On February 5, 1894, a single line of print in a corner of the Gloucester Daily Times recorded an addition to the Gloucester, Massachusetts fishing fleet: "The new schooner for J.F. Wonson and Co. has been named Effie M. Morrissey." This marked the commonplace birth of a schooner that would become famous not only as a banks fisherman, but also as one of the great expedition vessels of arctic exploration, a venerable transAtlantic immigration packet, a symbol of Cape Verdean-American history and heritage, and as an active educational and cultural resource serving the New England region. However, the white oak and yellow pine hull of the Effie M. Morrissey slid down the ways of the John F. James & Washington Tarr shipyard not as remarkable individual ship, but as a fine example of thousands of similar, Essex-built schooners. It was the heyday of the Gloucester fisherman.
The contract price was $6,700 for hull and spars, ready for rigging. The Effie M. Morrissey was the last fishing schooner built for the Wonson Fish Company. She took four months to build and was launched February 1, than towed by the tug Startle to Gloucester, the Morrissey was fitted out for the season to go salt cod fishing
George McClain of Gloucester was one of the pioneer designers of a new type of fishing schooner whose fine lines offered extra speed to market for the best price and a deep, heavily ballasted hull for stability to withstand North Atlantic gales. McClain, a former schooner skipper and prominent public figure in Gloucester during the 1890s, designed the 112' Morrissey with a 13' draft and 8,500 square feet of sail. Ernestinas one hundred years of active service attest to the quality of the McClain model.
THE FISHING WONSONS
Submitted by Robert E.
Here is a photo of John Fletcher Wonson (1802 - 1867), founder of John F. Wonson & Company of East Gloucester. Besides founding the company that bore his name, he was chiefly famous as the fisherman who established the winter halibut fishery on Georges Bank.
Prior to 1830, common wisdom held that any vessel that anchored on Georges in winter--when wicked tides race over the shoal--was in danger of exceeding hull speed and being "drored under". In March 1830, John Fletcher Wonson anchored the family schooner Nautilus on Georges and fished up 20 enormous halibut, which he brought into Gloucester. Thereafter, winter halibut became a staple of the new fresh fish business, supplementing the ancient salt cod business.
John began fishing with his father, Samuel Wonson (1773 - 1850). Samuel was a principal in Giles & Wonson and later Samuel Wonson & Sons. About 1832, when Samuel retired from the sea to become the first keeper of the Eastern Point lighthouse, John had a parting of the ways with his older brother, also named Samuel, and set up in business for himself. The heyday of John F. Wonson & Company was after John's death, under the entrepreneurship of three of John's sons: Frederick Giles Wonson (1829 -1919), Roger Williams Wonson (1834 -1920), and Franklin Augustus Wonson (1846 -1903). In 1894, when the company had the Effie M. Morrissey built, she was one of seventeen schooners sailing under the John F. Wonson flag. In 1905, following the death of Franklin Augustus Wonson, the company sold off its vessels and dockside assets and became mainly a fish specialty marketing operation under the direction of Frederick Giles Wonson's son, "Charlie Fred" (1859 -1936).