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Davenport Daily Gazette, May 14, 1884, page 2.


  On Thursday last the steamer St. Paul landed at the boat yard about 20,000 feet of oak lumber for the boat being built by Van Sant & Edwards.  The lumber came from Indiana and is as fine a lot as has ever been seen in this vicinity.


Davenport Democrat and Leader, Monday, November 11, 1912, page 3


  Among the early industries was the LeClaire boatyard and ways, built and first owned by Peter King, then J. W. Van Sant, father of Ex-Governor S. R. Van Sant, enlarged and owned same while in operation, interest retained by heirs.  Many packets and rafters were built, repaired and docked here and furnished work for many.  Among the boats mentioned a few were the Stillwater, LeClaire Belle, Volunteer, Eclipse, Rambo, Pilot and many others.  The late F. J. Thompson was last foreman.




 The Davenport Times, Tuesday, February 25, 1902, page 1





Capt. J. W. Van Sant of LeClaire Passes Away












He Was the Father of Governor Van Sant of Minnesota

with Whom He Controlled a Large Fleet of Rafting Boats.



(Special to the Times.)

     LeClaire, Feb. 25.--Captain John Wesley Van Sant, father of Governor S. R. Van Sant of Minnesota, died last evening, falling dead at 7:30 o’clock while eating his supper.  He had been considered a vigorous old man for his age, but during the last few weeks dropsy set in and it was this disease which was his immediate cause of his death.  Captain Van Sant is well known up and down the length of the river where his steamers have piled, in Rock Island and Milan where he lived and in the latter place having taught school at an early age, and in Davenport, where he was known to nearly all the businessmen.


     The funeral arrangements have not yet been made as the family is waiting for the governor and other members of the family, who have not yet arrived.


Story of His Life


     John Wesley Van Sant was one of the oldest residents in Eastern Iowa and he traced his lineage back to the old world.  The Van Sant stock, however, has been American since the founding of the Republic.  The Van Sants took a prominent part in the war of the Revolution.  The names, which have been variously spelled Van Sant, Vansandt and Van Zandt, had its origin in Holland.  The family traces the exact spelling of their name back at least to 1706, where in Richmond County, N. Y., where the names of Stoffel and Rachael Vansant appears.  There is also somewhere some Spanish blood in the family, a thing which the present generation in the light of the last war, are not laying much emphasis on, preferring to show that as a result of life in Holland the ancestors acquired the honorary title of Von or Van.


His Parents


     Mr. Van Sant’s parents’ names were Nicholas and Mercy Van Sant.  He was born November 9, 1788, and his wife was born a little more than a year later.  They were married December 23, 1853(?), and the marriage resulted in their happy union for more than 70 years.  They were both devout Christians and much of their training has descended to their son whose anniversary was celebrated today.  When Nichols Van Sant was about two years old his parents moved to Bass River, now Gretna, Burlington County, N. J.  There later he farmed and supported his parents.  His father had built ships and had sailed the world over with them.  It was not long till the son took up the craft of shipbuilding.  At the age of 26 Nicholas took up arms with the people against Great Britain.  Later he took up his father’s business as a shipwright.  He continued at this business for more than 50 years.  It is said that he built the first built boat ever constructed at Newport News: there cutting the timber from the forest and rigging out a sea-going vessel.


The Van Sant Family


     John Wesley Van Sant was the oldest of a family of nine children, two of whom died in infancy.  The other children are Joel, who died in 1895.  James, a minister, Rebecca, Samuel, Nicholas, Nathaniel D., and Mary Ann.  The young man soon came to be recognized not only as the eldest but the best one of the family.  The story is told of his early youth, that he had an Irish friend named David Patterson, who had been a wild fellow good for nothing till he met young Van Sant, and came under his influence.  Young Van Sant was always (?) a very religious turn of mind and he was at once a student as well as a worshipper.


