Cartwright is located on the Labrador coast, about 150 miles east of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. It was established in 1775 by and named after Captain George Cartwright. He was an English sailor and trader who traded with fish and furs. The settlement of Cartwright provided him with an excellent sheltered harbour and FlagStaff Hill gave him a lookout point from which he could look for privateers. He erected two canons there, both of which are still in place today, overlooking the harbour entrance. It was also located at the mouth of Sandwich Bay where fish and fur-bearing animals were plentiful. The Hudson's Bay Company established its prinicpal post in Cartwright in 1837.
Cartwright's main source of income comes from the fishery. Traditionally, it was been a salmon-fishing community, but this commercial fishery closed in 1996. The Labrador Fisherman's Union Shrimp Company operates a crab plant which is the community's main source of employment, which employs 100 - 150 people. The facility also processes whelk.