Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Sylvester Day Collection, 1813-1920

Finding aid created by
Patrick Galligan, May 2012

Summary Information
Title: Sylvester Day collection
Creator: Day, Sylvester, 1778-1851
Inclusive dates: 1813-1920
Extent: 17 items
The Sylvester Day collection (1813-1920) is made up of 17 letters and documents written by or related to Sylvester Day, a surgeon for the United States military during the War of 1812.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1971. M-1563.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

Sylvester Day Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged chronologically.


Sylvester Day was born in 1778, the son of Elkanah Day and Lavinia Merrill. He worked as garrison surgeon's mate in the United States Army in 1807, and was at Fort Michilimackinac from 1810 to July 17, 1812, when British forces took the fort during the War of 1812. After his parole by British forces, he travelled to Detroit, Michigan, where he worked as a surgeon until General William Hull surrendered the city to the British in August 1812. He remained in Detroit in order to help care for sick and wounded soldiers who were unable to leave with the rest of the American troops. On October 16, 1812, he left Detroit with American prisoners of war on the British Brig Adams , headed for Fort Erie. However, the United States Navy captured the Adams while en route to its destination, and forced Day to disembark before burning the ship and all of his personal effects. Following this incident, Day began a legal suit against the U.S. government in an attempt to gain reparations for the property he lost in the burning, especially his extensive medical library. The U.S. Army appointed Day a surgeon of the 4th Regiment of Infantry on March 13, 1813. He transferred to the 5th Infantry on May 17, 1815, and was on duty in Detroit, Michigan, until 1818. He worked as post surgeon at Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania, from 1818 to 1820, and later became post surgeon for the Allegheny Arsenal. Day worked at other locations before his death at Allegheny Arsenal, Pennsylvania, in 1851. He had at least two children: Lavania (1802-1835) and Hannibal (1804-1891).

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Sylvester Day collection (1813-1920) is made up of 17 letters and documents written by or related to Sylvester Day, a surgeon for the United States military during the War of 1812, respecting Day's work, his son's education, and additional topics.

Day wrote to his son, Hannibal, praising his academic successes and urging him to continue working hard. Day wrote, "it affords me much pleasure to hear from you, and learn that you are assiduous in the prosecution of your studies … I have no doubt of your being qualified to enter college by next commencement" (October 17, 1817). In a second letter to Hannibal, Day wrote, "It affords me much satisfaction to hear of your good conduct and progress in your studies. I wish you to perfect yourself in the rudiments of arithmetic" (March 27, 1818).

Items pertaining to Day's claims against the United States for reparations reveal the surgeon's professional work ethic. The testimony of David Beard, a purveyor and resident of Detroit, provides insight into Day's dedication to his patients. Beard recalled that Day volunteered to stay in Detroit, even after its surrender to British troops, in order to "attend upon the sick and wounded American prisoners who were unable to be removed. These services were specially important at that time, as no other medical man of either army remained there" (January 6, 1835). The official memorial of Sylvester Day contains an account of Day's departure after the surrender of Detroit and his subsequent detainment and loss of property at the hands of his own countrymen. Day's attorney claimed, "the petitioner ordered on shore, but forbidden to take his baggage & effects which remained in the vessel, and was destroyed when she was burnt by order of Col. Schuyler" (undated).

Three manuscripts from the United States War Department outline milestone dates of Day's military career, along with the locations of specific postings and different positions he held over his lifetime. Also of note is an illustrated, partially printed document certifying Day's contribution of five dollars towards the building of the Washington Monument. This contribution entitled Day to "all the privileges of Membership in the Washington National Monument Society," and bears printed signatures of Zachary Taylor, Elisha Whittlesey, and George Watterston (July 12, 1850). The collection also contains a dinner invitation from Michigan's Governor Lewis Cass, as well as a request for medical aid or referral from General Alexander Macomb in regard to his wife.

