Barnes was born on May 28, 1831, in southwest Nansemond County, the youngest of three or four sons and as many as five children of James Barnes, a farmer, and Elizabeth Barnes. He attended the University of Virginia from 1849 to 1852 and graduated from the Medical College of Virginia in 1853. Barnes then returned to Nansemond County and practiced medicine there until he retired about 1888. He frequently attended local fox hunts and was a popular figure known for his long, full beard and for his height, which earned him the nickname “Tall Sycamore of Nansemond.” He did not serve in the military during the Civil War and never married.
Broadsides Concerning the Constitutional Convention of 1901–1902
In this 1901 broadside, Democratic leaders reassure white men in Virginia that proposed amendments to the state constitution will not strip them of their voting rights. The Constitutional Convention of 1901–1902 produced the Constitution of 1902 and is an important example of post-Reconstruction efforts to restore white supremacy in the American South by disfranchising large numbers of blacks. The convention was dominated by Democrats, including state party chairman, J. Taylor Ellyson; the convention's president, John Goode; and the party's gubernatorial candidate, Andrew J. Montague, all of whom are quoted here. Goode emphasized that the party "is pledged in its platform to eliminate the ignorant and worthless negro as a factor from the politics of this State without taking the right of suffrage from a single white man." Despite such assurances, many working-class whites were effectively disfranchised by the Constitution of 1902.
A broadside produced by the Negro Educational and Industrial Association of Virginia urges citizens to attend a meeting at Richmond's Mount Zion Baptist Church on May 3, 1901, to discuss "the saving of our public schools and other matters of grave importance to be brought before the Constitutional Convention" of 1901–1902. The constitution that emerged from the convention effectively disfranchised most black voters and reaffirmed segregated public schooling. For decades after, there was an increasingly wide gap between expenditures for white and black schools in Virginia.
Beginning in 1888 and 1889, respectively, Barnes sat for the rest of his life on the boards of visitors of the College of William and Mary and the Medical College of Virginia, serving as president of the latter from 1907 on. Barnes died at his home in Suffolk on June 4, 1913.