Thomas Day (1801- ca. 1861)

Written By Adrienne Dunn

Famous for his craftsmanship, Thomas Day, a free African American, became one of North Carolina’s most prolific and respected furniture makers in the state. Born to free parents in Dinwiddie, Virginia, Day and John Jr., his brother, were well-educated. 

Between 1817 and 1820, Thomas’s father, John Day Sr., moved the family to Warren County, North Carolina, to obtain employment from Thomas Reynolds, a well-known cabinetmaker in Warrenton. In 1823, Day moved to Milton, North Carolina, a town in Caswell County to work with his brother in starting a furniture enterprise. By 1825, John Jr., left North Carolina and returned to Virginia, leaving Day to operate the business.

As his business grew, Day purchased property on Milton’s Main Street and advertised his goods in the Milton Gazette and Roanoke Advertiser newspaper.  Along with his business ventures, Day became a major stockholder in the local branch of the North Carolina Bank and owned property outside of Milton. He carried a standard line of furniture and also made custom furniture for the wealthy.  Besides furniture, Day made mantles, stairs, window and door frames, newel posts, and other decorative and functional trim. 

In the late 1850s, Day’s successful business had taken a turn for the worst. Faced with a national panic in 1857 and the restrictions of being a free African American, Day’s business was in receivership—a term meaning that his business avoided liquidation by being reorganized by a court-appointed trustee.  The court turned his business over to his friend and business partner Dabney Terry as a trustee of his property.  In 1859, Day’s son, Thomas Jr., executed a note for his father’s debts, and the property was returned.  Following the execution of the note, Thomas Jr., sold the business in 1871 and left Milton.

In 1861, Day disappeared from Milton’s public records. It is possible that he died that year and was supported financially by Milton locals. His body is buried near Milton, on property that he once owned.