Historical Figures of Columbus: Blind Tom

Historical Figures of Columbus: Blind Tom

By Janell Williams

One of the most exemplary performers living in 19th-century Columbus was a musical prodigy known as “Blind Tom.” Born in Columbus in 1849, Thomas Wiggins, later Thomas G. Bethune,  spent his childhood enslaved on General James N. Bethune’s plantation.

Blind at birth, Blind Tom was considered a “human mockingbird,” capable of hearing an intricate musical composition and sitting down at the piano to reproduce what he had heard, often without making any mistakes. His expertise at the piano as a child was particularly amazing to those around him since he had been given no musical instruction of any kind.

Local historians believe that Tom was only eight years old when he started performing for audiences in the Columbus area. As a young adult during the Civil War, he toured Europe and is said to have performed for royalty. After the war, Tom performed in numerous American cities, including at Columbus’s Springer Opera House.

Considered one of “the most amazing musical prodigies to have ever been known,” Blind Tom died in 1908 in Hoboken, New Jersey, where he had been living with a member of the Bethune family.

“Blind Tom” is believed to be buried at the old West Family Cemetery in Midland, Ga.

A state historic marker stands nearby on Warm Springs Road as a memorial to this exceptional talent.

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