DAY, JOHN, naval surgeon, merchant, and office-holder; son of Dr George Day and his first wife; d. November 1775 at sea.
John Day must have been in Nova Scotia as early as 1755, since on 2 October a marriage licence was issued to the bachelor Day and Sarah Mercer, a widow. She died in 1763 and that same year Day married Henrietta Maria Cottnam. At least four children were born of the second marriage. Between 1757 and 1765 Day was involved in several careers; in the late 1750s his name appears in land transactions in Halifax County as a naval surgeon and a merchant, and from approximately 1762 to 1765 he was a merchant at Halifax in partnership with Edward Vause. In 1764 he was appointed a justice of the peace in Kings County, where he leased lands, and the following year he moved from Halifax to the Mantua Estate, a property near Newport which he had purchased. In 1765 also he was elected to the House of Assembly as the first representative for Newport Township. Although Day, like so many non-Halifax members, was irregular in his attendance, he was a dominant figure when present, becoming the most active and influential of the members who supported the township and reform interests. This group demanded a greater share for the townships in local and central government, the reform of the provincial treasury, and more efficient methods of collecting revenue. In 1765 and 1766 Day, by his strength of personality and involvement in committee work, played a leading part in the assembly’s temporary achievement of the right to approve the provincial estimates. In the summer of 1766 he was one of a committee appointed to examine the accounts of Benjamin Green, the provincial treasurer; their report explicitly connected the growing provincial debt with Green’s neglect of correct procedure.
In March 1769 Day left the province and took up residence in Philadelphia as a druggist. Returning four years later, he resumed his mercantile activities. In 1775 he was in partnership with Joseph Scott, an association that may have been formed before his departure. In August 1774 he announced his candidacy for the assembly for the town of Halifax and was elected by “a great majority.” As before, the most contentious issues in the assembly were the control of the estimates and past unauthorized expenditures. In Day’s view, the Council, “a Junta of cunning and wicked Men,” had consistently thwarted the assembly’s attempts to improve Nova Scotia’s financial status, since their views “extend no further than their own private Emolument, and [they] further the Distresses of the Community in order to produce a slavish Dependance on themselves.” Appointed to a committee which was to audit and report on the provincial accounts, he assisted in its main work, which resulted in the condemnation of such defaulters as Jonathan Binney*, George Cottnam, and John Newton. He resigned in April 1775 for unknown reasons.
Day was also prominent in the stormy legislative session of 1775. Adept in political debate, he initiated the assembly’s famous loyal address to the crown, which delicately enumerated that body’s grievances but took pains not to prejudice the parliamentary grant on which the province depended. In addition, he succeeded in having passed several bills which were largely his own work: among these were measures for reform in the statement and examination of public accounts and the proper regulation of elections.
In November 1775 Day, who was also an agent victualler to the British army, left for Boston on board a vessel loaded with supplies for the garrison there. While engaged in this endeavour, he was lost at sea. Unlike many of his colleagues, Day was apparently both a loyalist and a critic of the oligarchical system prevailing in Nova Scotia. At times his independence from faction mystified both his allies and his opponents; John Butler declared in 1775 that he had “Perplext the House.” Day’s importance is perhaps best described by John Bartlet Brebner, who wrote that his “distinguished public career made him the leading, perhaps the only, independent, public-spirited statesman in Nova Scotia.”
Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), D26 (original estate papers of John Day). Halifax County Registry of Deeds (Halifax), 3, pp.55–56; 4, pp.21, 103; 5, pp.84–85; 10, pp.25, 201. Hants County Registry of Deeds (Windsor, N.S.), Deeds, 1765–68 (mfm. at PANS). Kings County Registry of Deeds (Kentville, N.S.), 7, p.126 (mfm. at PANS). PANS, RG 1, 163, p.64; 164, pp.177, 184, 196, 242, 274, 324; 168, p.102; RG 20, A, 3A; 33. Halifax Gazette, 9 Dec. 1758. Nova-Scotia Gazette and the Weekly Chronicle (Halifax), 16, 30 Aug., 6 Sept. 1774; 28 May, 17 Sept. 1776. J. B. Brebner, Neutral Yankees (1969), 182–83, 199, 215, 264; “Nova Scotia’s remedy for the American revolution,” CHR, XV (1934), 171–81.