Amherstburg Freedom Museum

Family Histories


Gant Family

                                               The Gant Family History Part 1 – A Man With Many Skills

Last month’s family history featured the Crawford family and in that family history we were introduced to Martha Crawford and John Gant. Because I was able to find a lot of information for John and some of his family members, I decided to highlight the Gant family in this month’s family history. As mentioned, Martha Joiner Gant was the biological child of Laura Virginia Sidney Buckner and the stepdaughter of George M. Crawford. She married John Gant, the son of Edward and Roxanna Gant, on May 26, 1868. John Gant was also referred to as ‘Professor’ John Gant and he worked in many jobs including his work as a barber, Sanitary Officer and Dog Tax Collector, and County Constable. Of all the people I have written about in the family history series, none have been written about in the Amherstburg Echo more than John Gant. As a result, I’m going to share many of the newspaper articles that mention or are written by Gant to show a clearer picture of his importance in Essex County.

Before I do this, I want to first share a bit more about Martha. She was a member of numerous organizations that stemmed from the First Baptist Church, including the Church Aid Society, the Amherstburg Guild, the Women’s Guild, where she was secretary, and the Amherstburg Ladies Sewing Circle. Martha’s obituary which appeared in The Border Cities Star on March 29, 1923 says “Mrs. Martha Gant is Called at ‘Burg – Passes After Lingering Illness; Funeral is Held Friday – Amherstburg, March 29 – Death removed from the midst of the citizens of Amherstburg during the past week, Mrs. Martha Gant, relict of the late Professor John Gant, after a lingering illness. Mrs. Gant had been a citizen of Amherstburg for many years and was held in close esteem by those who knew her. The funeral was held on Friday afternoon from her late residence to the First Baptist Church, where impressive services were held, followed by interment in Rose Hill cemetery. Mrs. Gant was the daughter of the late Mrs. Laura Virginia Crawford and was married in Amherstburg almost 50 years ago to the late Professor John Gant, who predeceased her little over four years ago. Surviving her are two sisters, Mrs. John H. Alexander, wife of Alderman Alexander of Amherstburg and Mrs. Philip Thomas, of Oberlin, Ohio. The sympathy of the community is extended to the bereaved.”

Not mentioned in Martha’s obituary is a reference to her daughter Mabel Binga. On November 12, 1953 the Echo printed “Miss Mabel Binga formerly of Amherstburg, passed away in Ontario Hospital, in London, on Sunday. Miss Binga who was 77 years of age, was the daughter of the late Mrs. John Gant (Martha Crawford); Surviving is an aunt Mrs. P.N. Thomas of Oberlin, Ohio. Another aunt, Mrs. John H. Alexander of Amherstburg, predeceased her. The funeral was in London.”

As mentioned, John Gant had many professions. He owned the Twilight Barber Shop and worked as a barber there as early as 1877. On November 9, 1877, the Amherstburg Echo printed “After 17 years experience – the latter part of which has been very costly – the Professor has opened a shop on his own hook, and he has brought the prices down to the times. My motto is, – ‘Break the Tammany ring – Live and let live.” Gant stated that the Twilight Barber Shop was the Official Barber to the Mechanic and Laborer, and placed several ads in the Echo to draw in business. One ad from January 25, 1878 which appeared in the Echo stated “the Prof. has opened the cheapest and best Tonsorial Parlor in town, one door south of the Post Office. Only one price in my shop – not 10cts. to one and 5cts. to another; also have three chairs; I allow no sore face to get in those chairs and allow not one to get out.” The Twilight Barber Shop offered a shave for 5 cents, a haircut for 10 cents, shampoo for 5 cents and a 5-cent haircut for boys under 16 years old. He also offered seam foams for 5 cents, mustache dyed for 10 cents, in addition to cleaning clothes for 75 cents.

Gant’s confidence in his trade is clear in an ad from April 5, 1878 which says “Out of 13 apprentices that I have learned the trade they are all satisfied that I am the boss, if they are not, lot any of them put up $25, or more, as they wish, and I will cover it immediately, and I have not got to run around and borrow it. This challenge is open for all time. I am the originator of Amherstburg’s 5 cts. shave, and why not ‘live and let live,’ I can live at it, and hundreds save 5 cts. I remain, Amherstburg’s reformer and Superior tonsorial artist, PROF. GANT.”

