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Thomas Neale

Thomas Neale

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Thomas Neale was a British project-manager and politician who was also well-known in the United States as the first person to hold a position equivalent to postmaster-general of the North American colonies.

Neale was a member of Parliament for thirty years, Master of the Mint and the Transfer Office, Groom Porter, gambler, and entrepreneur. His wide variety of projects included the development of Seven Dials
Seven Dials
Seven Dials is a small but well-known road junction in the West End of London in Covent Garden where seven streets converge. At the centre of the roughly-circular space is a pillar bearing six sundials, a result of the pillar being commissioned before a late stage alteration of the plans from an...

, Shadwell
Shadwell is an inner-city district situated within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets located on the north bank of the Thames between Wapping to the south and Ratcliff to the east...

, East Smithfield, and Tunbridge Wells
Royal Tunbridge Wells
Royal Tunbridge Wells is a town in west Kent, England, about south-east of central London by road, by rail. The town is close to the border of the county of East Sussex...

, land-drainage projects, steel foundries and paper-making enterprises, mining in Maryland
Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...

 and Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

, raising shipwrecks, and developing a pair of dice to prevent cheating at gaming. He was also the author of numerous tracts on coinage and fund-raising, and he was involved in the idea of a National Land Bank, the precursor of the Bank of England
Bank of England
The Bank of England is the central bank of the United Kingdom and the model on which most modern central banks have been based. Established in 1694, it is the second oldest central bank in the world...


In America

Throughout the early years of the North American colonies
Thirteen Colonies
The Thirteen Colonies were English and later British colonies established on the Atlantic coast of North America between 1607 and 1733. They declared their independence in the American Revolution and formed the United States of America...

, many attempts were made to initiate a postal service. These early attempts were of small scale and usually involved a colony, Massachusetts Bay Colony for example, setting up a location in Boston where one could post a letter back home to England. Other attempts focused on a dedicated postal service between two of the larger colonies, such as Massachusetts and Virginia, but the available services remained limited in scope and disjointed for many years.

Central postal organization first came to the colonies in 1691 when Thomas Neale received a 21-year grant from the British Crown for a North American Postal Service. On February 17, 1691, a grant of letters patent
Letters patent
Letters patent are a type of legal instrument in the form of a published written order issued by a monarch or president, generally granting an office, right, monopoly, title, or status to a person or corporation...

from the joint sovereigns, William and Mary
William and Mary
The phrase William and Mary usually refers to the coregency over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland, of King William III & II and Queen Mary II...

, empowered Thomas Neale,

"to erect, settle, and establish within the chief parts of their majesties' colonies and plantations in America, an office or offices for receiving and dispatching letters and pacquets, and to receive, send, and deliver the same under such rates and sums of money as the planters shall agree to give, and to hold and enjoy the same for the term of twenty-one years."

Rates of postage were accordingly fixed and authorized, and measures were taken to establish a post office in each town in Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

. Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

 and the other colonies soon passed postal laws, and a very imperfect post office system was established. Neale's patent expired in 1710, when Parliament extended the English postal system to the colonies. The chief office was established in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, where letters were conveyed by regular packets across the Atlantic.
  • 1691: Thomas Neale received a 'postal patent' (concession to deliver the mail) for the American and West Indies; Neale appointed Andrew Hamilton
    Andrew Hamilton (New Jersey)
    Andrew Hamilton was the colonial governor of East and West New Jersey from 1692 to 1697 and again from 1699 to 1703.-Biography:Hamilton was born in Scotland. Originally a merchant in Edinburgh, he was sent to East Jersey to act as an agent to recruit men to settle there. His work brought him a...

    , Governor of New Jersey, as his deputy postmaster.

  • 1693: On May 1, Hamilton started weekly service between Portsmouth, New Hampshire
    Portsmouth, New Hampshire
    Portsmouth is a city in Rockingham County, New Hampshire in the United States. It is the largest city but only the fourth-largest community in the county, with a population of 21,233 at the 2010 census...

     and Virginia. Campbell, Duncan, and John organized the first postal network in America.

  • 1698: Neale dropped Hamilton; Hamilton had revenue of less than two thousand dollars and expenses totaling approximately five thousand dollars for his period in office.

