History of Rockport, Massachusetts

North of Boston


Before the coming of the English explorers and colonists, Cape Ann was home to a number of Native American villages inhabited by members of the “Agawam Tribe”.  Samuel De Champlain named the peninsula “Cap Aux Isles” in 1605. By the time European explorers found a permanent settlement in Gloucester in 1623; most of the Agawams had been killed by diseases caught from the early contacts with Europeans.  It is rumored the Vikings had been the first white man in the area as well.

The area that is now Rockport was an inhabited part of Gloucester for more than 100 years and was primarily used as a source for timber; especially pine for ship building.  The area around Cape Ann was one of the best fishing grounds in New England. In 1743 a dock was built at Rockport Harbor on Sandy Bay and was used for both timber and fishing. In the beginning of the 19th century the first granite quarries were developed and by the 1830’s Rockport Granite was being shipped to cities and towns throughout the East Coast. The demand for granite decreased with the increasing use of concrete during the Great Depression.

Rockport had consisted primarily of large estates, summer homes and a small fishing village. It was set off as a separate town from Gloucester in 1840 as residents desired a separate  enclave with its own identity.

Rockport still thrives as an artists colony which began years earlier due to its rocky boulder-strewn ocean beaches, quaint fishing shacks and a  harbor filled with small colorful fishing boats. In 1897, Rudyard Kipling’s novel “Captain Courageous” also made the area famous.

 MOTIF Number 1  one of the most famous sites by painters and then photographers  was named by Lester Hornby, an illustrator and etcher who taught in Paris, France in Winters and drew certain standard subjects or motifs. In 1933 the Rockport American Legion Post No 98 built a 27′ scale model  of  “Motif No 1” for the legion parade which was held in Chicago and site of th 1933 World’s Fair.  Designed by Aldro Hibbard and Anthony Thieme with participation by the RAA, Board of trade and townspeople. The float was commissioned in June and completed by the end of September and driven in daylight only from Rockport to Chicago in less than a week.  On October 3, 1933 among 200 floats it won 1st Place. Upon the floats return to Rockport’s crowd of over 4,000 lined up and down Great Hall (5 corners) to welcome the float home!  Rockport’s Revolt Against Rum

In the Summer of 1856 a group of 200 women led by Hannah Jumper swept through the town and destroyed anything containing alcohol in what is called “Rockports Revolt Against Rum” and banned alcohol from the town. Using Hatchets they began their raid and in the words of eyewitness Ebenezer Pool “on finding and keg, jug or cask having spirituous liquor in it…with their hatchets broke or otherwise destroyed it”.

Fishing was a mainstay of Rockport. However, the weather only permitted fishing 9 months of the year. Instead of finding other employment the men idled away their time and consumed enormous amounts of liquor. Year after year, the economic deprivation caused by those periods of inactivity worsened the money spent on spirits. The women of the town grew increasingly frustrated. Finally in 1856, with the rise of the temperance movement and early rumblings of Womens Rights…the women of Rockport met secretly to plot their historic raid!