While I shall write further about my darkest black sheep John Carter again in the future –I wrote about his murderous history last week–I thought I would highlight one of my husband’s family’s black sheep this week!
When I began my husband’s family history I felt my in-laws might feel less than interested in sharing with me the details necessary to research effectively. Perhaps it started out that way but I soon became a family celebrity, the one who had the skills to take the bits and pieces of information, fill in the gaps, and create a cohesive story about allusive individuals and events!
One such allusive character in the family saga was my husband’s maternal Great-Grandfather, Ernest James Bryant. My husband’s Grandfather, Clifford Sedgewick Bryant was raised by his mother, Elizabeth Hewitt, his aunts, and their mother, Sarah Ann Bostock. Clifford had never met his father though he did know his name, Ernest James Bryant (1901-1960). He told his wife that once he had tracked down his father Ernest in Detroit, Michigan and had gone to visit him. He was to meet him in a church where he was met by a priest with a message for him from his father, “Never come looking for him again!” There was the suggestion that Ernest James Bryant was perhaps a rum runner working for the “Purple Gang” transporting alcohol across the border from Windsor, Ontario to Detroit. I have yet to find proof of his involvement with this notorious bootlegging gang but it could very well be true! Regardless, he was a roguish fellow.
What I do know of Ernest James Bryant is that he was born in Woodstock, Ontario to James Enoch Butler Bryant and Emma Tena Griggs, 17 Jun 1901. In 1918 at the tender age of 17, Ernest lied about his age and enlisted in the CEF during World War I. I ordered his WWI service file and learned that he was transferred to the 1st Battalion, London, Ontario, and was discharged as a minor but not before he was involved in a motorcycle accident during training (sounds a bit like trouble)! Because he was found out he did not make it overseas. He worked as an ammunition worker, probably at the Cockshutt Plow Company in Brantford, Ontario which produced munitions during the war.
About 10 years later, Ernest James Bryant was working in Windsor, Ontario in the automobile manufacturing industry but obviously continued to visit Brantford where he met Elizabeth Annie Hewitt who soon became pregnant with his child. As was often the case a quick marriage ensued–3 Nov 1928 at St. James Anglican Church in Paris, Ontario–and my husband’s grandfather Clifford was born 19 Jun 1929. Though they were married Ernest and Elizabeth never lived together and Ernest had made a hurried get away!
But where had he gone? Perhaps to join the action of bootlegging in 1930s Detroit? I have found no record of him again until his U.S. Naturalization in 1942. Living in Detroit he claimed he was married but not to Elizabeth Hewitt. HIs wife was listed as a woman named Opal, born in Montana, and wedded in Detroit, 8 Feb 1941. He also claimed to have arrived in the U.S. in 1919 by train. Ernest was naturalized in time to enlist to fight for the United States during World War II, and this time he was of age! I believe this may have been why he chose to naturalize when he did for he enlisted in 1942 and according to his military grave application served in the 8th Service Command of the U.S. army. He received no medals and I am unsure at this point of the details of his service but he was discharged honourably in 1943.
He married at some point later, a much younger, Elaine Ada Hemmingsen and had two children. Whether, Opal was a fictitious spouse or not, Elizabeth Hewitt was quite real and I do not know when they ever divorced. Ernest James Bryant died in 1960 and is buried in a military grave in Detroit’s National Memorial Gardens Cemetery.
A rogue, perhaps a scoundrel, maybe even a criminal, there are not many who could say they enlisted in both World Wars and lived such an adventurous existence!