Thomas Aspinwall was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, May 23, 1786. He was the third son of Dr. William Aspinwall and Susanna Gardner. His father, William, was a prominent physician who became especially noted for his successful use of innoculation against small pox. His maternal grandfather was Isaac Gardner, who was killed in the battle of Lexington in 1775.
Aspinwall received his early education at a local school; he later attended the Leicester Academy from which he was graduated in 1801, at the age of fifteen. He entered Harvard College the same year, graduating with honors in 1804. On completion of his formal education, Aspinwall entered the law office of William Sullivan, and subsequently became a partner. He later opened his own firm and continued in practice until the outbreak of the War of 1812, at which time he gave up his profession and tendered his services to the government.
During the War of 1812, Aspinwall was immediately appointed (March 12, 1812) as a major in the Ninth Regiment of U.S. Infantry due to his previous experience as adjutant of the Independent Cadets. On March 12, 1813, he served as lieutenant colonel in the Fifteenth Infantry, and was transferred back to the Ninth Infantry on September 29, the same year. He was brevetted lieutenant-colonel and afterward made colonel for distinguished service during the repulse of the British attack on Sackett's Harbor in May 1813. Throughout the campaign he was frequently in command of the brigade to which his regiment was attached. On September 17, 1814, in the memorable sortie from Fort Erie led by Brigadier General Jacob Brown, Colonel Aspinwall was severely wounded and consequently lost an arm. He received an honorable discharge on June 15, 1815.
At the end of the war, Aspinwall was offered the position of inspector general; however, he preferred to return to civil service, and in May 1815, the position being vacant, he was appointed consul to London by President James Madison. He held this office until his removal by President Franklin Pierce in 1853. His tenure as consul was longer than that of any other consul except that of James Maury, U.S. consul to Liverpool, who was appointed by George Washington (c.1789) and removed by Andrew Jackson forty years later.
Colonel Aspinwall returned to Boston in 1854, where for some time, he took an active interest in commerce. In 1857, he was elected director of the Boston Board of Trade, and served the following two years as vice-president. In later years, he pursued more classical interests and was a valuable member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, for which he also served as vice-president. During his years in England, he had been elected a corresponding member of the Massachusetts Historical Society (June 1833), and a few years later he became a member of the Royal Society for Northern Antiquaries at Copenhagen. A bibliophile, the colonel's private library has given him a place in the National Union Catalog of pre-1956 Imprints. There are several entries for 'A catalogue of books relating to America, in the library of Colonel Aspinwall...' printed in Paris in 1832 and sometime in the 1850s. The 'Catalogue of the valuable private library of the late Colonel Thomas Aspinwall...to be sold by auction, on Tuesday, May 27, 1879' by Leonard and Co. of Boston, is also mentioned. Some writings by Colonel Aspinwall are cited in the National Union Catalog, including: 'Remarks...on the life, character and genius of Washington Irving,' delivered before the Massachusetts Historical Society, December 15, 1859; and 'Remarks on the Narraganset patent. Read before the Massachusetts historical society, June, 1862,' printed by John Wilson and Son, 1863.
Three years before his death, Colonel Aspinwall suffered a severe attack of paralysis from which he never recovered. He died in Boston, August 11, 1876, at the age of ninety-one. He was buried in the Walnut Hill Cemetery in his native town of Brookline. Aspinwall was survived by his wife Louise Elizabeth Poignand, aged eighty-seven. They had married on February 13, 1814, in Lancaster, Massachusetts. They had seven children, two of whom were living at the time of their father's death; a daughter who married William Henry Dornville of Lincoln's Inn, London; and William Aspinwall of Brookline. On his death, Colonel Aspinwall was the oldest survivor of the officers of the War of 1812.