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Biography's of the Slade family and William Kelson

John Slade (1719-1792) was born in Poole, England to John and Ann Slade. He made his first recorded visit to Newfoundland in 1748. By 1753 he had acquired his own vessel and had become involved in the Newfoundland trade on his own account. By the late 1750s he was well established in the Poole-Newfoundland fishery, with his premises being headquartered at Twillingate. While deeply involved in the cod fishery his interests were diversified, taking seals, salmon and furs in large numbers as well. During the 1760s he expanded his interests north into Labrador and in 1773 established a premises at Battle Harbour.

By 1770 Slade's chief agent at Fogo was John Haitor Slade, but his only son died of smallpox in 1773. The next year Slade was appointed naval officer at Twillingate, but he soon came to rely on several of his nephews, who had experience with him in Newfoundland -- including Thomas Slade and John Slade Jr. In 1777 when he retired to England to manage the Poole end of the trade John Jr. became the chief Newfoundland agent, and was principal in Poole after his uncle's death.  Slade later expanded his business to Fogo in 1782. He also owned six ships and trading establishments at Western Head, Change Islands, Conche and Battle Harbour. It was supplying some 100 planters in the Fogo-Twillingate area and directly employed about 200 servants each year. At his death in 1792 Slade's fortune was estimated at £70,000, while the firms established by him and his heirs continued to the 1860s.

John Slade (1819-1847). Merchant; politician. Born Poole, Dorset; son of Robert Slade. A grandnephew of the firm's founder, Slade was involved in John Slade & Co.'s Newfoundland trade from a very early age, and by 1842 was manager of the firm's major premises in Twillingate. In that year, although he was only 23, he was elected MHA for Twillingate and Fogo -- the youngest person ever elected to the Newfoundland House of Assembly. A ``liberal-minded benefactor'' of the Church of England and Methodist churches then being built at Twillingate, Slade secured for St. Peter's Church of England chandeliers and gas lighting from St. James church in Poole. He died in Poole on January 9, 1847 at the age of 28. A younger brother and the manager of the firm's Fogo branch, Robert Studley Slade, had died the previous year and it is likely that the premature deaths of the two brothers contributed to the firm's withdrawal from the Newfoundland fishery in the 1850s.

Thomas Slade (? -1816). Merchant. Born Poole or Wareham, Dorset; son of Robert and Elizabeth Slade; nephew of John Slade. Starting in 1773, Slade was employed with his uncle's trade in a variety of capacities. He was a ship's captain, and commanded vessels on transatlantic voyages from 1780 until the 1790s. When John Slade died in 1792, Thomas Slade was one of the nephews to whom his trade was willed. Around 1813, in partnership with his nephew William Cox, he established a business in his own name, and traded mainly in Bonavista Bay. When he died in 1816 he left a fortune of over £64,000. In 1828 the name of the firm changed from Slade and Cox, which it had been using since 1816, to Thomas Slade and Thomas Slade. By 1836 the firm was operating under the name Thomas Slade Sr. and Company.

Robert Slade 1768-1833 apprenticed with his uncle as a clerk in the counting house at Poole and later worked in Twillingate and in 1793 became manager of the business at Battle Harbour. In 1804 he left John Slade & Company to establish his own business at Trinity on the former premises that belonged to Joseph White and Jeffrey & Street. At first he leased the property and three years later purchased it for £600. Some time later he acquired additional property at Maggoty Cove and Southwest Arm and expanded the firm to Catalina (1813), Heart’s Content (1817) and Hant’s Harbour (1835). Robert ran the business from Poole and relied on local managers to handle the affairs of the day-to-day operations.

Changes in the structure and ownership of the firm in Trinity changed throughout the year’s, please see the description under the Trinity section of the virtual exhibit for a further description of the business.

By 1851, at least three of Robert’s sons had also died. James appears to have been the family member chiefly involved in the operation of the business after his father’s death. In 1842, John (1819-1847) became the manager at the main branch of his great uncle’s firm, John Slade & Company in Twillingate. He was involved in church and community affairs and was also elected as the representative of the Twillingate district. Robert, a younger brother, also worked for John Slade & Co as manager of the Fogo branch. The death of the three brothers within the span of three years however, between 1846-1849, all at a young age probably contributed towards the decline of both Robert Slade & Co. and John Slade & Co. Robert Slade & Co. went out of business in 1861. Alexander Bremner acquired the Catalina premises of Robert Slade & Co. while his son, Alexander W., bought the Trinity trade. In 1871, Thomas and David Slade sold the Battle Harbour trade of John Slade & Company – the last vestige of the Slade mercantile empire in Newfoundland to – Baine, Johnston and Company.

Evidently Slade trying to be economical sometimes dispatched provisions and goods of poor quality. To Kelson, this only served to give the firm a bad reputation. After some advice from Kelson, Slade relented to improve his premises, build new ships, and expand his trade into Catalina and Heart’s Content.

One of Robert’s children- John Slade established his own firm in Fogo and Twillingate, whereas sons Robert, Thomas and James inherited after 1838 the establishment in Trinity Bay. Although Robert Slade Sr. died in 1833, until 1838 the firm, under the name “Slade and Kelson,” was managed by Slade’s sons-in-law, Robert Slade and Thomas Arnold, but then his three sons gained control and changed the firm to the “Executors of the late Robert Slade Sr.”