In addition to owning the Twilight Barber Shop, John Gant also worked as a chimney sweep, white-washer and gardener. An ad from May 13, 1881 says “Look out for the Lime Kiln Club. Opposition is the Life of Trade! Brother Gardiner is in town in the shape of J. GANT. As I have neither been appointed Magistrate or Constable, and shaving being at a discount, I am now white-washing, sweeping chimneys, Digging Gardens, and doing general work. My office will be on the street anywhere that I am found. I respectfully solicit a share of Amherstburg’s patronage. All orders promptly attended to. Chimney-Sweeping a Specialty. For I am equal to a black squirrel on a roof. No more shaving till next winter, then I shall open a 10-amendment shop. There will then be four shops in town. BROTHER J. GANT.”

Gant also served as a county constable with the first reference I found in the Echo being as early as 1895. A decade later, on November 3, 1905, an interesting story was printed about Gant and his work as a janitor which says “John Gant has great reason for thankfulness on Thanksgiving Day, because of being rescued from a perilous situation just in the nick of time to prevent his strangling. That morning, as usual, he went to the Sovereign Bank, where he does janitor work, and locks after the draughts, i.e., raising and lowering the windows, but before proceeding with his work, sent for John Pinean to repair a broken lock on the front door. Mr. Pinean left while Prof. Gant was busy leaving the door still locked. When the Professor completed his work he couldn’t get out, so after waiting round in solitary confinement for a long time, he was seized with an idea. Descending to the cellar, he placed a barrel under the cellar window, and made to climb out to the sidewalk and freedom. But in his efforts he kicked the barrel down, and was unable either to go forward or backward, his head and one are being on one side of the window, while the rest of his body was on the other. He hung in this position until 9 o’clock when the Chief of Police and E.E. Palford, when passing, were attracted by his raucous cries, and after much difficulty succeeded in pulling him through as far as his feet, which defied, their united efforts, but at last were also taken through one at a time, by turning them over flat, and Mr. Gant hied home to a late breakfast, a sorer, sadder, but wiser man.”

A year later, on May 11, 1906, the Echo mentions that John Gant was the Sanitary Inspector and “warns bicycle riders to keep on the street, and off the sidewalks, or they will be asked to meet him in court. He suggests that residents join in the general improvement scheme by repairing their out buildings and keeping all horses, cows, pigs, and geese off the streets.” A few years later, on March 25, 1910, Gant’s work as the local dog catcher is mentioned in the Echo which says “P.M. McGee dealt out justice last week to those against whom charges were made by local Dog Catcher Gant for not obeying the muzzling regulations. Fines of $1 and costs were imposed. Since then Prof. Gant is said to have invested in a coat of mail, which he wears under his business suit, a pair of double riveted shin pads, a helmet and brass knuckles, to be ready for any emergency.” The Echo also mentions that John Gant “developed into a tobacco planter and was growing tobacco with leaves 3 feet, 2 inches long and 18 inches across.”

John Gant also contributed articles to the local press. On April 29, 1910, the Amherstburg Echo printed an editorial written by Gant titled “Prof. John Gant to the Rescue” which said “Rev. T.J. Henderson preached a very able and instructive farewell sermon to the sailors one Sabbath evening recently. In part he congratulated them on their beautiful homes and he regretted to say that there was very little offered them to do here; and it was of such a small nature that a colored man could not justify himself in doing it without degrading his honor. I take this opportunity of correcting the learned pastor and will illustrate I have earned a good living in Amherstburg for 45 years and in that time I have noticed colored school teachers graduate and colored lawyers get their start here. I myself have graduated 22 professional barbers, which profession of late years is considered perfectly legitimate, especially by my white brother students; as for myself. I have been given several positions of trust, sanitary inspector, collector of dog tax, county as well as town constable, which are all perfectly legitimate because I succeeded white men of trust. Now my theory is that God helps those who try to help themselves. I further beg to say that my position of trust is just as legitimate as that of the pastor, lawyer, storekeeper, school teacher, or any other profession or calling requiring intelligence and judgement.”

