STREET, THOMAS, ship’s captain, shipowner, merchant, and office holder; baptized 1724 in Poole, England, son of John and Mary Street; d. 1805 in Charlton Marshall, England.
Throughout most of the 18th century the Street family of Poole had a strong association with the Newfoundland fishery. Both Thomas Street and his elder brother Peter commanded ships and served as Newfoundland agents for Poole’s opulent Quaker family, the Whites, which had its headquarters at Trinity. Thomas Street first appears in 1764 as captain of Joseph White’s Mermaid, and from 1766 to 1771 he had charge of White’s brig Speedwell. When Joseph White, the head of the firm, died in 1771, he divided an estate valued at £150,000 among his kinsfolk and Newfoundland agents. The Newfoundland component of his estate, consisting of his “plantations, houses, stages, and other buildings . . . with all . . . ships and vessels . . . boats and fishing craft, goods, effects and stores,” was left to his nephew John Jeffrey and his five “Newfoundland servants or agents,” Peter and Thomas Street, James and Joseph Randall, and William Munday.
White’s will stipulated further that his chief executor and heir, Samuel White, was to provide a partnership consisting of Jeffrey and the Newfoundland agents with £10,000 capital over 14 years so that they could carry on the trade “for their own benefit and advantages” in “equal dividends or proportions,” and perhaps establish an independent firm of their own. Under this arrangement a new firm styled Jeffrey, Randall, and Street was formed. Thomas Street had little capital when the company was set up, but accumulated enough so that within a few years he and Jeffrey had bought out the other partners and by 1775 were operating under the name of Jeffrey and Street. This partnership continued until 1789, when it was dissolved and the independent firms of John Jeffrey and Company and Thomas Street and Sons were formed. According to one observer, when Jeffrey and Street separated they divided £40,000 capital, after having repaid Samuel White £33,000, a sum which represented repayment of the £10,000 loan, three per cent of the profits of the trade up to that time, and probably also the purchase price of mercantile properties and ships.
Jeffrey and Street had proved to be formidable competition for other Poole firms. Jeffrey possessed considerable assets apart from his inheritance from White, and was energetic and ambitious for both wealth and power. He managed the Poole end of the trade and actively pursued a political career there. The more practical and sea-experienced Street became manager of the Newfoundland end and resided mainly in Trinity. Jeffrey and Street owned and operated several mercantile establishments in Trinity harbour, and had branches at Bay de Verde, Heart’s Content, Old Perlican, Scilly Cove (Winterton), Catalina, Bonavista, Barrow Harbour, and Greenspond. Northward of Cape Freels, the firm was involved from its beginning in the salmon fishery on the Gander River and in 1783 took over the premises and trade formerly belonging to Jeremiah Coghlan* at Fogo. At the height of their trade, about 1786, Jeffrey and Street were exporting annually about 50,000 quintals of salt codfish, an amount only slightly less than ten per cent of the total exported from the whole of Newfoundland that year, and exceeded only by the 60,000 quintals marketed by the firm of Benjamin Lester. They were heavily involved in the supply trade with Newfoundland planters, the offshore or bank fishery, the seal fishery, and shipbuilding. Between 1773 and 1787 the firm built 26 vessels at Trinity and Heart’s Content, but normally operated between 10 and 15 ships at a given time.
At the outbreak of the American revolution Jeffrey and Street had a fleet of ten vessels ranging from 30 to 250 tons, eight of which had been built in Newfoundland. In 1778 their brig Dispatch was captured by privateers while going into San Sebastián, Spain, with a cargo of fish. In 1779 the brig Triton was taken while fishing on the Grand Banks, and the next year an American privateer captured their 200-ton Adventure, bound from Poole to Greenspond. Despite these losses, the firm actually increased its shipping, and in 1783 had 12 vessels totalling 1,800 tons. In 1788, just before the partnership was dissolved, it owned 15 vessels, one of which was the Hudson, commanded by Jeffrey’s nephew Joseph W. Jeffrey, and another the Swift, captained by Street’s son Peter.
