Thomas Jeffers (born July 1838 in Macon, Georgia; died October 26, 1914 in Macon) was a railroad mechanic and the 6th Mayor of Birmingham, serving from 1878 to 1882. He is best remembered for defeating James Powell in the 1878 mayoral election.
Jeffers attended school in Georgia until he was 14, at which time he set off to join the Navy. Convinced by friends he visited in Virginia on his way that he was too young, he instead apprenticed himself to the Wilmington Machine Company of Wilmington, North Carolina. He was trained as a machinist and engineer and, at the age of 20, went to work for the Wilmington & Manchester Railroad.
Jeffers enlisted with the 10th North Carolina Artillery during the Civil War. After some time, during which he participated in fighting, he was detached from his unit for service aboard a blockade runner bound for Nassau, Bahamas. His ship was captured and he was imprisoned at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. At his release he traveled to Baltimore, Maryland and he immediately joined a Nassau-bound private schooner as a hand. After arriving in the Bahamas he boarded another ship which entered the port of Wilmington, returning him home. Rather than stay, though, he set off again, this time for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Again he was captured and returned to Fort Monroe. Upon his release he continued toward Halifax by way of Boston and joined a failed conspiracy to overtake a Federal mail steamer. He returned to Nassau and made several failed attempts to re-enter the Confederate States before finding a position on a steamer from Havana, Cuba to Galveston, Texas, aboard which he remained for the balance of the war.
After the war, Jeffers remained a merchant seaman transporting cattle between Florida and Cuba, but in 1871 he returned to the railroads as a master mechanic for the South & North Alabama Railroad. He arrived in Birmingham in 1873 and became foreman of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad's shop. He quickly became interested in politics and was elected to the Birmingham Board of Aldermen in 1875 as part of William Morris' administration. He chaired the committees on streets and schools.
Jeffers stood for election to the Mayor's office in the 1878 Birmingham municipal election and won broad support from working class voters who responded to his down-to-earth demeanor. A group of local businessmen enjoined former Mayor James Powell, to return to Birmingham from retirement at his cotton plantation in Yazoo, Mississippi to oppose him. Powell, as one of the owners of the South & North Railroad, had been Jeffers' former employer. The campaign was bitter and the race appeared close. Powell hosted a rousing rally at Nabers' Grove, but In the end, voters were put off by the imperious attitude they detected in Powell, the former "Duke of Birmingham". In defeat, Powell left the city for the last time.
Jeffers was re-elected over three challengers in the 1880 Birmingham municipal election. While Mayor he inaugurated the city's sewer system. He also organized the First Avenue Street Railway Company and the Birmingham Gas Company. He ran again in the 1882 election, but was defeated by Judge A. O. Lane. After leaving office he served as superintendent of both the gas company and the Birmingham Electric Light Company.
In 1878 Jeffers had joined the firm of Jackson & Morris, sawyers and lumber dealers. Later he became a junior partner in Jeffers & Thomas, a lumber yard, planing mill and coalyard on the corner of 1st Avenue North and 17th Street. He resided on the south side of 4th Avenue North, one house east of 18th Street.
On the evening of June 12, 1894 Jeffers was involved in a verbal dispute with attorney Peyton Bowman at the bar of the Florence Hotel. The disagreement escalated to blows. Jeffers' 20-year-old son, Eugene heard news of the fight and stormed to the bar to demand satisfaction. Bowman shot and killed the young man while John T. Bowman held him. They were both charged with murder, but acquitted in February 1895 on the grounds of self defense.
|Mayor of Birmingham
A. O. Lane
- Dubose, John Witherspoon (1885) The Mineral Wealth of Alabama and Birmingham Illustrated. Birmingham: N. T. Green & Co.
- Dubose, John Witherspoon (1887) Jefferson County and Birmingham, Alabama: Historical and Biographical Birmingham: Teeple & Smith, Publishers; Caldwell Printing Works.
- "Thomas Jeffers dies in Macon" (October 30, 1914) The Montgomery Times