Neale's franchise cost him only eighty cents a year, but it was no bargain; he died heavily in debt, in 1699.

In England

Neale was one of the most influential figures of late-Stuart
Stuart period
The Stuart period of English and British history refers to the period between 1603 and 1714, while in Scotland it begins in 1371. These dates coincide with the rule of the Scottish royal House of Stuart, whose first monarch to rule England was James I & VI...

 England, and one of the least-chronicled. He used his many contacts, garnered through family, the royal court, and county connections, to act as middle-man between men of money, the court, fellow members of Parliament, the general public, and other parties, public and private.

He was Master of the Mint
Master of the Mint
Master of the Mint was an important office in the governments of Scotland and England, and later Great Britain, between the 16th and 19th centuries. The Master was the highest officer in the Royal Mint. Until 1699, appointment was usually for life. Its holder occasionally sat in the cabinet...

 from 1678 to the date of his death, when he was succeeded by Sir Isaac Newton.

From 1688, Neale developed his interests as a member of Parliament, sitting on sixty-two committees. In February 1678, he was appointed Groom Porter
Groom Porter
The Groom-Porter was an office at the royal court of the kings of England, who had 'the Inspection of the King's Lodgings, and takes care that they are provided with Tables, Chairs, Firing, &c. As also to provide Cards, Dice, &c. when there is playing at Court: To decide Disputes which arise in...

 to Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

, a post which he also held under James II
James II of England
James II & VII was King of England and King of Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685. He was the last Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland...

 and William III
William III of England
William III & II was a sovereign Prince of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau by birth. From 1672 he governed as Stadtholder William III of Orange over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic. From 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland...

. His duties in that capacity were to see the King's lodgings furnished with tables, chairs, and fireplace materials, to provide cards and dice, and to decide disputes at the card-table and on the bowling-green. He was authorised by the King to license and suppress gaming-houses, and to prosecute unlicensed keepers of "rafflings" and other public games. On his own account, he originated a loan and lottery business on the Venetian system.

As an entrepreneur and speculator, he promoted building schemes, among which were Lower Shadwell and the converging streets of Seven Dials - one of them, Neal Street, Long Acre (street)
Long Acre
Long Acre is a street in central London, England. Starting from St. Martin's Lane it runs from west to east just north of Covent Garden piazza, one block north of Floral Street. The street was completed in the early 17th century. It was once known for its coach-makers, and later for its car dealers...

, still bears his name. Neal's Yard
Neal's Yard
Neal's Yard is a small alley in Covent Garden between Shorts Gardens and Monmouth Street which opens into a courtyard. It is named after the 17th century developer, Thomas Neale. It now contains several health food cafes and new age retailers such as Neal's Yard Remedies, Neal's Yard Dairy, World...

 in Covent Garden
Covent Garden
Covent Garden is a district in London on the eastern fringes of the West End, between St. Martin's Lane and Drury Lane. It is associated with the former fruit and vegetable market in the central square, now a popular shopping and tourist site, and the Royal Opera House, which is also known as...

 is also named after him.

He was named Deputy Governor in the charter (dated 1692) of the Company for Digging and Working Mines, and was involved in ventures to recover treasure from wrecks off Broad Haven
Broad Haven
Broad Haven is a village in the south east corner of St Bride's Bay at the terminus of the B4341 in south Pembrokeshire, Wales. Broad Haven is part of the Havens division of Pembrokeshire County Council. The 2001 census records a population of 1,328 for the Havens...

, Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, in the Bermuda
Bermuda is a British overseas territory in the North Atlantic Ocean. Located off the east coast of the United States, its nearest landmass is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, about to the west-northwest. It is about south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and northeast of Miami, Florida...

s, and in the region from Cartagena
Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena de Indias , is a large Caribbean beach resort city on the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean Coast Region and capital of BolĂ­var Department...

 to Jamaica
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, in length, up to in width and 10,990 square kilometres in area. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about south of Cuba, and west of Hispaniola, the island harbouring the nation-states Haiti and the Dominican Republic...

. All of these were floated as joint-stock companies.

In 1694, he was married to England's richest widow, and he became known as 'Golden Neal'. Nonetheless, this remarkable man died insolvent in 1699 after a varied career, during which he exhausted two fortunes, doubtless through gaming and ill-founded speculations.

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