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COFFIN, THOMAS ASTON, office holder; b. 31 March 1754 in Boston, Mass., son of William Coffin and his wife Mary; one daughter, Sarah, was born of his liaison with Sarah Johnston, and he and Louise Benin of the faubourg Saint-Roch, Quebec, had two others, Marie-Louise and Louisa; d. 31 May 1810 in London, England.

Thomas Aston Coffin studied at Harvard College, Boston, where he obtained his ab in 1772. He remained loyal to the crown during the American revolution, as did other members of his family, including his uncle John, who emigrated to Quebec in 1775. When the war ended, Coffin was private secretary to Sir Guy Carleton, commander-in-chief of British forces in North America; Carleton had been sent to New York in 1782 to oversee, with others, the evacuation of the loyalists and His Majesty’s troops. This mission completed, Carleton embarked for England on the Ceres late in 1783, accompanied by Coffin. In London Coffin was part of Brook Watson’s circle, Watson being the chief author of Carleton’s appointment as governor general in 1786.

Appointed civil secretary and controller of public accounts by Carleton, now Lord Dorchester, Coffin arrived at Quebec on 23 Oct. 1786 with the new governor general and the new chief justice, William Smith*. A recognized expert in his field, Coffin also sat on the board of examiners of the public accounts of the army for the province beginning in February 1789. In addition to these public offices, he was appointed an attorney for Brook Watson and Company in November 1793, along with David Lynd and James Monk*, to look after this London firm’s interests in the province. In 1796 Coffin was named to the new post of inspector general of public accounts, created because of increasing public revenues, with a salary of about £665. He also became a justice of the peace for the District of Quebec in June 1799.

Like many other office holders, Coffin was active in the life of the community. He gave financial assistance to the Agriculture Society, founded in 1789, and was one of its first members. He also supported the Quebec Fire Society to which he regularly subscribed. In November 1793 he contributed to a relief fund for victims of a fire on Rue du Sault-au-Matelot. Coffin was one of those who signed an address reaffirming their loyalty to the crown and the constitution which was presented to Prince Edward Augustus in January 1794 on his departure from Quebec. Five years later Coffin donated to a fund to assist Great Britain’s war effort against France.

When the British authorities decided to establish the headquarters of the commander-in-chief for British North America in Halifax, N.S., in 1799, Coffin was obliged to move there and resign his civil offices in Quebec. By way of compensation he received from the War Office an appointment as controller general of army accounts in British North America and an increase in salary. But after being summoned back to England, he was able to settle permanently at Quebec while retaining his new duties.

Coffin amassed a sizeable fortune which he invested in property. In November 1802 he bought three pieces of land on Grande Allée for £324 cash. During February 1803 he purchased two houses on Rue Saint-Louis for a total of £1,050, of which he paid £650 in cash. In addition, he lent almost £4,800 to commissary general John Craigie in October 1804.

In 1804 Thomas Aston Coffin was able to resume his position as inspector general of public accounts. He was recalled to England in 1807, however, and replaced by John Hale*. In December 1808 he auctioned off his library of more than 600 volumes of valuable books as well as various articles, including “a quantity of handsome china, plated [vases], . . . a capital beaver coat.” The Quebec Gazette announced the following October the sale at auction of his valuable household furniture . . . Brussels Carpets . . . about 20 superb Paintings and Prints. – Views in Bohemia, Isle of Wight,” and “several setts of Elegant Chintz window Curtains.” Coffin died at London in 1810. The following year his estate put his “handsome well built Stone house” up for sale. The house had been constructed in 1796 on a lot on Rue Saint-Louis acquired from François Baillairgé* in August 1795; with the houses of Jonathan Sewell* and Thomas Place, it had introduced to Quebec the Palladian design then common in England and the United States.

Marcel Caya

ANQ-Q, CN1-83, 8 juin 1789, 26 août 1794; CN1-224, 30 déc. 1788; CN1-230, 17 août, 1er sept. 1795; 26 nov. 1799; 16 oct. 1804; CN1-256, 21 nov. 1793; 11 févr., 18 juin, 14 juill. 1795; CN1-262, 16, 18 avril 1796; 29 sept. 1797; 20 nov. 1802; 16, 22 févr. 1803; 20 avril 1804; 28 mars 1805; CN1-284, 9 déc. 1795, 16 févr. 1796. PAC, MG 23, GII, 20; MG 30, D1, 8: 545–46; RG 4, A1, 12 June, 11 Sept. 1799; 31 Dec. 1804; RG 8, I (C ser.), 223: 136; 224: 86, 91–92. Boston, Registry Dept., Records relating to the early history of Boston, ed. W. H. Whitmore et al. (39v., Boston, 1876–1909). Smith, Diary and selected papers (Upton). Montreal Gazette, 20 Aug. 1810. Quebec Gazette, 23 April 1789; 28 Jan., 25 March 1790; 5 May 1791; 11 April, 28 Nov. 1793; 13 Feb. 1794; 4 June 1795; 29 June 1797; 21 March, 10 Oct. 1799; 10 April 1800; 26 May 1803; 14 June 1804; 27 June 1805; 1 Dec. 1808; 12 Oct. 1809; 21, 28 March 1811. Quebec almanac, 1791: 38, 82; 1792: 104, 109; 1794: 71, 122; 1796: 64; 1797: 132; 1798: 86; 1799: 80; 1800: 90, 93; 1801: 77, 80; 1805: 17, 27. Bouchette, Topographical description of L.C., 451. Doris Drolet Dubé et Marthe Lacombe, Inventaire des marchés de construction des Archives nationales à Québec, XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles (Ottawa, 1977), 208, 388. Kelley, “Jacob Mountain,” ANQ Rapport, 1942–43: 215–16. “Papiers d’État,” PAC Rapport, 1890: 273–74. “Papiers d’Etat – Bas-Canada,” PAC Rapport, 1891: 28–29, 67–68, 126, 131, 198; 1892: 207; 1893: 4. Wallace, Macmillan dict. Caron, La colonisation de la prov. de Québec, 2: 256. Ruddel, “Quebec City, 1765–1831,” 573. Stark, Loyalists of Mass. (1910), 234.

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Marcel Caya, “COFFIN, THOMAS ASTON,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 18, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/coffin_thomas_aston_5E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/coffin_thomas_aston_5E.html
Author of Article: Marcel Caya
Title of Article: COFFIN, THOMAS ASTON
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1983
Year of revision: 1983
Access Date: December 18, 2014