A legal notice, published in the Gloucester Telegraph & News on Dec. 18, 1861, gave public notice of the copartnership of James L. Shute and William T. Merchant under the business name, Shute & Merchant. A January 1862 newspaper ad, confirmed the opening of the new business; Company literature and advertising used 1862 as the year of establishment.
Prior to the start of Shute & Merchant, both William T. Merchant and James L. Shute had spent time working in the fish business with Samuel Merchant (father and father-in-law, respectively). Samuel Merchant's family had fishing wharves located at the head of the harbor from at least 1851.
Over the years that Shute & Merchant was in business, it was depicted in both paintings and photographs. One of the first images known, is a painting by Kilby Webb Elwell, done in 1866. When compared with photos taken in later years, it is easy to see how the facility and that part of Gloucester grew.
Most people visiting Gloucester today, would find it challenging to see any resemblance to the Gloucester of the mid- to late-1880s, due to all the changes and modernization. One of the most dramatic changes occurred in the 1930s when the buildings that had once housed Shute & Merchant operations, as well as others, were razed to make way for the State Pier.
A photo used in the 1892 "Official Programme" for the 250th Celebration of the Incorporation of Gloucester, includes what is believed to be the three men who owned and operated Shute & Merchant at that time. James L. Shute and William T. Merchant, had been joined by William T. Shute (son of James L.) by this time. This program appears to have been an advertising piece, as most of the pages are related to Gloucester businesses, with only a few covering the events of the celebration.
Within four years, James L. Shute and his son William, would be the heads of the firm, as William T. Merchant passed away in 1896. Wm. T. Merchant had two sons, but neither seems to have been associated with Shute & Merchant.
The Shute & Merchant section of the "Programme" was a double page spread, and extolled the many great qualities of the firm. Part of what it makes reference to are the inventions of James L. Shute and how they had revolutionized the methods used by the industry.
Officially established as a business in 1862, Shute & Merchant, ceased to exist in 1908. During 1907, the firm was purchased by the Gorton-Pew Fisheries Company. Gorton-Pew had been formed the preceding year when Slade Gorton, John Pew, Reed & Gamage and David B. Smith & Co. merged together to form the largest fish firm in Gloucester. The sale and transfer of Shute & Merchant was officially completed in 1908.
Additional research revealed that Wm. T. Shute and Benjamin A. Smith, son of David B. Smith were good friends. (Wm. T. named his youngest son in honor of his friend Benjamin.) It seems very likely that this friendship partially resulted in Shute & Merchant becoming part of this growing new firm.
By 1918, Gorton-Pew had added a number of other businesses to its organization, including two that had their start on the Shute & Merchant wharf: the Merchant Box Company and the J. Arthur Woodbury seine and net repair business (originally started by his grandfather George Merchant, Jr. ).