The editorial continues by saying “Now as for the municipal honors that have been conferred on my colored brethren here: Ezekiel Stevens served as councillor with honor attached to his record. John Wesley served as trustee of our Public schools with honor to himself and to the satisfaction of the people. David H. Smith served faithfully as councilman several terms, had the honor of being nominated for mayor, and would have been elected if it had not been that the other man had the most votes. Now we colored men can not all be sailors’ some of us must stay at home and see to it in these dangerous dog days, that the dogs are kept muzzled so that the sailor’s wives and children are safe in their absence, and this is a legitimate occupation. Now I am proud today that the best people of Amherstburg commend me in the discharge of my duties, so I have nothing to fear and lots to hope for. I remain respectfully, the servant of the people. – JOHN GANT, Sanitary Inspector and Collector of Dog Tax. Amherstburg, April 20th, 1910.”

A second editorial appeared in the Echo on February 18, 1916 titled “A Blast from Prof. Gant” which said “Mr. Editor: – While in Hamilton and Toronto last week, I saw in both cities hundreds of volunteers with several Afro-Americans in the ranks. At one time I saw 800 on the double quick march. It reminded me of the Fenian Invasion of years ago when they fought together as one man. I am proud of my people fighting for the flag that gave them liberty and equal franchise. Now it is up to them to make good. If I were 45 instead of 70, I would be in the ranks, head, neck and shoulders. PROF. J. GANT.”

What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps.  See you next week for part 2.

                                                      The Gant Family History Part 2 – A Second Professor

Interestingly, ‘Professor’ John Gant also had a brother who was also referred to as ‘Professor’. His name was ‘Professor’ Jesse Gant and he lived in Hamilton and also worked as a barber. On January 26, 1882, he married Julia Hewitt, the daughter of Edward and Emma Hewitt. This record also reveals the name of Jesse’s parents, David Edward and Roxanna Gant. Sadly, Jesse passed away on January 18, 1905 in Hamilton at the age of 54. Jesse and Julia had at least five children named Oscar John Edward, Jesse Robert, Harry Bunyan, Joseph Talmage and Lucinda. Oscar was born on April 5, 1883 in Hamilton. He later married Louise Leona Jennings, the daughter of Charles Jennings and Nancy Lucile Washington, on January 31, 1907 in Manhattan, New York. Louise may have passed away within the next ten years because the 1915 New York Census, Oscar’s Naturalization Record (1917) and Oscar’s WWI Draft Registration Card both list his wife as Alice. The 1915 New York Census lists Alice’s mother as Missouri Payne who is also recorded under their household.

Oscar’s brother Jesse Robert Gant was born on November 30, 1884 in Hamilton, but he sadly passed away at the age of 3 on December 19, 1887. Jesse’s brother Harry Bunyan Gant was born on November 12, 1886 in Hamilton, while Harry’s brother Joseph Talmage Gant was born on June 4, 1889. He passed away on May 15, 1939 in Queens, New York. His death record also reveals that he worked as a Clerk and his wife’s name was Adele. Joseph’s sister Lucinda was born in April 8, 1891 in Hamilton.

Thanks to the Marsh Collection, we have a copy of a letter written by Jesse Gant to his brother John which discusses his arrival home after visiting this area. In the letter, Jesse writes “Hamilton, July 21, 1886 – Dear Brother I arrived home all right Saturday afternoon. I got home on that ticket but not without some little trouble. Well I found them all well and glad to see me between Julia, Oscar, Jesse and the dog. You could not hear your ears for about a half hour after I got in the house and just as things had got quieted won a little Rebecca came walking in and that settled it she wanted to know everything at once and as I did not feel much like talking. I promised her that I would tell her all about my visit next day which was Sunday so by this time every person in the community has an idea of what kind of a time I had during the short visit I made west. I will write you a long letter next time which will I hope prove of more interest to you. Ma Croford [Crawford] was very kind to me while I was in Amherstburg. The more I see of her the better I like her [.] The next time I come I will bring the whole family black and tan dog and all my love to your Papa. Kiss tippie and Mama for me and my angels guard guide Keep and Protect you all. I am as ever your loving brother, Prof. J. Gant. 186 James St. North, Hamilton, Ont. P.S. enclosed you will find my letter to the mornings and evenings Spectator concerning my visit.”

