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Slade papers, 1791-1852

(Papers include notes and transcripts created by Keith Matthews, 1970-1980, covering the period 1783-1858).
1.5 metres of textual records

Administrative history

The Slades were the predominant merchants on the northeast coast of Newfoundland in the first half of the nineteenth century. Only the mercantile empire of George Garland rivaled the Slade firms in this era. The Slade connection with Newfoundland originated circa 1753 with John Slade of Poole (1719-1792), who acquired a vessel and began trading on his own account in Newfoundland. Later in the decade, he established a headquarters at Twillingate but expanded to Fogo in 1782, north to Battle Harbour about the same time, and also had additional branches at Western Head, Change Islands and Conche. He diversified his interests into the collection of furs, salmon and seals. John Slade supplied resident planters but he was also engaged in the migratory fishery where most of the fishing servants were brought to Newfoundland each spring and sent home in the fall. Over time, however, many stayed, becoming early settlers on that coast. Slade's chief agent at Fogo and only son, John Slade Jr., died of smallpox in 1773, causing him to rely to a greater degree on his nephews, John, Robert and Thomas Slade. When John Sr. died in 1792, his estate of £70,000 was divided among a cousin and four nephews. Thomas (?-1816), who acquired a share, 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. Slade and Cox carried on all the functions of a typical outport fish merchant firm, importing and selling goods while buying and exporting fish acquired from their resident fishing clients. The firm's chief branches were at Twillingate, Fogo, and Greenspond. When Thomas Slade died, his half share of the assets was placed in trust for a nephew and a second cousin, both named Thomas Slade. By 1836, the firm was known as Thomas Slade Sr. The Cox side of the family must have re-gained control subsequently, because the firm became known as William Cox & Company. The business closed in the late 1860s and the Fogo property was purchased by William Waterman & Co. forerunners to J.W. Hodge.

Robert (1768-1833), son of "maltster and brewer" James Slade, also acquired a portion of John Slade's estate, no doubt as a consequence of his previous service to the firm. Robert had apprenticed as a clerk for his uncle in the counting house at Poole and subsequently worked at Twillingate. Evidently he was considered reliable because, in 1793, he became manager of John Slade & Company's Battle Harbour trade.

Robert Slade left John Slade & Company in 1804 to establish his own business at Trinity. He bought a house there and leased a mercantile premises belonging to John Jeffrey on the west side of the harbour near Hog's Nose, and purchased it three years later for £600. Some time later, he later acquired additional premises at Maggoty Cove and Southwest Arm. In addition, the firm expanded to Catalina (1813), Heart's Content (1817), and Hant's Harbour (1835). Since Robert ran the firm from Poole, typical of the West Country merchants, he relied on local managers to handle affairs. James Gover managed the Trinity branch, 1804-1809, succeeded by William Kelson, 1809-1851, and Alexander Warren Bremner, 1851-1861. At Catalina, James Lannigan managed 1813-1821, followed by Alexander Bremner, 1821-1861, who later bought the Catalina premises when Robert Slade & Company went bankrupt. James Wiseman, the firm's agent at Heart's Content, 1817-1822, was succeeded by Butler Aldridge who committed suicide in 1838, possibly resulting in the closure of the branch. The firm placed Andrew Tocher in charge of the Hant's Harbour branch, which was located at a room leased from Richard Pelley in 1835.

Changes in the structure and ownership of the firm were reflected, to a degree, in its name changes: "Robert Slade" (1804-1822); "Slade and Kelson" (1822-1837); "Executors of the late Robert Slade Sr." (1837-1850); and "Robert Slade & Company" (1850-1861). Robert's sons-in-law, Robert Slade and Thomas Arnold, managed the firm during the "Slade and Kelson" period. But in 1838, five years after Robert Senior's death, his sons, Robert, Thomas and James, gained control of the firm and changed the name to the "Executors of the late Robert Slade". Kelson retired in 1851 and, henceforth, the firm was known as Robert Slade & Company.

By 1851, at least three of Robert's sons had also died. James (-1849) appears to have been the family member chiefly involved in running the firm after his father's death, but he died two years before William Kelson's retirement. In 1842, John (1819-1847) became the manager at the main branch of his great uncle's firm, John Slade & Company, in Twillingate. John soon became a notable citizen, involved in church and community affairs, and in the same year, was elected to the House of Assembly as the representative for Twillingate district. Robert (-1846), a younger brother, also worked for John Slade & Company as manager of the Fogo branch. The death of the three brothers, all very young, probably contributed to the decline of both Robert Slade & Company and John Slade & Company. Robert Slade & Company went out of business in 1861. Alexander Bremner acquired the Catalina premises of Robert Slade & Company 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.

Sources: Matthews, Keith. Profiles of Water Street Merchants. Unpublished Manuscript, Memorial University, 1980; Handcock, W. Gordon. The Merchant Families and Entrepreneurs of Trinity in the Nineteenth Century. Unpublished Manuscript, 1981.

Scope and content

This fonds is made up of photocopied and original material, collected by the late Keith Matthews. The collection consists of business records and includes ledgers, 1806-1822, diaries, 1809-1852, fish collection books 1791-1852, and some correspondence and letterbooks. There is also a series of Matthews' notes taken from Slade documents for the period 1783-1858.

The fonds is arranged in eight series which reflect the administrative structure of this family business: Robert Slade, Trinity, 1806-1822; Slade and Kelson, Trinity, 1822-1839; Executors of Robert Slade Sr., 1839-1852; Robert Slade and Co., Trinity, 1851-1860; Slade and Cox, Fogo and Twillingate, 1818-1837; John Slade and Co., Fogo and Twillingate, 1791-1865; John Slade and Co., Labrador, 1791-1832; Keith Matthews' notes on documents dated 1783-1858.

Custodial History

The majority of Slade papers held by the Maritime history archive were photocopied from the originals held at the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador. The acquisition of the small amount of original material was never recorded, although we can assume it was collected by Keith Matthews sometime in the early 1970s.


Supplied title based on the contents of the fonds.

The photocopied material is from the Slade collections held at the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Copyright expired on collection, except for Series 8. Copyright on Series 8 held by the heirs of Keith Matthews.

Maritime History Archive finding aid 89

Related material can be found in Dwyer, James, fl. 1810, Agreement to serve on a Slade vessel, Maritime History Archive, MF-0083; Battle Harbour and Greenspond Documents, 1787-1985, Maritime History Archive, MF-0185A/B/C; Gallavan, Timothy, fl.1810, Contract, 1810. Centre for Newfoundland Studies, MF-034; Hiscock Papers, Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, MG 703; Mews, Harry, Mrs., Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, MG 696; Moss Diary, Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, MF-071; Slade, John & Co., Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, finding aids 67 and 68, MG 460; Slade and Kelson, Journal extracts, 1811; 1831; 1836. Centre for Newfoundland Studies, MF-101; Slade - Kelson, Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, MG 236; Slade, Robert, Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, MG 504.

Location Bank 34, shelf 3 and 4

List of Series

1.00 Robert Slade, Trinity (1806-1822)

2.00 Slade and Kelson, Trinity (1822-1839)

3.00 Executors of late Robert Slade, Sr. (1839-1852)

4.00 Robert Slade and Co., Trinity (1851-1860)

5.00 Slade and Cox, Fogo and Twillingate (1818-1825)

6.00 John Slade and Co., Fogo and Twillingate (1791-1810)

7.00 John Slade and Co., Labrador (1791-1832)

8.00 Keith Matthews' Notes on Documents Dated 1783-1858

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