Thomas Jefferson Saunders

Former Slave

On February 10th, 1909 Thomas Jefferson Saunders, a well-known barber in Franklinville, passed away in his home on Cherry Street.  He was survived by his wife Nancy and a brother Aaron who lived in Detroit. He was predeceased by his adopted son Charlie.

Tom, as he was known by his friends and customers, was born to a slave couple in Tennessee in 1838. The slave owner, whose name was Rainey, decided that slavery was wrong and took the family to Indiana. There he freed them and helped them get to Canada. 

Tom returned to the United States during the Civil War and on February 7,1864 he enlisted in Co. A, the 20th Colored Regiment. He served until Oct. 15, 1865.  In 1867 he married his wife Nancy and eventually settled in Franklinville. His obituary describes him as an unusually capable man with a good memory and many commendable traits of character.  He worked as a barber for over forty years, at a time when a shave was 10 cents and a haircut was 20 cents. His barbershop was located on Elm Street next to the Locke Robson Dry Goods Store. It was quite the thing for men to have their personal shaving mugs and brushes, many with their names in gold letters, filling the cabinet on one side of the shop. Tom's wife did laundry work.

They were especially proud of their son Charlie who was a graduate of Ten Broeck Academy. Unfortunately, Charlie was the first death in the distinguished alumni class of 1887. He was known as a talented musician and band leader and appeared as a soloist at the Chautauqua Institute. He ran the insurance agency of Bowen and Root successfully. He was the leader of the Cornet Band. He died in 1898 at the age of 28.

Tom Saunders was one of the organizers of the Black Masonic Lodge in Olean.  He liked to tell the story of shaving the Prince of Wales when the young future monarch visited a hotel in Canada. Later the Prince became the King of England.

Tom's funeral was held at home and Archdeacon Ayers from the St. Barnabas Mission in Buffalo presided over the services.

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