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Gano was raised as a Presbyterian. His father was a descendant of French Calvinists (Huguenots) and his mother of English Baptists. After a powerful conversion experience, John Gano eventually became a Calvinist Baptist as a young man after a period of intense study. Gano left the family farm to study at Princeton University (then the College of New Jersey) but left before graduating. Gano was ordained as pastor of the Scotch Plains, New Jersey, Baptist Church on May 29, 1754. In 1760, he became the founding pastor of what later became the First Baptist Church in the City of New York. Gano served as pastor of the New York Church until 1787, however, he made long itinerant trips evangelizing throughout the thirteen colonies, asserting
Gano travelled throughout the South, Middle Atlantic States, and New England, sometimes being away from home for as long as two years. In 1764, Gano joined several others as an original fellow or trustee for the chartering of the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (the former name for Brown University, originally a Baptist school).
During the American Revolution, Gano served as a soldier and a chaplain for the Continental Army, and was chosen by General Washington to say a prayer marking the official end of the American Revolutionary War in 1783. After the War, Gano returned to his congregation in New York, and in 1787 he moved to Kentucky where he lived until his death in 1804. Gano is buried in the Daughters Of The Revolutionary War Section of the Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky just beyond Daniel Boone's grave. Before his death, Gano wrote and published an autobiography of his life.
Gano's descendants include billionaire Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., whose mother was Allene (Gano) Hughes; Rev. Stephen Gano; Admiral Roy Alexander Gano; Confederate States of America General Richard Montgomery Gano, and Union General Stephen Gano Burbridge.
Alleged baptism of George Washington
In 1889 two of Gano's grandchildren claimed in an affidavit that Gano's eldest daughter told them that Gano had baptized Washington by immersion at Valley Forge when he was one of Washington's chaplains. The story is rejected by a portion of secular historians. Dr. William Grady in his book "What Hath God Wrought" subtitled, "A Biblical Interpretation of American history" believes the account to be authentic. Washington biographer and uncle of Howard Hughes, Rupert Hughes, researched the matter and determined that Rev. Gano served with George Clinton's army, not with Washington's, that the location is sometimes given as Valley Forge and sometimes as the Potomac, that there is no documentation of Gano ever being at Valley Forge, that there is nothing in Gano's own correspondence or his biography to suggest that the event took place, and that none of the 42 reputed witnesses ever documented the event. Gano Chapel at William Jewell College in Missouri is named after John Gano, and displays a painting of Gano baptizing Washington. The school takes no stance on whether the baptism of Washington actually took place. The chapel also contains a sword owned by the Marquis de Lafayette that Washington purportedly gave to Gano.
- "Religion: Washington's Baptism" Time Magazine, September 5, 1932 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,744297,00.html
- John Gano, Biographical memoirs of the late Rev. John Gano, of Frankfort (Kentucky): formerly of the city of New York (Printed by Southwick and Hardcastle for J. Tiebout, 1806), pg. 64 https://books.google.com/books?id=PFYwAAAAYAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- Charter of Brown University Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine
- Thomas R. McKibbens, The forgotten heritage: a lineage of great Baptist preaching (Mercer University Press, 1986), pg. 136 https://books.google.com/books?id=_dJPyItJZvYC&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- John Gano, Biographical memoirs of the late Rev. John Gano, of Frankfort (Kentucky): formerly of the city of New York (Printed by Southwick and Hardcastle for J. Tiebout, 1806) https://books.google.com/books?id=PFYwAAAAYAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- "Text of affidavit". Archived from the original on 2009-02-11.
- "Religion: Washington's Baptism". www.time.com. Time Inc. September 5, 1932. Retrieved 2009-11-12.
- "Rupert Hughes' rebuttal of the Gano baptism legend in Time magazine". September 26, 1932. Retrieved 2009-11-12.
- "Franklin Steiner's refutation of the Gano baptism legend". Retrieved 2009-11-12.
- "George Washington Facts: Myths and legends", The college at Chester, Washington College, June 2011
- John Gano's Grave
- Revolutionary War Chaplaincy
- Painting of John Gano Baptizing George Washington (At bottom of page.)
- Brown University Charter
- Gano, John. "A Chaplain of the Revolution: Memoirs of the Rev. John Gano." Historical Magazine, 5 (November 1861), pp. 330–335.
- Wolever, Terry. "The Life & Ministry of John Gano - Volume I." Springfield, MO: Particular Baptist Press, 1998.
- John Gano, Biographical memoirs of the late Rev. John Gano, of Frankfort (Kentucky): formerly of the city of New York (Printed by Southwick and Hardcastle for J. Tiebout, 1806).