Thomas Neale on a cigar band.

Thomas Neale (1641–1699) was an English project-manager and politician who was also 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 of the Bedchamber, gambler, and entrepreneur. His wide variety of projects included the development of Seven Dials, Shadwell, East Smithfield, and Tunbridge Wells, land-drainage projects, steel foundries and paper-making enterprises, mining in Maryland and Virginia, 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.


He was the only son of Thomas Neale of Warnford, Hampshire by Lucy, the daughter of Sir William Uvedale of Wickham, Hampshire and educated at Clare College, Cambridge.

Neale was one of the most influential figures of late-Stuart 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 elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1664.[1]

He was appointed High Sheriff of Hampshire for 1665–66 and served in 1677 as a commissioner on an inquiry into the Royal Mint. He was a Commissioner of the Mint from 1684 to 1686 and Master of the Mint from 1686 to the date of his death, when he was succeeded by Sir Isaac Newton.

In February 1678, he was appointed Groom Porter to Charles II, a post which he also held under James II and William III. 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. In 1694 Neale established the Million Lottery to generate revenue for the government (and himself). The project was successful in selling tickets but did not result in a return for the Exchequer.[2] From 1679 to 1685 he was a Groom of the Bedchamber to the King.

From 1688, Neale developed his interests as a member of Parliament, and was successively MP for Petersfield(1668), Ludgershall (1679–89), Stockbridge (1689–90) and again for Ludgershall (1690–99), sitting on sixty-two committees.[3]

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), still bears his name. Neal's Yard in Covent Garden is also named after him.[4]

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, Ireland, in the Bermudas, and in the region from Cartagena to Jamaica. All of these were floated as joint-stock companies.

In America

Throughout the early years of the North American colonies, 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 17 February 1691, a grant of letters patent from the joint sovereigns, William III and 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. Massachusetts 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, where letters were conveyed by regular packets across the Atlantic.

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

Private life

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In 1664, he was married to Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir John Garrard, 2nd Baronet, of Lamer Park, Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire, and the widow of Sir Nicholas Gould, 1st Baronet, of London, with whom he had one son. Elizabeth was 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. He was succeeded by his son, who died soon after him.


An abstract of the sea-laws, 1704.

See also


  1. ^ "Library Archive". Royal Society. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
  2. ^ Levenson, Thomas (2010). Newton and the Counterfeiter. London: Faber & Faber. p. 195.
  3. ^ "NEALE, Thomas (1641-99), of Warnford, Hants of Whitehall". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 23 April 2016.
  4. ^ "Covent Garden London : 200 years of history for London streets including ghosts, fire, disaster, joy, heroes and villains, markets, architecture, Events, Historic Celebrities". Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
Parliament of England Preceded bySir Humphrey BennetArthur Bold Member of Parliament for Petersfield 1668–1679 With: Arthur Bold 1668–1677Leonard Bilson 1677–1679 Succeeded bySir John NortonLeonard Bilson Preceded byWilliam AshburnhamGeorge Legge Member of Parliament for Ludgershall 1679–1689 With: John Smith 1679John Garrard 1679–1681Sir John Talbot 1681–1685Henry Clerke 1685–1689 Succeeded byJohn SmithJohn Deane Preceded byWilliam MontaguRichard Whithed Member of Parliament for Stockbridge 1689–1690 With: Richard Whithed Succeeded byWilliam MontaguRichard Whithed Preceded byJohn SmithJohn Deane Member of Parliament for Ludgershall 1690–1699 With: John Deane 1690–1695John Richmond Webb 1695–1698Walter Kent 1698–1699 Succeeded byJohn Richmond WebbWalter Kent Government offices Preceded byIn Commission Master of the Mint 1686–1699 Succeeded bySir Isaac Newton Court offices Preceded byThomas Offley Groom Porter 1678–1699 Succeeded byWilliam Rowley