    It was but a short time till all the members of the family became interested and organized a home school of etudes in grammar, orthography, pronunciation and the general use of words.  As an illustration of his early earnestness in religious affairs.  It may be stated that he and his friend Rollin Ashley used often to hold private prayer meetings in the church at Bass River after the congregation had dispersed.  He was early appointed a class leader in the Methodist Episcopal Church and was afterwards licensed as an exhorter.  In 1831 at the age of 21 he was married to Miss Lydia Anderson and not long after that he moved to the “far west” as the state of Ohio, Illinois and adjacent  states was then called.  After some delay he settled in Rock Island, Ill., where he established a successful business in steamboat building and repairing.


The Mary Blaine


     After he had been at Rock Island but a short time he went to Burlington and there built his first boat in the west.  It was called the “Mary Blaine” and many there are who remember this steamer and say that it was one of the prettiest that the waves of the Mississippi ever floated.


Moved to LeClaire


     In 1865 the family moved from Rock Island to LeClaire.  These two charming old people have lived there since that time.  Mr. Van Sant continued to manage his boatyard up to 10 or 12 years ago.  He built the steamer “Volunteer” after he was 80 years of age.  He owned large property interests at LeClaire and had an interest in the log towing fleet of steamers among which are the boats named after himself and wife, the “J. W. Van Sant” and the bowboat “Lydia Van Sant.”  The governor of Minnesota, S. R. Van Sant, has looked after the business end of the raft fleet for years.


Mrs. Van Sant


     Mrs. Lydia Van Sant was born at Toms River, N.J., May 5, 1812.  Her maiden name was Anderson.  Her father traced the family history back though many generations to proud English families.  There was blue blood in his veins.  The family crest was a familiar sight to Mrs. Van Sant in her youth.  But she was a devout Christian woman and was always to be found in her place at the church at Toms River.  The story is told that Mr. Van Sant went over to Toms River one day with the itinerate preacher.  It was Saturday.  They were invited to the Anderson home and there remained until the close of the services on Sunday.


     When he left that Sunday evening he was invited to return again, an invitation which he was not the least bit loath to accept.  Two years after this accidental meeting they were married and she, weighed down with the burden of her years survive him.  Besides his aged wife the following sons and daughters survive:  A. C. Van Sant, Nicholas G. Van Sant, Hon. Sam R. Van Sant, Mrs. Lester Harris and Mrs. Nellie Taylor.


The Sons and Daughters


     A. C. Van Sant married Ella Chamberlin of Princeton and they now live in Omaha.  They have four children, John Clark of Omaha; Frank, a farmer in Kansas; Wilbur W., of Chicago, and Elizabeth at home, in Chicago.


     Miss Hester Van Sant married T. C. Harris at Rock Island.  Mr. Harris is now dead.  Their children are Mrs. Francis A. Burton of Los Angeles, Cal., Mrs. Mary Louise Holden of Hampton, Ill.; John W. Harris, M. D. of Morris, Minn.; George W. Harris, R.D.S., of Fergus Falls, Minn., and Miss Ella L. Russell of Los Angeles.


     Governor Samuel R. van Sant was married to Miss Ruth Hall at LeClaire.  He has one son, Grant Van Sant.


     Nicholas G. Van Sant married Miss Ella Golder of Sterling, Ill., and has no children.  He is a traveler and has journeyed around the world several times.  His lectures on his travels are in demand.


     Elias Van Sant died three years ago and his death was the first which had occurred in the family for 55 years.


    Miss Nellie Van Sant was married to S. B. Taylor.  Their home is in Princeton.  Mr. Taylor has extensive interests in rice lands in Louisiana.  Their children are Olive Taylor, who teaches in Minneapolis; Ralph Taylor at the rice plantations in the south; Blain Taylor, a student at Cornell College at Mt. Vernon, Ia.; and Nanny Taylor, who is at home.


    There are six grandchildren of the deceased now living.


