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Francis Haynes Gordon

Francis H. Gordon, pioneer in scientific agriculture, was born in Gordonsville, Smith County, on August 6, 1804. Though he rarely left Smith County, he exerted a lasting influence on Tennessee antebellum agriculture. In 1830 he joined a group that organized Porter's Hill Academy near Carthage; three years later he led an effort to restructure the curriculum and incorporate Porter's Hill Academy as Clinton College. Gordon served as the primary instructor, though he had no formal education beyond local schools and a few years at Campbell Academy in Lebanon. By February 1842 Clinton College had failed, and its lands were being offered for sale.

During his years at Clinton College, Gordon played a critical role in the history of scientific agriculture in Tennessee. In 1838 he guided the organization of the Smith County Agricultural Society. In 1839 he led a successful drive for a statewide Tennessee Agricultural Society. He was the society's secretary for several years, publishing frequently in the society's journal, The Agriculturist. Early in 1842 he moved to the national level, drafting a constitution for the American Agricultural Society. Gordon was one of two Tennessee delegates who attended the first meeting of the national society in Washington, D.C., in 1842.

In 1844 and 1845 Gordon resumed his education at the University of Louisville, earning an M.D. From 1848 to 1852 he occasionally taught medicine at a little-known proprietary medical school in Memphis that was sometimes a satellite of Cumberland University in Lebanon. While Gordon pursued his career as a professor of medicine and as a physician, scientific agriculture remained his great interest. He contributed more than fifty articles to agricultural journals before he died of consumption at Gordonsville in 1873.

Gordon's imprint is still evident in the landscape of rural Tennessee. He is credited with introducing bluegrass to the state. He also promoted the concept of the farm yard, mowed land surrounding the farm house, as a replacement for the early practice of planting crops adjacent to homes.

Suggested Reading

Robert H. White, "A Sketch of the Life and Contributions of Francis Haynes Gordon, M.D.," manuscript, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010