SLADE, THOMAS, ship’s captain, agent, and businessman; b. in Poole or Wareham, England, son of Robert Slade and Elizabeth – ; d. 1816 in Poole.
Thomas Slade’s early life is enveloped in obscurity, and some of the few details we possess come from the will of his uncle John Slade*, a prominent Poole–Newfoundland merchant. After the death of his only son in 1773, John Slade focussed his attention on four of his nephews to provide family continuity within the business: each of the nephews assumed specific areas of responsibility within the firm of John Slade and Company. Over the next several years Thomas was employed in various capacities in his uncle’s expansive trade, including that of ship’s captain and agent. In 1780 he commanded the 180-ton brig Fame from Fogo to Poole, and he continued as a master under his brother John into the 1790s.
The partnership of John Slade and Company spawned a new complex of Poole merchant firms that dominated the trade of outport Newfoundland throughout most of the 19th century. When John Slade Sr died in 1792 the firm possessed major mercantile establishments and sub-establishments along the northeast coast of Newfoundland and in Labrador, owned six brigs, and conducted an extensive supply trade with the growing population on the northeast coast. The estate devolved upon the nephews and their cousin, George Nickleson Allen, who continued the success of the firm, though forced by wartime conditions to reduce their volume of trade during the 1790s. In the next decade the Slades increased their business and were able to take advantage of the lucrative prices for cod, salmon, sealskins, and oil, especially between 1809 and 1812. Moreover, they expanded from the traditional Slade stronghold in the Fogo–Twillingate area southwards into Bonavista, Trinity, and Conception bays, as well as into St Mary’s Bay and the Burin region on the south coast.
Despite the increased prosperity, not all the partners wished to continue working within the firm. The first of the Slade heirs to break away was Robert, who in 1804 moved to Trinity and leased the premises previously operated by John Jeffrey of Poole. His business grew steadily and by 1817 his tax rate in Poole was assessed on a trade of more value than that of John Slade and Company. One of the reasons for the apparent decline in the trade of the old firm between 1813 and 1817 was Thomas Slade’s departure to form yet another company. By 1817 his firm, Thomas Slade and Company, was rated in Poole on £700 worth of imports and exports, the equivalent in value of John Slade and Company. The principals of the new company were Thomas Slade and his nephew William Cox. It is not clear whether Slade withdrew his capital from the parent firm and struck out on his own, or whether, because of expansion, a decision was taken to manage a branch of the business under a separate name. It appears that John Slade and Company continued its connections with Twillingate and Fogo, whereas Thomas Slade and Company traded mainly in Bonavista Bay. Thomas Slade’s name was attached to the new firm for only a few years. He apparently fell ill in 1816; his will was made on 17 September and probated on 11 November.
Thomas Slade, who evidently did not marry, left a considerable fortune in stocks, money, property, and trade assets, to be divided in a complex manner among his kinfolk. He distributed £53,100 to his immediate relatives, the largest sums going to his brother John and nephew Robert. He also bequeathed a total of £11,000 to some other members of the family and smaller amounts to sundry relations. His lands in the parishes of East and West Morden in Dorset, England, he left to his brother David, and a storehouse in Poole to David’s son Thomas. Half of his “Newfoundland trade and all my plantations, rooms, storehouses, flakes, land and estates . . . and also my ships, brigs, sloops, schooners, boats, craft, fishing implements and other effects belonging to the said trade” went to his nephew and partner William Cox. The other half was placed in trust with his cousin Robert for his son Thomas and for the son of his brother David, also named Thomas. It was further enjoined that at the age of 24 the two Thomases were to become partners in Thomas Slade’s company, which would take the name of Thomas Slade and Thomas Slade.
Shortly after Thomas Slade’s death his company’s name was changed to Slade and Cox. By 1824 this company had six ships totalling 904 tons in the Newfoundland trade. The firm traded under this style until 1828, when the Thomas Slades became 24 and the company adopted the name stipulated in Slade’s will. By 1836 the house went under the label of Thomas Slade Sr and Company, and was one of six Slade family firms operating in Newfoundland. Thomas Slade therefore represented one of many, but nevertheless important, links in the succession of Slade merchant firms that were involved in Newfoundland from about 1750 to 1868.
Thomas Slade evidently concentrated his energy entirely on commerce and paid little attention to political affairs. He does not appear either to have held or to have sought any political office or appointment in Poole or Newfoundland. In Newfoundland the Slades were one of the last merchant families to conduct trade directly from Poole. They were also notable as one of the last English mercantile families to resist the 19th-century trends towards the centralization of commerce at St John’s and a domestically controlled economy on the island.
Dorset Record office, P227/CW3–CW5 (Churchwardens, rates and accounts, 1783–1824); P227/OV5–OV6 (Overseers of the poor, rates and accounts, 1827–36). Nfld., Dept. of Culture, Recreation and Youth, Hist. Resources Division (St John’s), W. G. Handcock, “The merchant families and entrepreneurs of Trinity in the nineteenth century” (typescript, St John’s, 1981), 90–124. PANL, GN 5/1/B/9; P7/A/6. PRO, ADM 1/47; PROB 11/1239/618; 11/1586/ 597. DCB, vol.4 (biog. of John Slade). Derek Beamish et al., The pride of Poole, 1688–1851 (Poole, Eng., 1974), 277–78. C. G. Head, Eighteenth century Newfoundland: a geographer’s perspective (Toronto, 1976), 218–21. Prowse, Hist. of Nfld. (1895), 664. Newfoundlander (St John’s), 14 Oct. 1861: 3. Public Ledger (St John’s), 3 June 1862: 3.