GOFF, FADE, businessman, politician, office holder, and jp; b. 17 Sept. 1780 in Bryanstown (Republic of Ireland), eldest son of Richard Goff and Anna Neville; m. 6 April 1809 Mary Somaindyke Ryan, and they had 11 children; d. 6 Jan. 1836 at Erinvale, Lot 34, P.E.I.
Born into a landed Anglo-Irish family of declining circumstances, Fade Goff immigrated to Newfoundland in the spring of 1809 to join his father-in-law, John Ryan, a newspaper publisher in St John’s. Upon arrival Goff met John Stewart*, a landowner on Prince Edward Island, who hired Goff to be his agent there. The following spring the Goff family moved to the Island, where Fade by 1814 agreed to act also as agent for George and Alexander Birnie, a merchant house based in London.
A class of middlemen, the land agents of Prince Edward Island have been accused by historians of oppressing their tenantry while embezzling the property of their absent employers. Goff was not such an agent. His letters to George Birnie indicate that he was forced to compete for capable tenants, offering various capital improvements to induce them to settle. As for his relationship with his employers, it was that of a supplicant to his masters. Both the Birnies and John Stewart had first-hand experience of the Island, an intimate knowledge of its condition, and a wide variety of local contacts. They could not be easily deceived by an agent, and in fact quickly had Goff in a position of total dependence. When he had arrived on the Island Goff had made several bad investments in land and imported merchandise, and he had accepted large advances from his employers to cover his debts. Goff realized by 1815 that, without an upturn in the provincial economy or the acquisition of a lucrative administrative position, he was unlikely to free himself from his obligations as long as he remained on the Island. That year he applied to be agent in Newfoundland for John Hill, but Alexander Birnie sued him for payment of money owing. George Birnie smoothed matters over, apparently by holding Goff to his current post, and cut his discount at the Birnie store. In the early 1820s, believing himself “cruelly and unhandsomely used” after more than a decade of agency, Goff turned to a variety of small ventures such as the building of a flour-mill and the establishment of an emigration office, all to little advantage. Thus, while he raised his “pretty round stock” of children, Goff never managed to extricate himself from his financial predicaments, and achieved some measure of equilibrium only from political and administrative office.
Being connected with the Stewart family automatically placed Goff in a proprietorial faction often referred to by its detractors as the “cabal.” Elected to the House of Assembly for Georgetown in April 1812, Goff supported this group in its assault upon the then-dominant faction known as the Loyal Electors, in which James Bardin Palmer* was prominent. That September Goff was one of six mhas who absented themselves from the assembly in an attempt to deny a quorum and thereby prevent the passing of a supply bill sponsored by the Loyal Electors. Such tactics were part of a campaign of proprietorial pressure which had secured in August an order dismissing the lieutenant governor, Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres*, and which would shortly topple the Loyal Electors, who depended on his patronage.
A supporter of the proprietors, William Townshend*, became administrator when DesBarres left in October, and he used the opportunity to reward adherents of the “cabal” with office and emolument. Goff became coroner and clerk of the crown in May 1813, and proved adaptable enough to retain these offices under the new lieutenant governor, Charles Douglass Smith*, even though his previous allies in the “cabal” became disenchanted with Smith in the early 1820s. Goff twice briefly acted as colonial secretary under Smith, was created a justice of the peace in 1814, and was appointed high sheriff in 1831.
Goff had his political disappointments none the less. Perhaps because of his proximity to an unpopular lieutenant governor he failed to retain his seat in the election of 1818. He also had to wait until 1819 for confirmation of, as well as the fees for, his positions as coroner and clerk of the crown, and even then for a time had his salary garnisheed by the Birnies. (He resigned both offices in April 1830.) Appointed by Lieutenant Governor Aretas William Young* to the Council in February 1832, Goff at first attended intermittently and then ceased to do so altogether owing to his “indisposition and pecuniary embarrassment.” He died after a lengthy illness.
Palmer imputed to Goff an influence “behind the curtain” of Island politics. Certainly Goff was in a position as clerk of the crown to keep such proprietors as Stewart, who could not always be present in Charlottetown, abreast of developments potentially antagonistic to their interests. A lack of sources makes Goff’s precise role in influencing events difficult to define, but it appears to have been no more than ancillary to that of the proprietors themselves. Held back by financial difficulties, he was never able to secure the political and social position to which he aspired. As he wrote of himself, “Every attempt that I have made either to serve others or myself in this Island ends in loss and disappointment, and cross and unfortunate occurrences constantly have thrown me in the background.”
PAC, MG 24, D99, files 1–2. PAPEI, Acc. 2810/127, 2810/173; Ace. 2849/38, 2849/86, 2849/128; RG 1, commission books, 1812–13; 1 Feb. 1814; 3 April 1816; 22 Jan. 1818; 27 Sept., 10 Dec. 1819; 26 April 1830; 4 May 1831; 2 May 1832; RG 3, journals, 1813; RG 16, land registry records, conveyance reg., liber 17: f.328; liber 20: f.78; liber 24: ff.400, 867, 872. P.E.I. Museum, “Charlottetown manuscript” (n.d.); W. F. Goff coll., Goff family geneal. PRO, CO 226/26: 11, 112; 226/27: 82–88; 226/29: 88. St Paul’s Anglican Church (Charlottetown), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, esp. 1 Aug. 1834 (mfm. at PAPEI). Supreme Court of P.E.I. (Charlottetown), Estates Division, liber 3: f.110. P.E.I, House of Assembly, Journal, 3–4 Nov. 1818; Legislative Council, Journal, 1832–36. Prince Edward Island Gazette, 14 Oct. 1818. Prince Edward Island Register, 6 May 1825, 21 March 1826, 2 Dec. 1828. Royal Gazette (Charlottetown), 7 Feb., 3 April 1832; 9 April 1833; 18 March 1834; 12 Jan. 1836. Weekly Recorder of Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown), 4 May 1812. MacKinnon, Government of P.E.I., 36n. Patriot (Charlottetown), 6 July 1872.