We have the Marsh Collection to thank again for providing the newspaper article that Jesse wrote and included with his letter to John from the Hamilton Spectator. The last few sentences of the article are illegible or cut off, but I was able to transcribe the majority of the article. It says “PROF. GANT TRAVELS – To the Editor: Having taken advantage of the cheapness of the grand Masonic excursion that was gotten up and left here for Detroit on the 13th inst. and having had such a pleasant time on my trip and during my stay in that city, I feel that it would not be out of place to say that there cannot be to much praise given the committee of management of the above mentioned excursion for the successful efforts they put forth to make it more than pleasant for the many car loads of pleasure seekers that went with them, and also the courtesy shown us by the people of Detroit. I for one had what they call an Aunt Dolly’s time. I stayed just a little over three days, but in that three days I had nine days pleasure. So you see I made the best of my time. I met there a great many friends and acquaintances from different parts of the world in which I have been, also quite a number of old Hamilton boys who are looking and doing well. Some of them are working at their different trades and some of them have got to be professional sports but all seem to be getting along nicely. Many Hamilton friends of Mr. Dick Thompson, champion wrestler and ex-hotel keeper of this city, will learn with pleasure that he is now in Detroit keeping a first-class sample room and restaurant at No. 96 Jefferson avenue, and is the headquarters for all the sports. Also Mr. J. McCarthy, the famous left handed barber, that at one time was foreman at the late J.H. Bland’s shop, Hughson street, has worked himself up by his gentlemanly deportment to become to be just as popular with the leading or better class of the people of Detroit as he was with our citizens, and thereby secured for himself the position of foreman of one of the finest tonsorial establishments west of New York, kept by George Alling, a gentleman in every sense of the word. Also I assure the patrons and guests of the Royal hotel of this city will be pleased to learn that Aron Adley of this city and once a bell boy of the Royal, is now head bell man in the Russell house, the leading hotel in Detroit. They say that all of their friends will see them here to take part in the first of August celebration. Before leaving for home I took a run down the river as far as Amherstburg to pay my brother a short visit, on that beautiful steamer, the City of Cleveland, that runs between Detroit and Cleveland. By the by, little Freddie Slaughter, late of Tuckett & Son, is nightwatchman on the steamer. He is looking and doing well, as his friends will be pleased to learn. I returned to Detroit on the fast steamer, the Saginaw, in time to take the train which brought me here at 2:10 p.m. And as I write I regret to say that I could not stay longer, and those of the citizens of Hamilton that did not take in that excursion missed the … that was ever offered them.”

What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps.  See you next week for part 3.

                                                   The Gant Family History Part 3 – Living in Georgetown

An Echo article from July 1, 1910 also reveals other siblings of John Gant. The article says “Prof. Gant left via G.T.R. International Limited on Sunday last for Georgetown, Ont., where he will visit his brother, David Gant. At Hamilton, he will visit his sister, Mrs. R. Jackson, and will call on the old Yorkville boys and talk of days of yore. He expects to be away two weeks if he can stand the banquets arranged for his visit. The dogs in town have taken their muzzles off and will enjoy the holiday as much as their Inspector.” According to the 1861 York Census, John had other siblings including Amie/Annie, Lucinda, Barbara and what looks like the name Lepis. I was able to find information for David and Lucinda.

