How a Rockport Fire Spawned Gorton’s of Gloucester

By way of Parlez-Moi Blog, I learned of this great little video about Gloucester produced by seafood giant Gorton’s of Gloucester. It reminded me of a tidbit I came across about how a disastrous fire in Rockport led to the founding of Gorton’s. I explain below, after the video.

An earlier post here talked about the 1882 fire that destroyed the Annisquam Cotton Mill in Rockport. As I wrote then, nearly a quarter century later, the one building that remained from the mill became the George J. Tarr School. That building is now the town library.

An 1899 ad for Gorton's fish balls.

When the mill burned down, its superintendent, Slade Gorton, was out of a job. At his wife’s urging, Gorton found a new occupation, packing and selling salt codfish and mackerel in Gloucester, according to an entry in Wikipedia. (Wikipedia puts the date of the fire as 1874 but news reports I found said it was 1882.) He called the company Slade Gorton & Company. In 1899, the company patented the Original Gorton Fish Cake.

Later, the company became the Gorton-Pew Fisheries and then, in 1957, Gorton’s of Gloucester. In 1953, it introduced the first frozen, ready-to-eat fish stick.

Today, one of Slade Gorton’s descendants, Nathaniel M. Gorton, is a U.S. District Court judge in Boston. Another descendant, Slade Gorton, spent 18 years as a United States senator from Washington state and is now a partner with the international law firm K&L Gates. As for the company Slade Gorton founded, it is now owned by the Japanese marine products company Nippon Suisan Kaisha Ltd.

But if not for the tragic fire that destroyed Rockport’s old cotton mill, Gorton’s might never have opened its doors.

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One Response to How a Rockport Fire Spawned Gorton’s of Gloucester

  1. Pingback: Annisquam Cotton Mill, Before and After the 1882 Fire | Vintage Rockport

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