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AYLWIN (Aylwyn), THOMAS, merchant and justice of the peace; b. c. 1729 in Romsey, Hampshire, England; m. 11 Sept. 1771 in Boston Lucy Cushing, and they had at least three sons; d. 11 April 1791 at Quebec.

Thomas Aylwin was probably one of the merchants who established themselves at Quebec immediately after its capture by Major-General Wolfe*’s troops. He was doubtless among that set of merchants of whom Governor Murray said in 1764: they “have resorted to a Country where there is No Money, and . . . think themselves superior in rank and fortune to the Soldier and the Canadian.” In partnership for a few years with Charles Kerr, Aylwin specialized in the retail sale of imported products including dry goods, foodstuffs, wine, hardware, stationery, and other merchandise. After Kerr died in 1765 Aylwin pursued his commercial activities at Quebec until 1769, when he seems to have removed to Massachusetts for about six years.

Returning to Quebec at the beginning of the American revolution, Aylwin set up his business on Rue Saint-Jean and later rented a house on Rue Saint-Joseph. On 23 Oct. 1777 he bought two houses on Rue Notre-Dame, in the business district, from merchant and legislative councillor Thomas Dunn* for £948 (Halifax currency), paying £508 in cash. The range of products he advertised in the Quebec Gazette steadily broadened. As well, he was the supplier to certain merchants, including Jacob Bettez of Baie-Saint-Paul and also Abraham Morhouse who in June 1786 owed £1,100 to “Tho. Aylwin & Co.” In the same period Aylwin undertook to sell Samuel Jacobs’ wheat and went into the wholesale trade in biscuit. He seems to have enjoyed moderate prosperity; in fact, the inventory made after his death reveals that he lived comfortably, though not in luxury. For example, although he owned a gold trimmed porcelain tea service, mahogany furniture, and plate worth £17, two of the 12 pieces of ornamental china on the mantel were broken and the carpet in his parlour was “much wore.” His library of some 50 volumes included works of history, law, religion, and poetry, as well as books on business.

At the end of 1790, a few months before his death, Aylwin, who was probably ill or in financial straits, put up his house and his store with its adjoining dwelling for sale or rent. The inventory of his estate revealed a net deficit of £293, not counting a considerable debt to the Quebec firm of Fraser and Young which was discovered later. However, his London supplier, Breckwood Pattle and Company, likely remained his most important creditor. At the request of Montreal merchant John Gray* and of Ann, the widow of Alexander Gray of Quebec, Aylwin’s immovables were seized and were put up for auction in 1792 to pay off the debts of his estate.

Along with his activities as a businessman Thomas Aylwin had also held office as justice of the peace from 1765 until his departure for Massachusetts; reappointed in 1785, he retained the post until his death. Aylwin collaborated in the endeavours of a group of merchants who sought recognition of their commercial interests from the political authorities. By 1764 he was a member of the Quebec grand jury chaired by merchant James Johnston which opposed Murray’s administration. On l0 and 17 Dec. 1767 the opinion of Attorney General Francis Maseres* favouring the application of British law to bankruptcy cases was published in the Quebec Gazette; Maseres himself asserted that Aylwin, with George Suckling, framed the anonymous response which appeared on the 24th and 31st. In this response they set out the position of the majority of merchants who, though generally favourable to the introduction of British commercial law, were opposed in this particular instance. They alleged that, because of the economic conditions prevailing in Canada, the law would, if put into effect, entail the bankruptcy of many businessmen who with more time might pay off their debts. Later, on the occasion of Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton’s departure in 1785, Aylwin was among the supporters who expressed satisfaction with the interest he had taken in commerce, and especially with his inauguration of trial by jury in commercial cases. A member of the Quebec grand jury again in 1787, Aylwin opposed any tax to finance construction of public buildings, including a new prison, until the colony was in a better position to assume this financial burden and had a constitution closer to the British model. However, in 1789, under his chairmanship, this body expressed its regret to Chief Justice William Smith that there was no tax system to ensure the maintenance of Quebec streets, which were in poor condition. That same year the grand jury demanded that the government create a public fund to assist the poor, who were particularly hard hit by famine; it also suggested the organization of supervised programs of work to lessen the risk that ex-criminals left at loose ends after their release would return to crime. In 1789 also, he and other Quebec merchants signed a petition to Lord Dorchester [Guy Carleton*] requesting that importation free of excise duties be permitted temporarily for West Indian rum, a commodity Aylwin had been selling since at least 1776. They asked as well that the province of Quebec be favoured over any other country in trade with these islands. The following year Aylwin signed a petition in favour of a non-sectarian university [see Jean-François Hubert; Charles-François Bailly de Messein].