His Last Anniversary


     The seventieth anniversary of the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Van Sant was celebrated at their modest home in LeClaire last October and it called together a reunion of the entire Van Sant family.  Governor Shaw was one of the guests of the occasion.  The event was noted by the press of the country generally at the time.  The venerable father of the family attended the meeting held in the town hall in the evening of the festal day, and while he sat on the stage, he listened to the address of his son, the governor of Minnesota, with an intensity of interest that impressed the large audience.  The death of the venerable pioneer will be read with deep regret by hundreds in all parts of the country and wherever he was known.

The Van Sant Family

Lydia & John W. Van Sant

Front row, seated left to right: Clarke, John W., Lydia, Elias, Nellie

Back row, standing left to right: Hester, Samuel, Nicholas





The Davenport Democrat, February 26, 1902, page 7.








The Pioneer Boat-builder Dies Suddenly at His Home at LeClaire.


     Having lived until his 93rd year, John Wesley Van Sant died suddenly at his home in LeClaire Monday evening.  While sitting at the supper table, enjoying his evening meal, he sank back in his chair and breathed his last.


     The deceased was the venerable father of Captain Sam Van Sant, governor of Minnesota, was in his time the most prominent boat builder on the upper Mississippi, and last October with his wife enjoyed the unusual felicity of celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary.


     Mr. Van Sant was a native of New Jersey, born there in 1810.  He came of a long-lived family, his father living to be 91, and his grandfather to 94, the three generations reaching back to 50 years before the Revolutionary war.


     Having come to Rock Island six years after their marriage, Mr. Van Sant counted 65 years residence in this vicinity, and was thus one of the pioneers of Illinois.  After removing from Rock Island to LeClaire, Mr. Van Sant was the head of the big shipbuilding business of Van Sant & Zebley, which built many of the most noted old rafters on the Mississippi river.  He was noted as the best boat designer and most skillful ship’s carpenter on the river.  The brother Jonathan, the LeClaire Belle, the D. A. McDonald, the Silver Wave, the Stillwater, Rambo, Pilot, Musser, J. W. Van Sant and others whose names spring readily to the lips of every old steamboat man, all attested to his fame.  He never really retired, for up to recent days the care and repair of the boats of the Van Sant & Musser Transportation Company, in which he had retained an interest, occupied much of his attention and time during the winter months.


     Mr. Van Sant was the son of a Methodist minister, was a good lay preacher in his youth, and a devout worshipper all his life, a chair having been reserved for him on the platform of the Methodist Church at LeClaire for years, in order that falling hearing might not deprive him of any portion of the pastor’s sermon.


     The surviving family consists of the wife and A. C. Van Sant of Omaha, Neb., Mrs. T. C. Harris of LeClaire; Governor Sam Van Sant of Minnesota; N. G. Van Sant of Sterling, Ill., and Mrs. T. B. Taylor of Hampton, Ia.  Grand children and great grandchildren increase the number of their descendants to half a hundred.


     Governor Van Sant and his son Grant arrived at LeClaire last night, and Nicholas Van Sant of Sterling, Ill., who has been in Florida, telegraphed that he would reach the old home tonight.


     The funeral will take place at 2 o’clock tomorrow afternoon, with services in the Methodist Church in LeClaire.




Davenport Republican, Wednesday, February 26, 1902, page 6.








He was 92 years of Age and One of the Earliest Pioneers in This Part of the Country

-- Came of Long-lived, Seafaring and Patriotic Stock

-- Father of Present Governor of Minnesota.



     The death of Captain John Wesley Van Sant took place at his home in LeClaire Monday evening at 7:30.  He fell dead while he was engaged in eating his supper.  Dropsy, which had developed rapidly within the past few weeks, is regarded as the immediate occasion of the end of the life of one of the oldest and best-known settlers and river men in this part of the country.


     John Wesley Van Sant was born in New Jersey in 1810, consequently was in his 93rd year.  His wife, Lydia Anderson, was born in the same state in 1812, and is now in her 91st year.


