Benjamin Tonsler

Tonsler portrait
Tonsler portrait (date unknown)

Public domain

Quick Facts

Benjamin Tonsler (1854-1917) was a prominent African American and local educator in Charlottesville, Virginia between 1895-1917. Tonsler is an American Hero.

Not much is known about his early life, but he attended Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Hampton, Virginia. Hampton is an Historically Black College/ University founded on April 1, 1886. It was established to educate freedmen and their descendants by leaders of the American Missionary Association. After Tonsler graduated, he returned to Charlottesville in the 1880s. He was an educator at the Jefferson Graded School from its opening in 1895 until his death. The Jefferson school was the only Charlottesville high school open to African Americans. It originally opened as a nine-room K-8 elementary school. Tonsler worked his way up and became the school's principal. Heavily influenced by his friendship with Booker T. Washington, Tonsler held the principal's position for 30 years.

When Tonsler died, alumni of the Jefferson Graded School and Friends erected a gravestone in his memory. It reads: "Gone but not Forgotten". The stone is located in the Tonsler family plot in the Daughters of Zion Cemetery, which is adjacent to Oakwood Cemetery. According to front page of The Daily Progress for March th, 1917, Tonsler died of pneumonia, which was the third leading cause of death in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Benjamin Tonsler House is located at 327 Sixth Street., S.W., Charlottesville, Virginia. It was built in 1879 and is a two-story stuccoed frame Late Victorian dwelling. Tonsler's house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.