The success of the firm of Jeffrey and Street in Trinity between 1775 and 1789 may be attributed to the fact that the firm was well capitalized from the beginning, and to the aggressive and effective management by the two chief partners on both sides of the Atlantic. In the late 1780s, however, when the Newfoundland trade began to decline, Jeffrey became impatient with it and anxious to withdraw his capital. The partners may have had personal differences as well, and in 1789 they decided to terminate their association. Relationships evidently soured considerably after the separation.
In Newfoundland history the name Jeffrey and Street has been mainly associated with that of John August, a Beothuk Indian and one of the few members of that ill-fated tribe to have had a friendly intercourse with the English. According to tradition, John was captured as a child by some fishermen, who chanced upon him and his mother near Red Indian Lake in August 1768 and killed the woman. When George Cartwright visited Catalina in 1785 he found John in the employ of a Mr Child, an agent of Jeffrey and Street, and recounted that he had been captured when about four years old. John apparently became the master of a fishing vessel, and one writer states that each fall he went up Trinity Bay and travelled into the interior of the island to visit his people. According to John Cartwright, George’s brother, John was taken as a child to England, probably by Street, and “exposed as a curiousity to the rabble at Pool for two pence apiece.” Trinity burial records show that John August was interred in the churchyard there on 29 Oct. 1788, and a notation in the burial entry reads “a native Indian of this island, a servant to Jeffrey and Street.”
Thomas Street resided with his family in Trinity until 1789, but frequently crossed to Poole on business. According to local parish records, “Capt. Thomas and Christian Street” presented two sons for baptism at Trinity in 1768, another at Heart’s Content in 1772, and a daughter at Trinity in., 1781. Street’s wife was evidently Christian Rowe, daughter of Edward Rowe, a planter who in 1753 was residing at Trinity and who became a justice of the peace. Street’s brother-in-law James Rowe became a shipbuilder for his firm and in 1801 was living at Heart’s Content on a fishing room owned by Street. As one of the chief inhabitants of Trinity, in 1774 Street became a member of a committee which undertook to build a jail and which established a tax of a quintal per boat and a half quintal per fishing skiff to pay the cost. In 1775 he was appointed a justice of the peace.
Following his separation from Jeffrey, Thomas Street’s Newfoundland trade generally declined, and in the period between 1791 and 1801 the number of his ships was reduced from nine to four. Nevertheless, in the winter of 1801 he was employing some 100 servants at his Trinity premises, compared with 150 employed by Benjamin Lester, 22 by Jeffrey, and 16 by Thomas Stone, the other chief merchants in Trinity. He still owned considerable property in Newfoundland, and his main premises at Trinity had four dwelling-houses occupied by his agent and clerks.
To prepare for his retirement, Street bought a country estate at Charlton Marshall, ten miles northwest of Poole, and purchased other properties in Poole itself, among them the High Street mansion and five Hill Street tenements of Thomas Hyde, a Newfoundland trader and oil dealer who had gone bankrupt. In directing his trade, managed in Newfoundland after 1789 by his sons, Street spent most of the winter at Poole and the summers at Charlton Marshall. He became active in local politics, being elected coroner in 1792, sheriff in 1793, and mayor in 1796. Politically, Street aligned himself with the Lester and Garland families, with whom he seems to have had good personal relationships, and actively campaigned for the election of Benjamin Lester as member of parliament for Poole in 1790 and similarly for George Garland in 1800. In many respects Street and Lester had similar traits: both were Anglicans, both had become Newfoundland merchants, both had resided in Trinity during the 1760s, and both had married Trinity-born women. The chief opposition to Lester’s party in Poole was one led by Street’s former partner, John Jeffrey.
In 1793 Street was called before the House of Commons committee on the Newfoundland trade to address issues raised by some of the other Newfoundland merchants, such as William Newman and Peter Ougier of Dartmouth and Jeffrey and John Waldron of Poole. He argued that the establishment of the custom-house in Newfoundland [see Richard Routh] was of “great advantage to the fair and lawful trader” and that customs fees “were of little consequence to the trade in general.” Street also defended the integrity of John Clinch, the Anglican missionary and collector of customs at Trinity, against accusations levelled by Jeffrey that Clinch was incompetent in performing his duties.