An Early Pioneer.


     This old couple were early pioneers in Illinois, going to that state in 1837, landing at Rock Island--at that time called Stephenson.  They settled on a piece of land on Rock River, nearby, Mr. Van Sant and his young family suffered all the privations of early pioneer life.  He soon abandoned his farm on Rock River.  (It overflowed every spring.)  During winter, he taught school, worked at carpenter work or did odd jobs in order to make a living for his family.  He moved to Rock Island and worked in the boat yard, and soon after became its foreman.  Later he bought the boat yard and had ever since been engaged in the building, repairing and running of steamers on the Mississippi River.  He had learned the trade of shipbuilder prior to coming west.  His ancestors before him were sea-faring men and vessel builders, and it was said of his grandfather that he could build and rig a vessel and sail her to any part of the world.  He was in the navel service of the government during the revolutionary war.  It is fortunate that the cause of the Patriots succeeded; else, the founder of this family might have been hanged as a pirate.  His father was a soldier in the war of 1812, and while the subject of our sketch was too old to go to war for the Union, his two young sons, Samuel and Nicholas, did.  Thus, it will be seen that this family was always patriotic.


     John Wesley Van Sant had been a member of the Methodist Church since childhood.  The father of Van Sant was a Methodist preacher, a great admirer of John Wesley, and he named his first born after that distinguished divine.


A Wonderful Record.


     Van Sant’s father died at the age of 91, and his grandfather at the age of 94, so that these three men reach back to the year 1726 -- the year of the birth of Johannes Van Sant, the founder of this family-- or 50 years before the Revolutionary War.  A wonderful record for three generations!


    Lydia Van Sant (nee Anderson) also comes from a long-lived family.  Her father was a Revolutionary soldier, and it was very rarely that a son or daughter of the American Revolution is found living.  She is the daughter of Elias Anderson, a Revolutionary soldier.


The Survivors.


     One can scarcely realize the vast improvements since the old couple came west.   Within a radius of 20 miles of the old farm on Rock River are found three populous cities, Davenport, Rock Island and Moline, and within the same radius more than 100,000 happy and contented people live.  J. W. and Lydia Van Sant had eight children born to them, five of whom are still living:  Prof. A. C. Van Sant of Omaha, Neb., Mrs. T. C. Harris, who is at present living with and taking care of the old people: S. R. Van Sant, present Governor of Minnesota: N. G. Van Sant of Sterling, Ill., and Mrs. T. B. Taylor of Hampton, Ia.  One son, E. A. Van Sant, died in 1896 at Peoria, Ill., aged 60.  The other two children died in infancy.  There are some 50 children, grandchildren and great grandchildren living in different parts of the country.


     Van Sant moved to LeClaire in 1864, and two or three years later, with his son, Samuel, formed a partnership, since which time they have been building and operating steamboats on the Mississippi River.  He was at his death owner with his son, of several steamboats plying the Mississippi River.  In fact, they built the first boat with large power purposely for the rafting industry.


     The funeral announcement will be made later.




The Davenport Times, Wednesday, February 26, 1902, page 5.





It Will be Held Thursday Afternoon from the Old Home in LeClaire



  Gov. Sam R. Van Sant has arrived from Minnesota and the other members of his father’s family who have not arrived will be here tonight, to attend the funeral of the late J. W. Van Sant, which will be held from the old home in LeClaire, Thursday afternoon at 3 o’clock, with services in the Methodist Church of that place, of which the deceased had been a member for so many years.  The obsequies will be largely attended by many of the old-time residents of the country.  The internment will be in the LeClaire Cemetery.


John W. Van Sant

Jan 8, 1810

Feb 24, 1902


Lydia (Anderson) Van Sant

May 5, 1812

March 2, 1906

Photo by Bob Jones




Collected and Transcribed by

Sue Rekkas

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