I have had an opportunity, over the last few months, to find and read a growing number of manumission papers that have been discovered among deed records at the Greene County Records Center and Archives. Each manumission paper begins to tell the story of an individual or a family that was brought to Greene County and freed from the cruel bondage of slavery. As I begin to look into these individuals and the lives they left behind in the south along with the lives that they built here in Greene County, I am amazed by the resilience and the courage of these individuals. I would love to have an opportunity to meet and talk to these families in order to fully understand their stories.
One such person that if I had an opportunity to travel back in time and meet would be Wheeling Gaunt. Like many of the people that I have recently been researching, Wheeling seems to have overcome a great deal of adversity in his lifetime and was an inspiration for others.
As published in the Xenia Gazette on December 1, 1887:
A Noble Deed
An Aged Colored Man Wills $30,000 to Wilberforce University
A few days since President Mitchell, of Wilberforce University, and Bishop Payne, having heard rumors that an aged colored man, named Wheeling Gant, of Yellow Springs, had made his will and had bequeathed his whole estate to the University, concluded to drive over and see the gentleman and learn if the rumor was true. They did so, and to their great satisfaction had the pleasure of hearing from the old gentleman, himself, that what they had heard was a fact, and that he thought the estate would amount to about $30,000 (approximately $739,375 by today’s standards).
He told them that he had always felt a great interest in Wilberforce University, and that having no children, he had concluded that was about the best disposition he could make of his estate. His aged companion was also present at the interview, and expressed herself as fully in accord with her husband in the matter. Of course, the bequest does not accrue to the University until the death of both husband and wife. They are now each aged about seventy years.
Ex-Mayor Means, of Cincinnati, has managed the old gentleman’s estate, and we learn that he has said that it will amount to more than what Mr. Gant puts it at. It consists of real estate in Yellow Springs and Xenia, and government bonds. Mr. Gant’s business in life was that of a professional gardener.
No institution in the country is doing a grander work for humanity that Wilberforce University, and we rejoice at the news of Mr. Gant’s noble deed.