The families that dominated the Newfoundland trade were generally not of aristocratic stock. It was a dynamic and risky trade based on voyaging through frequently stormy waters where a vessel could encounter pirates and warships of hostile nations.
Fortunes could be made and lost in a short period of time. The White family’s Newfoundland-based business was rated at £50,000 in 1773 (£3.2 million today). This was despite losing 13 out of 14 of their fleet of ships – all uninsured - during the Seven Years War (1756-63). John Slade died in 1792 leaving a fortune of £70,000 (nearly £4 million today) but by 1861 the family firm was declared bankrupt.
The families adopted the trappings of aristocracy. The built fine mansions, dined off fine china and silver and had their portraits painted. They even adopted spurious coats of arms.