Such a spectacle gives the stranger fitting introduction to Gloucester, for from earliest times the men of the gray old town have been followers of the sea. It was three years after the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth that the first Englishman settled on Cape Ann, at the place now called Gloucester, which took its name from the old English cathedral city whence many of its settlers had come. America's Gloucester doubtless seems young to the mother town, which is of British origin and was built before the Romans crossed from Gaul; but, despite the great cathedral in the English town and the importance in the clerical world of the prelates and church dignitaries who found livings there, the Yankee town was for many years a place of more consequence in the world of trade and profit than the English Gloucester has ever been.
Founded as a rendezvous where fishermen could cure their fish and fit out for their trips, in the old days Gloucester in Massachusetts had fishing and whaling fleets, and her boats not only went out on the Banks in search of cod, but to the far limits of the North and South Seas they sailed to bring back rich cargoes of whale oil. Her fleets ventured into every sea from which profit could be brought, and boys born in the town or its neighbors three or four generations agone all looked forward to a half dozen cruises as a matter of course, just as the modern boy knows that he must go to school and learn to read and write. It was a rough school to which the youth of Gloucester and Cape Ann went, but it was a good one. They learned there to be brave and manly, and seafaring broadened the minds of men who had they stayed at home would have been sadly provincial and narrow.
Thus the history of Gloucester centers in the fisheries. The yarns most often told at her firesides are of hairbreadth escapes at sea; her legends and romances have a flavor of the salt waves about them; her rugged granite shore is marked with the scenes of memorable shipwrecks and storms; her town records are the records of fleets that have gone down on the Banks, of pinks and schooners that have foundered on the Georges, of heroes that have toiled for their families and fought the grim battle of life with the fogs, the lightning and the swooping billows of the sou'wester, and with the ice, the hail and the short, savage cross seas and terrible blast of the raging nor'wester, while their children have cried for their absent fathers and their wives have lain awake through long, dreary nights, burning the light in the window and straining their eyes to see through the gloom of the storm the long expected vessel and the beloved forms that perhaps have already gone down at sea.