Tom Wiggins

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Tom Wiggins in 1880
General Bethune with Tom Wiggins

Tom Wiggins (born May 25, 1849 in Harris County , Georgia , † June 13, 1908 in Hoboken , New Jersey ) was a blind American pianist and composer with an island talent .


Wiggins was born in 1849 on the "Wiley Edward Jones Plantation" in Georgia. He was blind from birth. In the fall of 1850, he was sold to Colonel James N. Bethune, an attorney and editor, along with his enslaved parents Charity and Mingo Wiggins and two brothers. Wiggins is therefore also known under the name of its owner, James Bethune, as Tom Bethune (Thomas Greene Bethune). Since Wiggins could not work, he often listened to the daughters of the Bethune family making music and began to play himself. By the age of six, Wiggins was brought to performances in the Bethunes neighborhood. Wiggins gave his first public concert at the age of eight on October 7, 1856 at Temperance Hall in Columbus . He was subsequently taken to Atlanta , Macon and Athens to perform . A consistently positive report of Wiggins' performance was published in the Athens Southern Watchman newspaper .

Shortly after the death of Colonel Bethune's wife in May 1858, Wiggins was loaned out as a slave to the tobacco plantation owner Perry Oliver. In the three-year contract, a sum of 15,000 US dollars was agreed for the right to use Wiggins outside of Georgia.

Wiggins played a few concerts for Oliver in Savannah . In 1860 he gave a concert in Baltimore, at which the piano maker William Knabe was also present. He was so impressed by Wiggins' ability that he gave him a large rosewood piano. In the same year, two compositions by the ten-year-old were published: Oliver Galop and the Virginia Polka . In 1861 he played in Washington, DC for the first Japanese diplomats in the United States.

With the start of the Civil War , Perry Oliver brought the 12-year-old back to Georgia. In October 1862 he was brought back to Colonel Bethune, who composed the piece Battle of Manassas there according to the stories of a son of the Colonel who fought for the Confederation . Towards the end of the Civil War, when General Bethune realized that the southern states would lose the war, he signed a contract with Wiggins parents. Tom Wiggins would be managed by Bethune, receive free board and lodging, musical training, and a wage of $ 20 a month. According to the contract, Wiggins parents should receive US $ 500 a year as well as free room and board. In 1866, after a four-week stay in New York City , where Wiggins gave concerts at Irving Hall , Wiggins was sent on a European tour, where he played for Ignaz Moscheles and Charles Halle , among others , who gave him enthusiastic recommendations and a “ musical miracles ”. In 1868 Wiggins toured North America and Canada. In 1870, as Wiggins managers, the Bethunes were already making $ 50,000 a year from Wiggins' concert appearances. On July 25, 1870, General Bethune appointed himself Wiggins guardian, annulling the contract with Wiggins parents. Wiggins now lived in a boarding house in New York City with General Bethune and spent the summers on the Bethunes farm in Virginia. Bethune died on February 16, 1884 when he tried to jump on a train that was already moving and got under the wheels.

Wiggins died of a stroke at the age of 59. Just like Leslie Lemke today , he was exceptionally musically gifted, but below average in all other areas of life and is sometimes seen as autistic .


  • John Davis: John Davis plays Blind Tom: The Eight Wonder , CD, Newport Classic, 2000


  • Geneva Handy Southall: Blind Tom, The Black Pianist-Composer: Continually Enslaved , Southall Scarecrow Press, 2002

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. From "Negro Tom" to "Savant Syndrome" in the entire article The Riddle of the Savants, In search of traces in "Rain Mans" siblings in scinexx - the knowledge magazine
  2. a b CV at (accessed November 2, 2007)
  3. Biography at Twainquotes , accessed January 2008