Wheeling Gaunt, (Whelan Gant) was born about 1815 in Carrell County, Kentucky. As an African American being born south of the Ohio River during this period meant that Wheeling would have spent most of his life in slavery. Not much is known about Wheeling’s life before he came to Yellow Springs sometime after 1860. We do know that at the age of four, Wheeling’s mother was sold and sent into the deep south never to be seen again. We also know that Wheeling managed to save money and in 1845 purchased his freedom for $900 (the equivalent of $21,413 today). Gaunt went on to purchase his wife, Amanda, for $500 (the equivalent of $11,896 today) and someone by the name of Nick Gaunt for $799 (the equivalent of $16,654 today).The 1870 Federal Census indicates that Gaunt was a day laborer and that the value of his real estate was $4,000 (that would be $70,087 by today’s standards) and the value of his personal estate was $6,000 ($105,130 today). Deed records indicate that Mr. Gaunt owned real estate in Yellow Springs, and other areas of Greene County. Gaunt was very involved in Wilberforce University and in his will he left the majority of his estate to the school. Gaunt also left nine acres to the Village of Yellow Springs with a stipulation that the proceeds from the rent be used to purchase flour for the widows of the village (regardless of their ethnicity). This tradition came to be known as the Christmas Flour and continues to this day.
Wheeling was a member of the A.M.E. church and in the spirit of giving, it is believed that he purchased a bell for the church shortly after it was built in 1866. Gaunt also made sure that he left part of his estate to the A.M.E. Church. Gaunt seems to have been very successful in investing his money and therefore had the ability to give to those who were not as fortunate as he was. Wheeling’s first wife, Amanda, died in 1889, and is buried in Glen Forest Cemetery. In July 1890, Wheeling was married to Elizabeth Nichols.
On May 8, 1894, Gaunt died of Bright’s disease (kidney disease). It is clear in reading his obituary and death notices that he was a very well respected resident of this village. Wheeling Gaunt was clearly an influential man in our community and has clearly touched the lives of many throughout the years.