David lived in Georgetown, Ontario where he worked as a Barber on Mill Street. The 1881 Census lists David and his wife Margaret (Milne/Milue) and their children Paul, Margaret, Albert, Robert, David Jr., and Faith. The next Census from 1891lists David as widowed, but still working as a Barber. Sadly, David Jr. passed away at the age of 5 years on August 25, 1883. I was also able to find the death record for another child of David and Margaret, Faith Ellen Gant. She passed away on April 20, 1922 in Brantford at the age of 39. She is listed as a housewife, but no husband is listed and she still goes by the last name Gant so whether she was married is unclear. I found two articles in The Georgetown Herald that mention David. The first is from December 17, 1913 and talks about David’s work as a Barber. It says “David Gant, Barber – In point of age Mr. Gant must be classed with the veterans, being now in his 75th year, though looking twelve or fifteen years younger. For thirty-five years he has been cutting the hair, trimming the whiskers and shaving the faces of Georgetown people, having come here from Toronto where he had been engaged in the same business in 1878. For thirty years he has occupied the shop he is now in, a basement at the rear of the Hotel McGibbon.”

The second article, titled ‘Some Notes on Old Georgetown’ which reflects on the town’s history is from November 2, 1967. The article says “Back again in Mill Street, there was David Gant, barber in a down-stairs shop of the hotel. I wonder where his son Paul went to and where is now?”

According to his death record, David passed away on December 27, 1913 in Georgetown, Ontario at the age of 75. It also says he was born in Toronto circa 1838. Margaret’s death record states that she passed away at the age of 80 on January 2, 1918. Her headstone says “Margaret Gant died Jan. 2, 1918 aged 80 years.” It also says “Ada Milne, daughter of the above died Dec. 16, 1900 age 16 years.” It is likely that Milne was Margaret’s married name from a previous marriage.

David Gant’s sister Lucinda married John R. Butler. Lucinda’s death record says that she was the daughter of Edward Gant, born in Toronto circa 1849 and died on January 2, 1924 in Chicago, Illinois at the age of 75. The informant on her death record is Lucinda’s son Jesse Butler, who was likely named after Lucinda’s brother Jesse Gant. I was also able to locate John Butler’s death record. He died on July 18, 1925 in Bremen, Illinois. He was a labourer and born in St. Mary’s, Maryland on July 20, 1925. John and Lucinda’s son Jesse was born circa 1870 and died at the age of 55 on December 14, 1925 in Chicago, Illinois. He worked as an Elevator Operator. The 1880 Census reveals that John and Lucinda had another child named Ann, but I could not find any information for her.

What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps.  See you next week for part 4.

                                                        The Gant Family History Part 4 – We Remember

Sadly, on September 13, 1918, the Echo reported that John Gant passed away. His obituary says “John Gant, a well-known citizen of Amherstburg and vicinity, passed away late Wednesday afternoon in the 73rd year of his age. He had been poorly for over a year with heart and kidney trouble and his death had been expected for three months. Mr. Gant was born in Little York (Toronto) August 1, 1846, and came to Amherstburg in 1869, following the American war, in which he served and on account of which he drew a pension. He was married at the First Baptist church, Amherstburg, in 1869, to Miss Martha Joiner, step-daughter of the late George Crawford, by Rev. R. Dulin. They had double bridesmaids and groomsmen – Misses Louis and Elizabeth Foster and Wm. Southard and David Foster. Their union was childless. Mr. Gant conducted a barber shop in town for nearly half a century. He took an active interest in municipal affairs, was Sanitary Officer and dog tax collector for many years and a county constable. He also was active in Dominion and Provincial politics as a staunch Liberal.”

Even after John Gant passed away, there were references to his life and work in newspaper articles and even a recent publication. Over a decade after he passed, on July 21, 1933, the Echo shared an article titled “Remodelling of Florey Block Recalls Famous Character- – Prof. John Gant Used to Remodel Young Bloods of Amherstburg.” It says “The Florey Block of Dalhousie Street that is having its face lifted and remodelled, was once an establishment for doing that very thing to the masculine population of Amherstburg. We say masculine, for in the good old days a woman sitting in a barber’s chair would have created enough gossip to keep three sewing circles and a flock of pink teas in conversation for weeks. The men had this barber shop all to themselves, and it was no ordinary place of business. No siree, Bob! Several decades ago Professor John Gant (we give you his full title) ran a real hightoned tonsorial parlor in the basement of the block. He was dubbed professor by common consent, for he made a profession out of his trade. When the professor finished slicking up one of his clients with a can of bear’s grease, the object of his ministrations, the gay young blade, could get through all the rigors of post-office and forfeits without turning a hair. And his work on a moustache would make any ‘mellerdrammer villun’ mutter enviously. The professor believed in dressing his part, too, and it was a sight of a morning to see him march down the street clad in a high silk hat, Prince Albert coat, lavender trousers, no less, and, as they say in marriage columns, with matching accessories. He was one of the staunch Liberals, and was always appointed a delegate from Amherstburg to attend conventions.”

