Barnes, Thomas H. (1831–1913)


Thomas H. Barnes was a physician and a member of the House of Delegates (1874–1877), the Senate of Virginia (1887–1894), and the Convention of 1901–1902. Born in Nansemond County, he was educated at the University of Virginia and the Medical College of Virginia. He practiced medicine, never married, and did not serve in the military during the American Civil War (1861–1865). After the war, Barnes became active in Democratic Party politics, serving in the General Assembly and in the state constitutional convention. He died in 1913.

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

  • Broadsie titled No White Man to Lose His Vote in Virginia.
    No White Man To Lose His Vote In Virginia.

    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.

  • The Constitutional Convention. Help Save Our Public Schools.
    The Constitutional Convention. Help Save Our Public Schools.

    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.

Barnes was active in local politics for much of his adult life. He served on the Nansemond County Board of Supervisors from early in the 1870s until 1901 and in the House of Delegates from 1874 to 1877. From 1887 to 1894 he represented Isle of Wight, Nansemond, and Southampton counties in the Senate of Virginia. Barnes was also county chairman of the Democratic Party for many years. In April 1901 he was his party’s unanimous choice for Nansemond’s seat in a state constitutional convention, and he faced no Republican opposition in the May election. Barnes served on the Committee on the Elective Franchise and chaired the Committee on the Organization and Government of Counties. He took little part in the debates and voted with the majorities that adopted a suffrage article designed to reduce the number of black voters and implemented the constitution without a popular referendum.

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.

May 28, 1831
Thomas H. Barnes is born in Nansemond County.
Thomas H. Barnes attends the University of Virginia.
Thomas H. Barnes graduates from the Medical College of Virginia.
ca. 1871—1901
Thomas H. Barnes serves on the Nansemond County Board of Supervisors.
Thomas H. Barnes represents Nansemond County in the House of Delegates.
Thomas H. Barnes represents Isle of Wight, Nansemond, and Southampton counties in the Senate of Virginia.
Thomas H. Barnes sits on the board of visitors of the College of William and Mary.
Thomas H. Barnes sits on the board of visitors of the Medical College of Virginia.
April 1901
Thomas H. Barnes wins election as a delegate to the Convention of 1901—1902.
Thomas H. Barnes serves as president of the board of visitors of the Medical College of Virginia.
June 4, 1913
Thomas H. Barnes dies at his home in Suffolk.
  • Tarter, Brent. “Barnes, Thomas H.” In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 1, edited by John T. Kneebone, et al., 348. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998.
APA Citation:
Tarter, Brent & Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Barnes, Thomas H. (1831–1913). (2021, February 12). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/barnes-thomas-h-1831-1913.
MLA Citation:
Tarter, Brent, and Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Barnes, Thomas H. (1831–1913)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (12 Feb. 2021). Web. 28 Nov. 2021
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