Subject Terms

    • Damages.
    • Day, Hannibal, 1804-1891.
    • Detroit (Mich.)--History--Surrender to the British, 1812.
    • Education.
    • Hull, William, 1753-1825.
    • Surgery, Military.
    • United States. Army. Infantry Regiment, 4th.
    • United States. Army. Infantry Regiment, 5th (1808-1815)
    • United States. Army--Surgeons.
    • United States--History--War of 1812.
    • Washington National Monument Society.
    Subjects - Visual Materials:
    • Washington Monument (Washington, D.C.)
    • Beard, David.
    • Cass, Lewis, 1782-1866.
    • Cushing, Thomas H. (Thomas Humphrey), 1755-1822.
    • Duane, William, 1760-1835.
    • Ireland, Merritte Weber.
    • Izard, George, 1777-1828.
    • Macomb, Alexander, 1782-1841.
    • Ruggles, George D. (George David), d. 1904.
    Genre Terms:
    • Certificates.
    • Invitations.
    • Legal documents.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Petitions.
    • Testimonies.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Sylvester Day collection,  1813-1920 [series]
    Folder   : Oversize Manuscripts  
      1813 February 2 . Sylvester Day ADS to U.S. Senate and House of Representatives; s.l. (2 pages)
    Petition of Sylvester Day for the loss of property following seizure by Lieutenant Elliot.
    Box   49, Small Collections  
      1813 March 13 . Thomas H. Cushing ALS to Sylvester Day; Washington, D.C. (1 page)
    Cushing requests that Day travel to Philadelphia and present himself to Colonel George Izard.
      1813 April 20 . William Duane ALS to Sylvester Day; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (1 page)
    Duane, as acting adjutant general, informs Day that "officers on parole are precluded from all duties of public nature, you are authorised to move to your usual residence, and report to the Adjutant General."
      1815 January 24 . George Izard ALS to Sylvester Day; Batavia, New York. (1 page)
    Relays orders to continue working at the hospital unless ordered otherwise by the Secretary of War or the general commanding the ninth military district.
      1816 February 17 . [Alexander] Macomb ALS to Sylvester Day; Detroit, Michigan. (2 pages)
    Requests medical aid for Mrs. Macomb or, failing personal attention, a referral to a doctor that can help her.
      1816 March 8 . [Charles?] Larrabee LS; Detroit, Michigan. (1 page)
    Account of Day's actions and possessions following the surrender of Detroit in 1812.
      1817 October 17 . Sylvester Day ALS to Hannibal Day; Detroit, Michigan. (1 page)
    Letter to his son, Hannibal, urging him to keep up with his studies and asking when he will next be at home.
      1818 January 3 . [Lewis Cass] AN to Sylvester Day; Detroit, Michigan. (1 page)
    Invitation for Day to attend dinner with Michigan Territory Governor Lewis Cass.
      1818 March 27 . Sylvester Day ALS to Hannibal Day; Washington, D.C. (1 page)
    Sylvester expresses his pleasure with Hannibal's studies and speaks of the next time he will be in Albany, New York.
      1829 May 6 . E. Kirby ALS to Sylvester Day; [B'ville?]. (1 page)
    Political letter: "Van Buren has deserted & gone to the devil & your money with him."
      1835 January 6 . David Beard DS; s.l. (2 pages)
    David Beard's testimony for Day's property claims against the United States; provides information about Day's actions following the British seizure of Detroit.
      1850 July 12 . Document to Sylvester Day; s.l. (1 page)
    Official certificate acknowledging that Day donated five dollars for the building of the Washington Monument and his membership in the Washington National Monument Society.
      1896 January 24 . George D. Ruggles TLS to George S. Greene; Washington, D.C. (1 page)
    This item is a brief letter from the adjutant general of the United States, and outlines the dates of Day's various military appointments.
      1896 May 14 . George D. Ruggles TDS; Washington, D.C. (1 page)
    Outlines the dates and locations of Day's various military appointments and posts.
      1920 November 26 . Merritte Weber Ireland TLS to Lavinia Day Hoff; Washington, D.C. (1 page)
    Provides a listing of Day's documents in the possession of Ireland, then surgeon general of the United States Army.
      Undated . D. A. Hall ADS; s.l. (6 pages)
    Official memorial of Sylvester Day - details the circumstances leading up to his detainment and loss of property after the surrender of Detroit.
      Undated . Document; s.l. (8 pages)
    The "Sources in the Revolution of Doctor Elkanah Day of Westminster, Vermont & his descendents" is a miscellaneous collection related to Elkanah Day and his heirs, taken from Peter Force's "American Archives" series, Volume 1.