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History of the Slade Family

The Slade connection with Newfoundland originated in the early 1750s with John Slade of Poole (1719-1792) trading on his own account in Newfoundland. Later in the decade, he established a headquarters at Twillingate and expanded to Fogo in 1782, he then expanded north to Battle Harbour about the same time and had additional branches located at Western Head, Change Islands and Conche.

By 1820, there were Slade establishments at several places between Sop’s Island, in White Bay and Greenspond, in Bonavista Bay, and at least two places on the coast of Labrador, namely at Battle Harbour and Venison Islands. The parent house or houses were always at Poole, the Newfoundland establishments being branches thereof, the principal local one of which (at Fogo) would in turn control smaller coastal branches.

The Slade’s were the predominant merchants on the northeast coast of Newfoundland in the first half of the 19th century with only the empire of Lester and later Garland’s rivalling them in this era.

This group of Slade establishments may be called the “Northern Slades.” These establishments continued active, at all or most of the places where they had been founded, until proprietors sold out and closed up--- this was not an insolvent closing-up. The following styles of firm names have been identified for this period:

      (a)    John Slade & Co. (at Fogo);
(b)   Thomas Slade, Senior, & Co. (Fogo);
(c)    William Cox & Co. (Fogo, Twillingate & Greenspond);
(d)   Slade & Cox (another name for William Cox & Co.);
(e)    John Slade & Co. (Fogo & Twillingate)
(f)     Thomas & David Slade (Labrador).

The dates of the earliest records for the foregoing styles are for (a), 1805; (b), 1818; (c), 1835; (e), 1864; (f), 1871. Of these dates, 1871 is the date on which the Battle Harbour premises were sold to Messrs. Baine, Johnston & Co., of St. John’s, by the two surviving Slade owners.

John Slade supplied resident planters but was also actively engaged in the migratory fishery where most of the fishing servants were brought to Newfoundland during the summer and were sent home in the fall to prevent any permanent settlement from taking place. This was done in part to protect the shoreline for the mercantile class as well as the good fishing grounds as had permanent settlement taken place the merchants would no longer acquire the best waterfront areas or fishing grounds. Over time however many started to stay and settlements started to appear along the coastline.

John Slade’s only son John Slade Jr. was the chief agent at Fogo however he died of smallpox in 1773, causing his father to rely on his three nephews, John, Robert and Thomas. When John Sr. died in 1792 his estate was worth ₤70,000 which was divided between his nephews and a cousin.

Thomas had worked for his uncle as a ship’s captain, making transatlantic voyages circa 1780-1790. He formed a separate business circa 1813 in partnership with William Cox, his brother-in-law. They carried out all the functions of a typical fish merchant firm, importing and selling goods while buying and exporting fish acquired from their clients. They held branches at Twillingate, Fogo and Greenspond. When Thomas died, his half of the assets were placed in trust for a nephew and a second cousin, both named Thomas. By 1836 the business name had changed to Thomas Slade Sr. however the Cox family must have re-gained control because the firm subsequently became known as William Cox & Company. The business closed in the late 1860s.

Robert had 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.

Up to 1862, when the last Slade firm dissolved, Slade’s were among that group of “oldest continuously existing business dynasties” in Newfoundland. Slade’s having the largest spread of any business dynasty with their numerous branches around the island. At their peak between 1800-1820 they were probably conducting the largest value and quantity in annual turnover of any Newfoundland outport establishment.

There is no known descendant of any of this business dynasty of Slade’s in Newfoundland today.

Source: Maritime History Archives