News of his death reached Trinity on April 15th, 1833 by Capt. Thomas Biel of the brig Louisa Hannah. Slade’s diarist recorded the following: “Died at his house in Poole in 11 o’clock on the morning of the 17th March last, having been but a short time previously attacked with paralytic in the left side, Mr. Robert Slade Sr. To commemorate the melancholy event, the Colors were hoisted half mast on The Room, onboard the schooners Sally and Thomas and Sarah Messrs. Garland and Co’s Establishment, and the Church and Meeting House flag staffs.

Later that year, a church bell was brought to Trinity and donated to St. Paul’s in Slade’s memory. This bell still stands today in the belfry of the church.

The Slade Heirs 1833-61 

Various members of the Slade family visited Trinity from time to time. These included: James Slade (brother of Robert) in fall 1809, John Slade Jr. summer/fall 1812, John Slade, summer 1817, Robert Slade Jr. summer 1817/8 and summer 1822, Thomas Slade summers 1823/4, and James Slade 1832/3. James Slade established the “Executors of the late Robert Slade” in 1837/8. 

Under the “Executors” the firm continued the same pattern of trade as previously. William Kelson remained chief agent until he retired in 1851. James Slade died in 1849 and until the firm went bankrupt in 1861, business was conducted under the title Robert Slade & Co. Grieve purchased the Slade premises at an auction and installed Alexander Warren Bremner his partner as agent. In 1869 Grieve also took a lease on the Garland estate. Under new owners a large part of the Slade estate was allowed to go to ruin. Grieve and Bremner apparently used it mainly for landing seal pelts and the processing of seal oil. Meanwhile the Garland property was used for fish storage, retail trade and the residence of the local manager, and buildings which had previously been used for the same purposes on the Slade plantation were abandoned.

The demise of the Slades in Trinity may be attributed to several factors including the increasing competition of St. John’s merchants in the provisions and export trades. Most of Slade’s premises in Catalina were then bought by Alex Bremner and his premises in Trinity were purchased by Alexander Warren Bremner, Slade’s last agent there, on behalf of Walter Grieve.

Click here to read more about the Slade Family

Biographical Information for William Kelson

William Kelson (1782 – 1866) was born in Hereford, England. He first came to Newfoundland around 1805 and fished at Labrador for several years before becoming a clerk for the firm of Robert Slade in Trinity in 1808 and in the following year became company agent. He remained in this position until ill-health forced him to retire in 1851. While his name was included in the business title from 1837-1850 he was not a partner in the business. He remained as clerk to the business for another year after Robert Slade’s death when the business operated under the name Executors of the late Robert Slade for another year.

Kelson was a leading citizen in Trinity and could probably rank as one of its leading and outstanding citizens as in addition to his work as clerk for Slade’s he was involved in the construction of the new Church of England St. Paul’s Church, the school and court house as well as being Commander of the Loyal Trinity Volunteer Rangers, 1812-4; appointed Justice of the Peace in 1822; and was a founding member of the Trinity Benefit Club in 1838. Over the sixty years that he resided in Trinity he had made significant contributions to its civic improvement and growth.

He married Anne Hepditch of Trinity on January 29, 1813 and he died at Trinity on January 16th, 1866 at the age of 84 years. He was predeceased by his wife who had died  on December 23rd, 1864 at the age of 73 years. They are both buried in the Methodist cemetery in Trinity. (Please see the accompanying picture of their headstone). While it is yet unknown for sure if Kelson became a Methodist, as he was a member of the Church of England and was amongst the leaders who lead the construction of the church, it is speculated from correspondence that exists that some dispute arose between Rev. William Bullock and himself during or shortly after the construction of the new church in Trinity for agreeing with allowing the Methodist to use the Court House for services while their chapel was undergoing some renovations.

Kelson and his wife had no children however he was close to his nephew which was his namesake, William Kelson Jr. He was born in Labrador, educated in Boston but came to Trinity in 1823 to work with his uncle as a clerk at the Slade plantation. He was also actively involved in Trinity as school secretary, court clerk and as a small merchant. He was drowned in 1835 when his Sloop, Fanny, was wrecked off Hant’s Harbour. He left a widow, Elizabeth (Ash) and two daughters. Please visit the following website: www.newfoundlandshipwrecks.com to learn more about the wreck of the Fanny as well as the diary entry that records the event from December 13th, 1835.

In his will dated in 1851 and probated in 1866, William Kelson Sr. directed that his property in Trinity be left to Emily Susannah Bayly (daughter of his niece Mary) and Anne Hepditch (his wife’s niece).

The question of William Kelson’s final resting place is itself a matter for some speculation. Records show that he was buried with his wife in the old Methodist cemetery, however, in his will he directed his body be interred “alongside the grave of my late niece Mary Bayly in the Episcopal burying ground at Trinity.”

It is evident from 1809 until Kelson retired, that the Slade’s maintained an unflinching confidence in Kelson’s ability to manage their affairs. They were clearly very fortunate to have had an individual who was so loyal, dedicated and honest. Kelson’s personal dedication to the business built up Slade’s trade in Trinity Bay. He lived under comfortable circumstances but achieved no great personal fortunate. Robert Slade Sr., gave him ₤100 in 1833 and by the time he retired Kelson’s own assets were adequate to sustain himself and his wife for 14-15 years afterwards. His estate was valued at $1800 when he died.

As an example of his astute business skills Kelson and Garland worked together cooperatively with regards to fixing prices for staples and provisions, working conditions and wages for servants as well as limiting supplies to dealers and competing with other traders. When peddlers or new traders attempted to do business in Trinity they would unite to force them out by either reducing their own prices or purchasing their goods.

William Kelson Biography taken from:
Source: The Merchant Families and Entrepreneurs of Trinity in the Nineteenth Century by Dr. Gordon Handock, Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland, March 1981 pgs 125-133.