Sunday, April 15, 2018

Happy 167th Birthday to Seamen's Bank, Founded in PTown on April 14th, 1851

Treasurer William H. Young and assistant treasurer Myrick C. Young in Seamen's Bank lobby, Provincetown, ca1910. Seamen's built this new building in 1892 at 274 Commercial Street, now Cabot's Candy. In 1964 they built new facilities again, at 221 Commercial Street, now also serving as headquarters for their five branches.

On April 14th, 1851, at 99 Commercial Street, the store at the head of Union Wharf became the birthplace of Seamen's Savings Bank. It was founded as a mutual bank, meaning it was more or less owned by its members rather than a corporation seeking to make a profit from stock sales, or interest rates and fees charged to its depositors. The primary goal of this incorporation was not to amass vast profits for stockholders, of which there are none, but rather to actually serve the bank's members in their best interests. It was the first bank on Cape Cod, and it was designed to serve the needs of a burgeoning fishing industry.

Bones for the dogs, lollipops for the humans from friendly tellers at Seamen's.
The first deposit was made by Leander Rockwell, a sailor who had come here from Nova Scotia. He had entrusted 36 of his hard-earned dollars to this newfangled bank and its fledgling board of trustees.
In those days, the living of practically every Provincetown resident was tied in one way or another to the whaling and fishing industries.
Whether you actually went to sea, or made the barrels that carried the fish to market, or ran a store providing the goods to outfit various sailing vessels, your income was dependent upon the fish in the sea.
Initial depositors would prove to be mostly fishermen, sailors and whalers, and others of fairly modest means. These were average working people, often without a lot of money to put aside or to invest, despite the growth of the fishing industry, which really wouldn't hit its stride for another decade or so. These folks worked hard for every nickle they had.
When the trustees received their first complete report from the treasurer, on January 15th, 1853, depositors numbered 30, with total savings among them amounting to some $3,295. It would be about 130 years later, in the 1980s, that the bank would finally open a second branch, in Truro. Seamen's now has 5 branches stretching from Provincetown to Eastham, with more than 17,000 accounts and deposits of $275,000,000 put to work in serving the people of the entire Outer Cape.

This 1978 ad provided funds to help in documenting our trap fishing industry.
Seamen's Bank has a philanthropic bent, standing ready to support many local organizations, and particularly those helping to preserve the history and traditions of our early seafaring days, such as the annual Portuguese Festival and Blessing of the Fleet.
At the left is a simple ad that Seamen's Bank placed in Provincetown Trapboat Fishing - The End of an Era, published in 1978 by the Provincetown Historical Association. By that time this once-thrivng industry that caught schools of fish near the shoreline was all but dead. This 77-page booklet preserved methods, stories and photos of the trap fishermen, keeping this unique, important part of our coastal fishing heritage alive and vital in our collective memory.
In Charles Kaselau's painting, lifesavers rescue shipwrecked sailors.
Seamen's Bank also sponsors many community events, and supports the arts in all of its forms. From their website to their ATMs and annual reports, anything used to communicate with their customers uses local photography to enhance our experience with the bank. Whether it's an antique photo displaying a bit of history as we use the cash machine, or a sublime contemporary seascape that greets us as we log on to check our account balances online, we always come away enriched.
Every trip to the bank feels like a visit to an art gallery. Each wall seems to be graced with the works of local artists, with most paintings portraying some part of our seafaring heritage.
We thank and congratulate Seamen's Bank and its amiable, dedicated employees, and celebrate their 167 years of outstanding service to Provincetown and the Outer Cape.


  1. Um, did you misspell "Seaman" in the title in reference to a different type of bank, lol?

    1. Ooops! Damned auto-correct... Thanks, I'll fix it.