From Ohio History Central
Nelson Gant was a former slave and conductor on the Underground Railroad.
Gant was born into slavery on May 10, 1821, in Loudoun County, Virginia. Gant spent his time as a slave as his master's body servant. In September 1845, upon his owner's death, Gant received his freedom. He spent the next year in Virginia, selling firewood. He hoped to earn enough money to purchase his wife, Anna Marie Hughes, who was a slave in Virginia. Before earning enough money to secure his wife's freedom, Gant came to Zanesville, Ohio. Local abolitionists, especially Quakers, helped Gant raise money to purchase his wife. Finally, in February 1847, Gant secured his wife's freedom from her owner in Leesburg, Virginia.
The reunited Gants settled in Zanesville. Nelson Gant eventually owned three hundred acres of land. Gant earned a living as a farmer, but he also owned a saltlick and a coal mine. The Gants enrolled their children in Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. The Gants also actively assisted fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad. Nelson Gant eventually sold twenty acres of land to the Townsend Brick Company, which turned the land into a public park. This property became Gant Park, and it is now the home of Municipal Stadium in Zanesville.
Nelson Gant died on July 14, 1905.
Gant represents the growing tensions over slavery between Northerners and Southerners during the early nineteenth century. While many Northern states had provisions outlawing slavery, runaway slaves did not necessarily gain their freedom upon arriving in a free state. Despite arriving in a free state, fugitive slaves, like Gant, could still be forcibly returned to their owners. Some slaves managed to escape their owners on their own, while others sometimes received assistance from sympathetic Northerners. Even upon arriving in the North, including in Ohio, many African Americans still endured racism in their new communities. However, many of these African Americans, like Gant, were able to lead successful lives.
- "Abolitionism in Zanesville, Muskingum County, Ohio." The Wilbur H. Siebert Underground Railroad Collection. The Ohio Historical Society. Columbus, OH.
- Sutor, J. Hope. Past and Present of the City of Zanesville and Muskingum County, Ohio. Chicago, IL: n.p., 1905.