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The dory was essential for the famous Grand Banks fishery. This dory shop, built by John Williams in 1880, was one of seven booming businesses in Shelburne that built thousands of dories every year for American and Canadian fishing schooners.
In the middle of the last century, two innovative ideas revolutionized the Grand Banks fishery. Until then, the banks were so rich that men fished with baited hooks and handlines off the decks of schooners, catching as many fish as they needed.
Someone figured out that, rather than fishing with a single baited hook, it would be more effective to hang lots of hooks off a long line strung along the ocean floor, just where hungry cod and haddock loved to feed. The idea worked, and trawl fishing was born.
Next, someone calculated that more fish could be caught if you could spread your fishermen out over more ocean. How to do this? What about piling a bunch of little boats onto a schooner, carrying them out to the banks, and letting fishermen fish from them? Another good idea! Dory fishing was born.
When trawl fishing and dory fishing got together, a fishing technology was created that dominated the banks fishery until the 1940s.
Dories were perfect for this role. Flat bottomed with flared sides, they could be easily nested and lashed in place on the decks of schooners. Dories were also cheap to build. In their production, Shelburne excelled. Until the mid-1880s, dories were built using naturally curved wood, or "grown knees," as frames. These knees had to be sawn from crooked wood such as tree roots. They were difficult and dangerous to produce.
In 1887, a Shelburne boatbuilder, Isaac Crowell, started using something he called the patent "dory clip." This allowed builders to make dory knees by joining together two straight pieces of wood. The result was tough, durable dories that were cheaper to build than conventional ones.
Crowell's ingenuity created a thriving industry in Shelburne. At the height of the banks fishery, seven Shelburne shops churned out thousands of dories each year. They sold their products to both Canadian and American schooner captains who got used to stopping in Shelburne to buy dories on their way to the Grand Banks.