Lecture transcript: http://bit.ly/viator-wonson
From 2010 Press Release: The Cape Ann Museum is pleased to present The Man Who Brought Fresh Halibut to America’s Dining Table, an illustrated talk by Gloucester native Bob Viator on Saturday June 19 at 11:00 a.m.
Six generations of the Wonson family of Gloucester, Massachusetts, shaped the nature of fishing at America’s principal fishing port. Following the Revolution, the Wonsons were among the first fishermen to carry their own fish in their own vessels to the American South and Caribbean, escaping dependency on middlemen. In 1808, Samuel Wonson Jr. defied Jefferson’s Embargo, taking his fish from Gloucester to St. Eustatius. Acquitted in U.S. vs. Wonson, Sam Wonson won the U.S. Attorney’s appeal, breaking the back of the Embargo. In 1821, three Wonsons were among the first dozen captains to “jig” for mackerel, (catching them with a lure on unbaited hooks), starting the salt-mackerel fishery. In 1830, John Fletcher Wonson was the first to successfully anchor and fish for halibut on Georges Bank, which became a major source of cod and halibut into the 20th century. In 1831, the Wonsons ordered the first schooner “smack,” a floating fish tank to bring live halibut to Boston and New York, introducing America to the taste of fresh white-fleshed fish. In 1846, Giles & Wonson ordered the first “sharpshooter”, a clipper named Romp. She raced home with her fresh fish on ice, to go by rail overnight to New York and Chicago. In 1893, at the height of a national depression, John F. Wonson & Co. became the largest fishing outfitter in the nation’s largest fishing port. Bob’s talk focuses on John Fletcher Wonson‘s impact on the fishing industry’s switchover from salt fish to fresh fish.
A Gloucester native, Bob was educated in the Gloucester school system and went on to get his bachelor’s degree at UMASS Amherst. His journalism major landed him a job with the Wall Street Journal, where for five years he was the slotman on the Journal’s news production desk. Over the next thirty years he held a succession of writing and writing management jobs, mostly in the Massachusetts computer industry. In 2003 he was named a “History Hero” by the Bay State Historical League for his video about the rural cemetery movement in Massachusetts. For the past ten years he has been working on a book about the fishing exploits of the Wonson family of East Gloucester. A few people may remember a series of boating articles he and his wife wrote for the Gloucester Daily Times chronicling their 1968 trip down the Intracoastal Waterway from Gloucester to the Bahamas in a 24-foot sloop. Although he and his wife are now retired to the San Francisco Bay area, his ties to Gloucester remain strong. He has a sister living in Magnolia, and he is a summer-time familiar at the Cape Ann Museum library and the Gloucester Archives. He is in the area to attend his son’s wedding.
Funding for this program was made possible through a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which promotes excellence, access, education and diversity in the arts, humanities and interpretive sciences, in order to improve the quality of life for all Massachusetts residents and to contribute to the economic vitality of our communities.