THURSTON, DAVID, lumber dealer and consul; b. in 1818 or 1819 in Massachusetts; m. and had at least three children; last known to be living in 1889 in Toronto, Ont.
In the 1850s David Thurston immigrated to Montreal. Although he stayed there only a short time he did found the New England Society, dedicated to encouraging harmony between Canada and the United States. This aim of amity would become more important in later years as Thurston sought to deal with the international friction of the 1860s. After his brief sojourn in Montreal, Thurston moved on to Toronto where he established himself as a lumber dealer. His success must have been limited because he found it desirable to secure additional income. Thus he was employed by Erastus Wiman* who operated news depots and in 1859 he unsuccessfully petitioned to become a city assessor. In 1861 Thurston gained a new role of minor importance in Toronto.
In the 1860s the United States Department of State began a considerable expansion of its consular service in British North America. A consular agency was opened in Toronto in 1861 and Thurston, still an American citizen, was appointed consular agent. This post, which ranked below that of consul or consul general, required only limited work but Thurston showed an ability to fulfil his duties and, particularly, to attract the attention and approval of people of importance in the community.
At the time he began his service as an American official, relations between the provinces and the United States were subject to considerable friction. On the outbreak of the American Civil War he started to report to the government in Washington on the activities of “disloyal Americans” in the Toronto area. In 1864 his knowledge of Canadian affairs and the reputation he had built up as a “trouble-shooting consul” for the secretary of state, William Henry Seward, were recognized by his appointment as vice-consul at Quebec and vice-consul general at Montreal, in addition to his Toronto assignment. From May to July of that year he was in Montreal acting for the consul general. In October, in the absence of the consul at Quebec, Charles S. Ogden of Pennsylvania, Thurston was in Quebec City busily reporting to Seward not only on the activities of Southern agents in the area but also on the Quebec conference. Later that month he was transferred back to Montreal and he remained there until early January 1865. Thus he was in Montreal on 19 October when a group of Confederates crossed from Canada East into St Albans, Vt, robbed the banks, killing a citizen, and returned across the border. The subsequent capture and release of the raiders [see Charles-Joseph Coursol] resulted in considerable international tension and Thurston was active in consulting with and advising alarmed Canadian officials, who called up 2,000 militia volunteers to police the border.
When the decision was made by Washington in 1864 to open a consulate in Toronto, Thurston’s successful application for the post was supported by an impressive group including some American officials, George-Étienne Cartier* and John Hillyard Cameron, as well as leaders of the Toronto community such as Bishop John Joseph Lynch and a number of important businessmen. In 1865 an official of the State Department’s consular bureau reported that Thurston was “well and favourably” known in the department and that he was a “true, earnest and energetic officer.” His annual salary of $1,500 was sufficient to allow him to cease his activities as a lumber merchant. Once again near the scene of action, he had arrived back in Toronto in time to report on the Fenian raid at Ridgeway in June 1866 and on the resultant arrest, detention, and trial in Toronto of a number of American citizens.
In 1869 a new American administration removed Thurston from his post. He retained his American citizenship but decided to remain in Toronto and joined the Beaver and Toronto Mutual Fire Insurance Company, under the managing directorship of Samuel Thompson. Thurston was a director in 1869–70 and was a vice-president from 1870 to 1873. By 1876, when the insurance company failed, Thurston had Returned to the lumber business, but again he did poorly and within a year he was forced to give up his offices and work from his home.
In 1878, after the American administration had again changed hands, Thurston was appointed vice-consul in Toronto under consul William C. Howells, and this was his major occupation for the next four years. Severe illness forced him to retire from this post as well as his lumber business in 1882. He moved in with his son, a Toronto lawyer, in 1889 and there is no evidence to indicate how long he lived beyond that date.
CTA, Toronto assessment rolls, St James Ward, 1870, p.52, no.1072. National Arch. (Washington), RG 59, Despatches from the United States consuls in Toronto, 1864–82; Letters of application, 1861–69, D. Thurston file; Miscellaneous letters of the Dept. of State, Telegram, David Thurston to W. H. Seward, 20 Oct. 1864; Telegram, Thurston to Seward, 13 Dec. 1864; Letter, W. M. Jones to Seward, 3 Nov. 1865; RG 84, Instructions to United States consuls in Toronto, 1864–71. Toronto directory, 1859–61; 1870–74; 1889. R. W. Winks, Canada and the United States: the Civil War years (rev. ed., Montreal, 1971).