George Godsell Thresher was a marine artist, as well as a calligrapher and teacher of drawing and painting. Thresher immigrated to New York City in 1806 and later worked in Philadelphia. He studied art in London and served in the Royal Navy. Thresher's later career took him first to Montreal in 1816, then to Halifax and Pictou in Nova Scotia, and in 1829 he settled in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. In 1843, he was appointed deputy Colonial Secretary and Registrar of Deeds, a post he held until his death in 1857.
Thresher produced many marine paintings. Some of these were portrait paintings of specific ships; others were of battles and events at sea. The Yankee Gale is not a portrait; rather, it tells the story of a marine disaster - a great storm called the "Yankee Gale" that swept the Island in 1851. Thresher's painting records this event and presents a narrative of the many American fishermen who lost their lives in that calamity.
Early in October 1851, a large fleet of fishing vessels moved close inshore following schools of mackerel into the shallow water off the north shore of Prince Edward Island. Over 100 schooners were there, many of them crewed by Americans - "Yankees" - from New England ports. A gale storm left 80 wrecks and 160 dead fishermen. Many were lost at sea; those whose bodies were recovered were buried in several cemeteries on PEI's north shore. The many tales of tragedy and heroism that came out of the storm prompted Thresher to record in a dramatic canvas the terror of this marine disaster.