Like many other merchants Aylwin also took part in activities of the colony’s Masonic organization. In 1769 he was treasurer of the Provincial Grand Lodge and a member of the committee set up to obtain a grand lodge seal. At the time of the American revolution when war led to the decline of military lodges and, by the same token, freemasonry in Canada was at its lowest ebb since the conquest, Aylwin sat on a committee established to remedy the situation by encouraging the revitalization of the civilian lodges. In October 1775 he undertook to be secretary to St Andrew’s Lodge, No. 2, Quebec, at Quebec, and the following year became its master, again for a one-year period. Deputy provincial grand master by the end of 1776, he retained this post until at least 1781; as such he signed the commissions authorizing the creation of St Peter’s Lodge, No. 4, Quebec, at Montreal, and Unity Lodge, No. 13, of Quebec, at Sorel.

Thomas Aylwin died in April 1791 leaving his wife, who survived him by only a month, and three sons who were still minors. One of his grandsons, Thomas Gushing Aylwin*, was a member of the Legislative Assembly under the Union, and later a judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench.

Jean Lafleur

ANQ-Q, AP-G–313/2, George Allsopp to A.M. Allsopp, 12 March 1785; État civil, Anglicans, Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (Québec), 14 April 1791; Greffe de M.-A. Berthelot d’Artigny, 13 nov. 1779; Greffe de J.-A. Panet, 23 oct. 1777; Greffe de Charles Stewart, 28 juill., 10 août 1786, 20 avril, 29 août 1789. PAC, MG 19, A2, ser.3, 2, p.53; 3, pp.91, 145–46; 4, pp. 14, 95–96, 98–100; MG 23, GII, 1, ser. 1, 2, p.55. “Charles Robin on the Gaspe coast, 1766,” ed. A.-G. LeGros, Revue dhist. de la Gaspésie (Gaspé, Qué.), IV (1966), 196. Doc. relatifs à lhist. constitutionnelle, 1759–91 (Shortt et Doughty; 1921), I, 189, 191. “A list of Protestant house keepers in the District of Quebec (Octr. 26th, 1764),” BRH, XXXVIII (1932), 754. Maseres, Maseres letters (Wallace), 19, 74, 79, 125–28. Quebec Gazette, 25 July 1765–17 Nov. 1768, 28 Nov. 1776–1 Nov. 1792 (there are over 140 references to Thomas Aylwin in the index of the Quebec Gazette). Almanach de Québec, 1780, 60; 1788, 18; 1791, 34, 82. “Juges de paix de la province de Québec (1767),” BRH, XLII (1936), 13. J. H. Graham, Outlines of the history of freemasonry in the province of Quebec (Montreal, 1892), 47–49, 56. Charles Langelier, Lhonble Thomas Cushing Aylwin, juge de la Cour du banc de la reine . . . (Québec, 1903), 11. J. R. Robertson, The history of freemasonry in Canada from its introduction in 1749 . . . (2v., Toronto, 1900), I, 478. Pemberton Smith, A research into early Canadian masonry, 1759–1869 (Montreal, 1939), 6–47. “La famille Aylwin,” BRH, LI (1945), 241.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Jean Lafleur, “AYLWIN, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 24, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/aylwin_thomas_4E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/aylwin_thomas_4E.html
Author of Article: Jean Lafleur
Title of Article: AYLWIN, THOMAS
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1979
Year of revision: 1979
Access Date: April 24, 2014