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Thomas Henry Barnes

Born on 1-2-1849. He was born in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. He later died on 12-11-1942.
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Thomas Henry Barnes was born January 2, 1849 in Mifflin County, Lewistown, Pennsylvania. His father Henry had been a slave on the Barnes Plantation in Hagerstown, Maryland. His mother, Jane, born in Little York, Pennsylvania, was the daughter of Daniel and Sarah Williams of Lewistown. Henry and Jane were married in 1842 in Lewistown. They had five children, two girls, Martha E.P. (8/1/1843), Mary Jane (1/28/1848), three boys, James W. Jackson Barnes(1/25/1846), Thomas Henry (1/2/1849) and Peter Williams (10/26/1851). All of the children except Thomas and Peter died in the first 10 years of life. Thomas father, Henry died April 22, 1856 and Jane died June 11, 1859.

Sometime after the death of his parents (1859), his uncle Peter Williams came from Brooklyn to take Thomas, Peter, and their grandfather Daniel Williams on a train to New York City where they were placed in the Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue between 43rd and 44th streets . The asylum was run by three Quaker ladies, Miss Anna M and Hannah Shotwell and their niece, Miss Mary Murray. On Monday, July, 13th, 1863 the Colored Orphan Asylum was set on fire by a mob during the New York City Draft Riots. There were 233 children in the orphanage. All but one girl escaped the fire. The building, all of the contents and the records were destroyed. *The children, under guard were escorted to the almshouse on Blackwell's Island.

On October 15, 1864, Thomas left the orphanage and went to Susquehanna, Pennsylvania to begin an apprenticeship as a barber. He moved to Tidioute, Pennsylvania in 1870 where he practiced his trade. He met and married Mary Belle Peoples of Tidioute on January 2, 1873. They were married by the Rev. J.H. Edwards. They moved to New York City, but later returned to Tidioute where two of their children, Oliver T. and Mable were born. In 1880 the family was living in Olean, New York where a son Harry was born. Seven children were born to Thomas and Mary Barnes, four of which died in infancy. In later years they adopted a boy named George. Mary and Thomas owned a boarding house and Thomas opened up a barber shop in the downtown section. His brother Peter Barnes who was 29 was living with the family and was employed as a hotel cook. Peter died in Olean on 8/16/1884 at the age of 34 of consumption. Thomas and Mary were married for 57 years. Mary died on February 9, 1930 of breast cancer. Thomas died December 11, 1942.

During the years Thomas was a barber, he moved his barber shop and cigar store many times. At one point he operated in the Olean House Hotel along with 11 other African American barbers. Only white patrons were serviced in the hotel barber shop. Barnes had a barber shop in his home where he would cut the blacks' hair.

He practiced his trade for 73 years, of which all but ten were spent in Olean. He claimed the record of the oldest barber in the United States both in age and in years of service. His last barber shop was located in his home at 315 South Third Street. In this barber shop he had a large collection of books about or written by African Americans. He retired in 1937. The Barnes family also operated a catering service and electrical business.

On January 9, 1942 the Olean News paper reported Thomas H. Barnes, now believed the oldest resident of Olean, has just observed the 93rd anniversary of his birth. Mr. Barnes, who lives in 315 South Third Street, is in good health, he reports. He was born in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. He was the first steward of the City Club here, and he worked as a barber many years. Mrs. Mabel Crawford of Olean and Harry Barnes of Cincinnati are his surviving children."

Thomas was an active well known figure not only among the citizens of Olean, but among the colored populations in New York State and along the Pennsylvania border. Former slave and Abolitionist Frederick Douglas was among those with whom he had personal contact . Frederick Douglas had stayed at the home of Thomas and Mary Barnes and gave Thomas his picture which was taken in Rochester. In 1898, Thomas was selected to be on the Monument Committee for the Frederick Douglas Monument in Rochester, New York. (Original Monument Program donated to Olean Point Museum)

Thomas was one of the founding members of the Colored Masonic Organization in Olean (Light Of the West Lodge) and served as a Local and District Officer. He attended many Masonic Conventions and meetings of groups whose purpose was to make life better for Negro Citizens. One of the groups, the Colored Voters League held their fourth annual meeting in Olean, New York in August 13-15, 1895. He served on the credentials committee and was elected Recording Secretary of the League. Thomas was an active member of Olean Bethel, AME Church and served as Secretary of the Trustee Board in 1900. He was well versed on the history of African Americans. One wall of his barbershop on Third Street contained most of the books that were written by or about Blacks at that time.

Thomas Barnes was an ardent collector of walking canes, many of which had great value. At one time he had 128 canes that had belonged to men throughout the country such as: John Brown of Harpers Ferry; Jonathan Barrows, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Rev. John Gasper of "Sun Do Move" Fame; Bert Williams, comedian; a president, governors and other notable persons from all walks of life. One of the canes was made from a tree branch he picked up off of his mothers grave.

On January 17th, 1917, Thomas H. Barnes wrote the following: Affirmations Made This 18th Day of Jan. 1917

I shall endeavor by all known honorable means to improve my health. Improve expression in every way possible. Improve my well being. Improve my business. Pay all debts, financial or otherwise. Better the conditions of all related to me or dependent on me. Establish an ideal Barber Shop. Establish an ideal Cigar Store and Tobacco department. Establish an ideal Notion Department. To these affirmations I pray oh God assist me. I can do nothing by myself. Without Your counsel and direction, I am lost, a perfect failure. I so wonderfully desire success in health, finance, deportment, expression. As a beacon light to those around and dependent on me. I fully and unreservedly place myself in Your care and guidance that this latter part of my life shall be what it should be. Trusting - Hoping - Praying. T.H.B.