WASHBURN, SIMON EBENEZER, militia officer, lawyer, office holder, and politician; b. probably 1794 in Fredericksburgh Township, Upper Canada, son of Ebenezer Washburn* and Sarah De Forest; m. 12 April 1821 Margaret FitzGibbon; d. 29 Sept. 1837 in Toronto.
The sixth of nine children in a prominent loyalist family, Simon Ebenezer Washburn attended the Kingston grammar school and then served in the militia in the War of 1812. He studied law under Dr William Warren Baldwin in York (Toronto), was called to the bar of Upper Canada in January 1820, and practised in partnership with Baldwin until he established his own office in May 1825. He became a successful and highly respected lawyer. Among those who studied with him were William Hume Blake*, George Duggan*, and Joseph Curran Morrison*.
Washburn was clerk of the peace for the Home District from October 1828 until his death. As such, he administered the Court of Quarter Sessions and kept the court records; the fees he received averaged about £290 a year. He was also commissioned to administer oaths of various kinds, including the oath of allegiance. On 4 May 1829 Washburn became reporter to the Court of King’s Bench, but he resigned six months later pleading the pressure of other business. He was a bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada from 3 Nov. 1829 until his death. During the 1832 cholera epidemic he served on the York Board of Health.
Simon Washburn’s name is connected with two Upper Canadian controversies. When, in June 1828, justice John Walpole Willis* cast doubt on the legality of the operations of the Court of King’s Bench, Washburn joined William Warren Baldwin and his son Robert* in writing to request the opinion of justice Levius Peters Sherwood. Washburn pursued the matter no further and was not involved in the ensuing dispute. In a customs scandal of 1830 Washburn was criticized for delivering £75 to a customs officer for the release of some pork, allegedly smuggled by York merchant William Bergin. The payment had been arranged by Washburn’s brother-in-law James FitzGibbon*, clerk of the House of Assembly, who was accused of bribery. Washburn, whose role was that of agent for FitzGibbon, emerged with his career undamaged.
In politics, Washburn had only minor success. He failed twice, in 1830 and 1832, to unseat William Lyon Mackenzie* as member of the assembly for York County, but he succeeded in 1837 in being elected alderman for St David’s Ward in Toronto. He was active in the militia and in 1835 rose to be colonel of the 2nd Regiment of West York. As churchwarden of St James’ Church, he assisted Archdeacon John Strachan* in the financial campaign to have a new stone church built in 1833.
Although Washburn was a conservative, Mackenzie observed in an obituary that “in some measure” he “took the liberal side in politics,” a reference, presumably, to his association with the Baldwins in the Willis affair. Mackenzie noted also that as a lawyer Washburn had done some “very kind and generous” things, referring to his actions on behalf of blacks and others sentenced to flogging, execution, or lengthy imprisonment for relatively minor crimes. In such cases, he almost certainly provided free legal aid.
Simon Washburn was a generous and public-spirited man. He had a zest for life, exemplified by his love of skating, and was considered slightly eccentric for wearing a monocle.
AO, MS 35; MU 3054, “Data on United Empire Loyalists . . . ,” comp. W. D. Reid (typescript, c. 1930); RG 22, ser.155; ser.159, 1801–58, R–Z, no.50. CTA, RG 1, B (mfm. at AO). Law Soc. of U.C. (Toronto), Minutes; Rolls. MTRL, William Allan papers. PAC, RG 1, E3, 95: 143; RG 5, A1: 7788, 7790–91, 24504–8, 37966–67, 41455–65, 46906–10, 50113–15, 52129–30, 54174–75, 61342–48, 61847, 62353–56, 65145–47, 65757–58, 65928–30, 98196–97;B139, 15: 636; RG 9, I, 133, 5; RG 68, 78: 385–86, 576; 79: 108; 127: 33–34. PRO, CO 47/144, 47/148–52 (mfm. at PAC). “A register of baptisms for the township of Fredericksburgh . . . ,” comp. John Langhorn, OH, 1 (1899): 35, 38, 42, 47. Canadian Freeman, 15, 22, 29 July, 23 Sept. 1830. Colonial Advocate, 19 June, 2, 9 July 1828. Constitution, 4 Oct. 1837. Upper Canada Gazette, 12 May 1825. J. C. Dent, The story of the Upper Canadian rebellion; largely derived from original sources and documents (2v., Toronto, 1885), 1: 163–92. Lindsey, Life and times of Mackenzie, 1: 184–85, 241–42. W. R. Riddell, The bar and the courts of the province of Upper Canada, or Ontario (Toronto, 1928). Robertson’s landmarks of Toronto, 1: 454–55. Scadding, Toronto of old (Armstrong; 1966).