Nelson T Gant Foundation
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Gant History

Leesburg, Virginia

Nelson, born into slavery, was not your ordinary person when he made his first appearance in 1821 on a tobacco plantation in Virginia, called the Woodburn Estates. He became a quiet precocious child who won the heart of his owner, John Nixon, with his excellent work ethic and determined attitude.

In time he would meet Anna Maria Hughes, a beautiful young woman, owned by the Russell family of Leesburg, Virginia. Some would say it was "Love at first sight." On May 11, 1843, Nelson and Anna were married by a minister, Rev. Samuel Gover, while still slaves. Because they had different owners, unfortunately they had to live in separate locations.

Freedom PapersWhen Nelson’s owner died in 1844, Nelson received his freedom papers in September, 1845 as it was stated in Mr. Nixon’s will that all his slaves would be set free upon his death. Nelson vowed to work and purchase his wife, but he had only one year to remain in Virginia to accomplish this because the law stated that once a slave is set free, he could only stay in Virginia one year or be considered a candidate for enslavement again. After a year of work, Jane Russell refused to free her so Nelson had to leave the state..

Caution NoticeAs a result, Nelson came back into Virginia and he and Anna Maria disappeared into the night, ending up in Washington, D.C. as fugitives. Betrayed by a Black man, they were arrested and transported to Leesburg for trial. Efforts were made to get Anna Maria to testify against her husband and confess that Nelson helped her to escape. Nelson’s attorney presented arguments in court to prevent Anna Maria from having to testify. This became a landmark trial because it was the first time in the nation that a slave marriage was considered to be legal, resulting in Anna Maria from having to testify. With no testimony against him, Nelson was released and Anna Maria went back to Jane Russell’s place in Leesburg. Eventually, with the help of abolitionists, Nelson was able to purchase his wife in February, 1847. With their daughter Mary, the couple settled in Zanesville, Ohio in 1847.

Zanesville, Y-BridgeZanesville was a quaint little town, settled in 1797 by Ebenezer Zane who blazed the Zane Trace trail for the government. Zanesville was recognized for its beautiful location where two rivers, the Licking and Muskingum Rivers meet and where a bridge in the shape of a Y enabled travelers to cross the rivers.

Across the Muskingum River from Zanesville was a place settled by surveyor, Rufus Putnam, of Marietta, called Putnam to this day. Zanesville was pro-slavery while Putnam was anti-slavery, thus this became an area where many disagreements and battles over slavery occurred.


Homestead / Family
Gant Homestead

Historic SignWith little help from others, Nelson had a two-story home mansion built beside the road that became known as the National Road (Route 40) later acknowledged by the National Department of Transportation as an All-American Byway. The National Department of Transportation placed a historical marker in front of the house in June 2002. The National Park Service: National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom recognized the house in 2004 as an Underground Railroad site and also placed a marker in front of the house. Mr. Gant owned 140 acres of farm land around his house in which a part of it was turned into a park known as Gant’s Grove.

Nelson and Anna Maria became the parents of 12 children, but only four (Elizabeth, Sarah, Margaret, and Nelson Jr.), lived to adulthood. The Gants frequently hosted community picnics in the Gant Grove. This was considered one of the first integrated parks in the state. In time, it became the site of many community events (Barnum and Bailey Circus, Negro Baseball League games, Municipal Stadium, Municipal swimming pool). From the 1940s to the early 1960s, it held two pools which were segregated until the larger pool was integrated and the smaller pool demolished.
Mr. Gant supported his family and became a prominent part of the Zanesville community by purchasing an additional 160 acres that had a coal mine and salt lick on it. He sold blocks of ice cut out of the Licking River as well as vegetables grown by his family. He even sold some of his property for a profit.
Municipal Stad

Gant supported his family and became a prominent part of the Zanesville community by purchasing an additional 160 acres that had a coal mine and salt lick. He’d sell blocks of ice cut out of the Licking river as well as vegetables grown by his family. He would even sell some of his property for a profit.

Underground Railroad

Fredrick DouglassIn 1852, Frederick Douglass spoke at the Putnam Presbyterian church. A former slave, he and Nelson met to discuss their common interests.

Very much the quiet man, oral history has him hiding freedom seekers in his vegetable wagon to transport them from one safe house to another.

Life was good for a man and woman who were born slaves and overcame adversity. They became members of St. Paul A.M.E. church and were married for 34 years. They donated $5,000 to build the new church on South Street across from the police station.

Each of their four children were talented musicians. Nelson Jr. played the banjo to his father’s delight. Sadie and Nelson Jr. graduated from Oberlin College.


Oberlin College

Founded in 1833, the first college to adopt a policy to admit African American students (1835) before mid-1900s integration efforts of the Civil Rights Movement. Oberlin was also the first to award bachelor’s degrees to women (1841) in a coeducational program.

Nelson Jr. married Florence Mintzing of Baltimore. Elizabeth married Robert Manley. Sadie married Dr. Daniel McNorton and Margaret married George Potts.

Anna Maria fell ill while visiting Sadie in Yorktown, Virginia and died on October 11, 1877. Later, while traveling, Nelson met Miss Lavinia Neal whom he married on January 9, 1879. Lavinia Logan (Lulu) was born in December of 1881, the only daughter from Nelson’s second marriage. Lulu graduated from Zanesville High School in 1900, and studied music at the Boston Conservatory of Music.