The maritime history of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine encompasses much of New England's history. As the Ice Age glaciers began retreating from eastern Massachusetts around 16,000 year ago, portions of Stellwagen Bank and Jeffreys Ledge were dry and home to grasses, forests, and Pleistocene animals. It is likely that between 11,000 and 12,000 years ago, Paleoindians inhabited these areas and exploited the rich marine resources found along the shore. Rising sea levels slowly inundated Massachusett's Bay, pushing the native populations to settlements along the current shoreline. For thousands of years Native Americans utilized the vast fish and shellfish resources of Massachusetts Bay developing rich cultures that were in harmony with the marine environment.
During the thousands of years of human occupation of the Massachusetts' coastline, waterborne transportation was an essential part of the region's communication network. Vessels of many shapes and sizes have carried a variety of cargos and multitudes of persons to and from Massachusetts ports. Beginning with the native cultures and continued by the earliest colonists who cut settlements from the thick forests and fished along the shore, New Englanders have derived tremendous economic benefit from their close association with the sea. New Englanders have traveled the breadth of the globe in sailing ships, trading with far flung cultures or harvesting the bounty of the sea. At the beginning and end of each voyage, many of these intrepid mariners crossed through the waters that are now recognized as the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.