The article also says “What this started out to be was a short history of the famous building now known as the Florey Block, but the professor is stealing the show. But he was the central figure in his circle in life, and now his memory is intertwined with the building he occupied. Previous to his tenancy it was a famous hostel, known as the British American Hotel. That was over 100 years ago. Since the professor’s time it has been used chiefly as a gents’ furnishings and merchant tailors’ shop. M. Lawler was the first tailor to occupy the premises. His successors were H.Y. Pickering and James Lester. When these two dissolved partnership Mr. Pickering took over the business and after him it was occupied by Arthur Reynolds, the last one to use it as a place of business. The upper part has been used for some time as a dwelling house. Mr. Florey intends placing a new front on the building and changing its entire outward appearance. He intends it to be one of the most modern business places in town. The new front will undoubtedly add greatly to the appearance of the street.”

A week later, on July 28, 1933, the Echo printed a response letter to the previously mentioned article which said “I was much interested in your write up of the old Webber House in the town of Amherstburg, especially the mention of ‘Prof. John Gant’ with his usual ‘A nice clean easy shave, five cents.’ His name brings to mind an incident which happened in the early nineties. As ‘Professor’ was an ardent Liberal in politics, and always attended the conventions of the party, at this time there was to be a convention in Toronto for some special purpose. He was asked by one of the Liberals to attend as a delegate. The Professor said he would like to go, but unfortunately he did not have suitable clothes to appear as he should. However, it was arranged he was to go to the other’s house immediately (as the time was short) and he would be given a suitable pair of pants. John forthwith proceeded to the friend’s house for the pants. It happened that the said friend had just bought a new suit of clothes which required some minor alterations and when Mr. Gant informed the good lady that her husband had sent him for the clothes, she thought he was to make the alterations, so she gave him the whole suit. Imagine the feelings of the friend when he arrived home and found what had happened. Needless to say the Professor attended the convention. – W.P.C.”

The Windsor Star also refers to ‘Professor’ John Gant on May 15, 1954 in the article “Buffalo Bill’ Haircuts Once Vogue” which says “Barbers still retain their reputation for being talkative souls. There are those who say that some of them are too talkative. But who still remembers the barber in Amherstburg who was so talkative and well versed in the affairs of men that they dubbed him ‘Professor’ Gant?”

Two decades later, references to Gant still appear in the Echo regarding his participation in Emancipation day celebrations. On July 31, 1974 an article mentions “This event has been observed in Amherstburg for many, many years. In the old days the event was heralded by a parade in which members of Lincoln Lodge took part. Prominent person in the parade was the late Professor John Gant.” While on July 30, 1980 another article refers to him as a “six-footer – who wore a silk plug hat and took a prominent part in these annual events.”

The recent publication Heritage Buildings of Amherstburg by Meg Reiner of the Marsh Collection includes a reference to Gant on page 40 which says “257-263 Dalhousie -John Gant, known locally as ‘the Professor,’ operated the Twilight Barber Shop in the former basement saloon at its north end. He was an Amherstburg barber for almost fifty years, and his popular shop was referred in the article as a ‘high-toned tonsorial parlour. In local advertisements, Gant described himself as the official barber to both the mechanic and labourer, and often shared his motto: ‘Live and Let Live.’ Born in Toronto, Professor Gant came to town after service in the American Civil War. In addition to his barbershop, Gant was a town and county constable, sanitary officer and dog tax collector.”

What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps.  See you next week where we will celebrate another amazing family.