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APLIN, JOSEPH, lawyer, politician, and office holder; b. c. 1740 in Rhode Island; d. 26 April 1804, probably in Rhode Island.

The son of John Aplin, a lawyer in Connecticut and Rhode Island, Joseph Aplin was himself “educated to the Profession of the Law.” At the outbreak of the American rebellion he was practising in Newport, R.I., but his outspoken support for the crown forced his retirement to South Kingston, a loyalist area, in the fall of 1775. Aplin remained in South Kingston, living off investments, until August 1780. He was four times put under military arrest on charges of attempting to influence the militia not to assemble before he abandoned Rhode Island for the safety of British occupied New York. He stayed there until the evacuation of the city in 1783, moving to Nova Scotia that December.

In Nova Scotia, Aplin quickly became involved in politics, mainly in relation to loyalist resettlement. Having visited the Saint John region, in 1784 he was active in the movement for the separation of New Brunswick from Nova Scotia, arguing vehemently that the loyalists in the Saint John valley were suffering from official neglect. That same year he served as agent in Halifax for the town of Shelburne, and in 1785 he was elected to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly for Barrington Township. Soon after Edmund Fanning, the former lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, managed to secure his position as lieutenant governor of St John’s (Prince Edward) Island in 1787, he invited Aplin there to be solicitor general. Aplin’s immediate reaction to his new location was positive. There was, he wrote a friend in 1788, hardly a barren acre on “this delightful and much neglected island.” Although the colony’s legal system left much to be desired, for the judges were “not educated to the Law,” he found a disposition to seek justice. Aplin strongly supported the reinstatement as chief justice of Peter Stewart, who had been suspended by the previous lieutenant governor, Walter Patterson*, and he became clearly identified with the Fanning-Stewart faction in Island politics. In 1788 he and Attorney General Phillips Callbeck* revised the colony’s laws, which James Robertson began to print that year. After Callbeck’s death in 1790 Aplin was appointed attorney general.

Despite his initial favourable impressions of the Island, Aplin soon found himself in the midst of controversy, a victim of the continuing political feud between Patterson’s adherents and the followers of Fanning. In 1790 he was dangerously wounded by a Patterson supporter, and in 1791, along with Fanning. Stewart, and William Townshend, he was charged with malfeasance in a case brought before the Privy Council in London by the remnants of the Patterson party led by merchant-proprietors John Cambridge*, John Hill*, and William Bowley. Aplin denied all the charges in a lengthy affidavit, and with his fellow officials was completely exonerated by the council the following year. He responded to this decision in 1793 by suing Cambridge and Bowley in the Island’s Supreme Court for malicious prosecution, and had the satisfaction of winning the case.

Although branded a Fanning-Stewart man, Aplin attempted to maintain an independent position on the Island, regarding most local political squabbles as not “worth quarreling about” and “Sore Enemies” to his “Peace of Mind.” By 1797, however, he had become associated with a new group of critics of Fanning and Stewart (led by the controller of customs, James Douglas, and Captain John MacDonald of Glenaladale), which suspected the lieutenant governor and chief justice of privately instigating the efforts of Joseph Robinson and Robert Hodgson to stir up popular sentiment for an escheat of proprietorial lands in the province. This little band with which Aplin was connected advocated reannexation to Nova Scotia as the only solution to the Island’s problems, arguing that the colony was too small to acquire responsible officials. That same year Aplin was charged by his enemies not only with legal malpractice once again but also with sedition. He was likely excluded from his profession and in January 1798 he resigned from the Council, telling his colleagues: “If the want of bread does not overrule my inclination, I shall never see the Island again. . . . My wish is to get rid of the Island and all its quarrels.” In the wake of his resignation from the Council the Duke of Portland, the Home secretary, ordered him dismissed as attorney general.

Pursued by his creditors, Aplin, with MacDonald’s assistance, managed to escape the Island in 1798 and make his way to Britain to press for reannexation and to refute the charges against him. He was unable to clear his name, however, partly because his stated reasons for resigning from the Council were regarded as frivolous and partly because the accusations that he had used “rash” expressions in criticizing Fanning – whom he had accused of being either a “tame dupe” or a wielder of “misapplied power” – were all too true. Forced to return to Nova Scotia before his money ran out, Aplin went to Annapolis Royal and resumed the practice of law. Nothing is known of his last years, but he may have died in Rhode Island since his death was reported in a Providence newspaper. Though a man of strongly held convictions, Aplin clearly did not thrive on the controversy they engendered.

J. M. Bumsted

PAC, MG 23, E5, 2. PANS, MG 1, 793, Joseph Aplin to Jonathan Stearns, 14 May 1788. PAPEI, RG 5, Minutes, 6 Feb. 1798. PRO, CO 226/13: 97–99; 226/15, 17, 348; 226/16: 156–57; 226/18: 241–42; PRO 30/55, no.8645 (transcript at PANS). SRO, GD293/2/19/10. “Calendar of papers relating to Nova Scotia,” PAC Report, 1894: 414–15. G.B., Privy Council, Report of the right honourable the lords of the committee of his majesty’s most honourable Privy Council, of certain complaints against Lieutenant Governor Fanning, and other officers of his majesty’s government in the Island of St John ([London, 1792]). Vital record of Rhode Island. 1636–1850; first series, births, marriages and deaths; a family register for the people, comp. J. N. Arnold (21v., Providence, 1891–1912), 15 [reference courtesy of Ian Aplin.  j.m.b.]. Royal Gazette and Miscellany of the Island of Saint John (Charlottetown), 12, 29 April 1793. Tremaine, Biblio. of Canadian imprints, 287–88. Bumsted, “Sir James Montgomery and P.E.I.,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 7 (1977–78). no.2: 76–102. MacNutt, “Farming’s regime on P.E.I.” Acadiensis, 1 (1971–72), no.1: 37–53.

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Cite This Article

J. M. Bumsted, “APLIN, JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 18, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/aplin_joseph_5E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/aplin_joseph_5E.html
Author of Article:   J. M. Bumsted
Title of Article:   APLIN, JOSEPH
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   June 18, 2024