BLACK, MARTIN GAY, merchant and banker; b. 19 Nov. 1786 in Halifax, the son of the Reverend William Black* and Mary Gay; m. 3 Jan. 1809 Frances Smith of Westmorland, N.B., and they had seven daughters and six sons; d. 26 Oct. 1861 in Halifax.
Martin Gay Black, eldest son of the founder of the Methodist movement in Nova Scotia, was raised in a home dedicated to establishing Methodism in a colony whose officialdom scorned John Wesley’s evangelical religion. Educated at the latitudinarian Anglican academy in Windsor before 1802, Black followed his maternal grandfather in trade and by 1807 was established in business in Halifax with his brother-in-law James Hamilton. After dissolution of their firm in 1809, Martin Gay continued to supply British and East Indian goods and, like several Haligonian businessmen, rose to commercial prominence during the Napoleonic wars. By the late 1820s he had apparently retired from mercantile activities. In 1825 Black was an original partner in the Halifax Banking Company; he was its first secretary, and eventually served as president from September 1859 until his death. From 1832 to 1859 he owned, and rented out, the substantial wharf adjoining the Enos Collins*’ property on which the bank stood. In addition, he invested prudently in local financial ventures and private loans.
In 1839, when Lieutenant Governor Sir Colin Campbell* sought to broaden the representation of his councils, Black was offered a seat on the Legislative Council. Declining the honour previously accorded five of his seven fellow bankers, he explained that his “habits and feelings [were] much more in accordance with the life of a private than a public character.” Yet his life did not lack a public role. By 1814 he was a trustee of Zoar Chapel, and although this early appointment probably derived from his father’s dominance of the Methodist organization, Black remained a steward of both chapel and circuit. When interdenominational and charitable institutions, as well as the Methodists, sought his efficient handling of their too meagre resources, he served for many years as treasurer of the Nova Scotia Methodist District, the local missionary society, and the Nova Scotia Bible Society. He was also more briefly an officer of such associations as the Poor Man’s Friend Society, the Royal Acadian Society, the Halifax Visiting Dispensary, the Protestant Orphans’ Home, and the ymca. During half a century he subscribed, albeit nominally, to nearly every benevolent institution initiated in the city.
Black’s life reflected the conservative, trade-oriented character of Methodism in Nova Scotia. His transition from merchant to banker and his active participation in interdenominational organizations, however, made him one of the church’s most distinguished members. Contemporaries noted above all his “unostentatious usefulness.”
Brunswick Street United Church (Halifax), register of marriages, christenings, and burials, pp.29, 41, 74 (mfm. at PANS). Halifax County Court House (Halifax), Registry of deeds, index, 1749–1861, book 46, ff.184–85; book 55, ff.241–42; book 127, ff.210–12. Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), no.1015, will of Martin Gay Black. Methodist Missionary Soc. Archives (London), Correspondence, box 11, nos.20, 102; box 12, no.34; box 13, no.65; box 15, no.177; box 21, nos.120, 125, 200 (mfm. at PAC). PANS, MG 20; RG 1, 244, no.91 (M. G. Black to R. D. George, Halifax, 23 March 1840); no.103 (address to Sir Colin Campbell). PRO, CO 217/171, f.208; 217/173, f.5; 217/174, ff.111–13. Halifax Young Men’s Christian Assoc., Annual report (Halifax), 1855–56, 1859, 1861–62. N.S. Bible Soc., Report (Halifax), 1819–55. Wesleyan Auxiliary Missionary Soc., N.S. District, Annual report (Halifax), 1827–52. Acadian Reporter, 6 Sept., 11 Oct. 1823; 13 April, 3 Aug. 1833; 12 Sept. 1835. Halifax Journal, 13 May 1816, 13 Oct. 1817, 4 Nov. 1833. Novascotian, 4 May 1825; 16 Jan. 1832; 10 Jan., 3 July 1833. Nova Scotia Royal Gazette (Halifax), 7 July 1807; 24 May 1808; 12 Jan., 21 Feb., 28 March 1809; 4 March, 6 May, 15 July 1812; 27 Oct. 1813. Presbyterian Witness, 2 Nov. 1861. Provincial Wesleyan (Halifax), 30 Oct. 1861. Weekly Chronicle (Halifax), 21 April, 5 May, 3 Nov. 1809; 4 May 1810; 17 June 1814; 5 June 1818. Belcher’s farmer’s almanack, 1837–61. Cyrus Black, Historical record of the posterity of William Black . . . (Amherst, N.S., 1885), 35. Ross and Trigge, History of the Canadian Bank of Commerce, I, 50, 52, 101, 106–7, 432. T. W. Smith, History of the Methodist Church within the territories embraced in the late conference of Eastern British America . . . (2v., Halifax, 1877–90), 11, 315–16, 457. T. B. Akins, “History of Halifax City,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., VIII (1895), 95, 146, 150, 152, 165, 182, 197, 271.