When Street had retired to England, leaving the trade in the hands of his three sons, it had looked as if the family was secure in the Newfoundland trade for at least another generation. In 1801, however, Peter Street, who had married and resided in Trinity, died suddenly at the age of 34. By Thomas’s will, dated 25 Aug. 1805, the year of his death, John inherited the Newfoundland trade, as well as two dwellings in Poole High Street and four “new erected messuages” in Hill Street. Thomas’s widow received title to the country estate at Charlton Marshall, and his son Mark acquired the “Storehouses, oil cellars, salt cellars, and coal yards” in Poole. Three years after his father Mark Street also died, leaving John as the only surviving son. The latter left St John’s for Poole in January 1809 to administer the affairs of his intestate brother but somewhere in the Atlantic the ship foundered and all hands were lost. The family trade thus came to an abrupt end, the various premises falling into the hands of other families. One of the Trinity properties was acquired by the firm of Bulley, Job, and Cross of St John’s, and several others were taken over by Robert Slade of Poole, nephew of John Slade*. The demise of the Street male heirs did not, however, entirely sever the family ties with Newfoundland. John Street had married into the Bulley family of St John’s, and one of his brothers-in-law was a principal of Bulley, Job, and Cross. In addition, Thomas Street’s daughter Mary married Joseph Bird Jr, a cloth merchant of Sturminster Newton in Dorset. When this business failed Bird struck out into the Newfoundland trade about 1808 and established trading premises at Bonne Bay and on the Strait of Belle Isle. At his death in 1824 his two sons Thomas Street Bird and Joseph Bird continued this trade until the 1840s.
Along with other prominent Newfoundland merchants such as Benjamin Lester, John Slade, and John Waldron, Thomas Street can be classified as a frontier entrepreneur. He moved up through the ranks as seaman, captain, company agent, and finally merchant, and amassed a considerable fortune in the process. Spending much of his active working life at sea and in Newfoundland, he earned a reputation as an outstanding seafarer and master mariner, and bore the title of “Captain” into his old age, long after he became a merchant. In character he was far less aggressive than Lester, Slade, or Waldron, and was certainly much less controversial than his business partner, the petulant John Jeffrey.
Anglican Church of Canada, Diocese of Nfld. Arch. (St John’s), St Paul’s Church (Trinity, Nfld.), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, I (mfm. at PAC). Dorset Record Office, D365/F2–F10; P70/OV12 (Overseers of the poor, settlement examinations, 1703–1813), John Wheller, 1 Jan. 1807; P227/CW (Churchwardens’ records). Maritime Hist. Group Arch., Jeffrey, John, and Street, Thomas, name files. National Maritime Museum, POL (mfm. at PANL). PANL, GN 5/1/B/1, Trinity records, 1805–21; GN 5/1/B/9, Trinity records, 1753–1801. PRO, ADM 1/1225; BT 6/87: 84; C 108/69–71; CO 194/33; PROB 6/184; 11/970/362; 11/ 1435/863; 11/1523/305. G.B., House of Commons, Reports from committees of the House of Commons which have been printed by order of the house and are not inserted in the Journals, [1715–1801] (16v., London, [1803–20]), 10: 391–503, “Reports from the committee on the state of the trade to Newfoundland, severally reported in March, April, & June, 1793.” Lloyd’s List, 1753–55, 1764–71. Reg. of shipping, 1783, 1788. Derek Beamish et al., Mansions and merchants of Poole and Dorset (Poole, Eng., 1976), 16, 114, 119. C. G. Head, Eighteenth century Newfoundland: a geographer’s perspective (Toronto, 1976), 171–72. F. W. Rowe, Extinction: the Beothuks of Newfoundland (Toronto, 1977), 42–47.
Cite This Article
W. Gordon Handcock, “STREET, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 10, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/street_thomas_5E.html.
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|Author of Article:||W. Gordon Handcock|
|Title of Article:||STREET, THOMAS|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1983|
|Year of revision:||1983|
|Access Date:||March 10, 2014|