Research

The Missing Chapter in the History of Thomas Day

Authored by long-time Thomas Day researchers, Patricia Dane Rogers and Laurel C. Sneed, this engaging research report was made possible by the Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee Wisconsin which publishes the American Furniture journal. This research article chronicles how in June of 1835, at the age of 34, Thomas Day traveled to Philadelphia and while there signed a statement saying that he had "availed [himself] during the session of the colored Convention, held in Philadelphia, June, 1835 of Mrs. Serena Gardiner's select boarding house." This statement was published as a card or classified ad in The Liberator, a national anti-slavery newspaper. It is unlikely that Mrs. Gardiner realized how dangerous it was for the name of a southerner such as Thomas Day to be published in a pro-abolitionist newspaper.

In North Carolina, just being in possession of abolitionist literature was very dangerous. If caught with The Liberator or any abolitionist sympathizing literature, one risked being accused of disseminating it, a crime punishable by imprisonment, whipping, and even death. Others who signed Mrs. Gardiner's card along with Day were major African American businessmen and leaders in the country and many would become prominent anti-slavery activists. This article is the result of over a decade of research conducted under the guidance and with the interpretive assistance of leading historians specializing in the experience of free and enslaved African Americans such as John Hope Franklin, Ira Berlin, and Peter H. Wood. The article provides in-depth information about Day's personal history and explores the issue: how could Thomas Day, who was himself a slave owner, attend an anti-slavery meeting and have close ties with anti-slavery activists?