaintances.

Mr. Merchant dated his ancestry from Jabez Merchant, the first of the name in Gloucester, who came with his brother Ebenezer from Yarmouth (sometime before 1721). Back of that date was John (Marchant) of Braintree, 1636, and still further back the name has been traced by his son, George E., to Gloucester England in 1220. On maternal side, from the wife of Jabez, Mary Butman Babson, he was descended from John Robinson the "father" of the Pilgrim Colony.

His great-grandfather was William, one of the grandsons of Jabez, the original settler, who was a lieutenant of a military company in the revolution, and the town record shows that he advanced money to pay for the services of one of the three month's companies who fought at Bunker Hill. William's son Epes and two brothers served as coast guards, patrolling the coast from Eastern Point to Rockport during the war of 1812, one being captain of the East Ward Company.

William, the grandson of Jabez, and four sons came from Pigeon Cove and settled at the head of the harbor, so called, and were pioneers in the fishing business in that section. The original site of their fish place is occupied by the warehouses of Shute & Merchant. (note -- it was Hannah, his wife and sons who came to Gloucester from Pigeon Cove after his death.)

Born to poverty 77 years ago, the second in a family of 13 children, all of whom were reared to adult age, Mr. Merchant early found life struggle for existence.

His first voyage to sea was in the schooner "Emblem", a craft of small tonnage, he being aged 12 years. In the entire season but 28 bbls of mackerel were taken, so that his labors added little to the family store. Two years later, when but 14 years of age, he occupied the responsible position of cook on the schooner "Phebe Ann", going to the Georges. Then in succession he sailed on the schooner "Clinton" and the schooner "Clarion", a portion of the time bringing in live halibut in the well of the craft, for both were smackers. Then change was made to the schooner "Rockaway", in 1848, sailing with his uncle Gorham as master, this craft being of the "improved" type of sailing vessels, as compared with the partially decked open boat and the pinkey. This was the great "mackerel" year.

The following year, 1849, found him for the first time, treading the quarter deck as the skipper, but only for a short time, when he gave up command to the late Capt. Aaron D. Wells. While on the Georges, after a severe storm, he one day baited his hook throwing the line overboard, remarked that "this is to be my last fish on this bank." His comrades laughed, but so it proved to be, for on his return he left the sea and set up in the business on shore.

Two years later found him however, part owner of the schooner "Gypsy Queen", a boat of 24 tons, which was sailed in conjunction with his brother-in-law, Capt. Solomon Rowe.

A brief period on shore followed and the scene changed to the old schooner "Centerion" and 1857 found him in full command in pursuit of his first seining voyage. From that time on till 1873, Mr. Merchant was constant to this fishery, and to him was due many of the improved methods of the conduct of this industry. Notably in the line was the introduction of the mackerel pocket, which he first put to practical use, although others were experimenting along the same line.

At one time during this period, he was also interested in the attempt to establish the whaling industry at this port when the top sail schooner "Retrieve" was fitted under the command of Capt. Charles Marchant of Fresh Water Cove for a trip to the coast south of Sandy Hook in search of whales, several trips being made but the project being finally abandoned.

In 1873 he left the sea and set up his abode on shore, establishing the seine repairing industry as a permanent business, with the late Joseph Simpson as a partner. From this time on, to the date of his retirement from active business two years ago, excepting the years 1878-79-80, he did a large share of this kind of work, and invented and put to use the greater part of the improved machinery now in service in the business. In the years named (above), his old love of the sea life returned and with his sons George E. and Orlando, he purchased and commanded the schooner "Hattie B. West". George E. serving as had his father before him as chief cook.

In his service upon the ocean, many narrow escapes were had from disaster to both vessels and crews. Personally he was overboard on three occasions when the loss of life meant but the breaking of the thread as it were. In 1849, in Gloucester Harbor he was unceremoniously dumped into the ocean by the sliding of the load of sails, but saved himself by diving beneath the canvases and swimming. Again, in 1861, he was thrown overboard off Race Point by the topping lift, as the main boom swung across the decke, the vessel running wing on wing under a good breeze at the time. Fortunately the rope broke and as it trailed astern, he caught the end and was towed for quite a distance before being rescued, a part of the time being underwater, his father being the one to jam the wheel hard down and bring the vessel up into the wind. Later in Portland Harbor he fell from the bowsprit and was taken with the tide beneath the vessel, coming out under her stern, and was able to swim to the bobstay after he got his wind, and clambered on board, much to the surprise of his shipmates.

[click on the photo above to continue with his story]

From the House of Jabez -- Chronicles of the Merchant-Marchant Family by Frank R. Merchant


codfish border

This page is the property of the Shute & Merchant website.