Archive of Correspondence of the Gordon-Erskine-Le Conte Families, of Memphis and Columbia, Tennessee, 1870-1917

Collection of 125 letters, 516 manuscript pages, (plus 28 retained mailing envelopes), all dated between 24 January 1870 and 10 March 1917. Of the 125 letters, 11 of are undated.

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George Washington Gordon was a farmer/planter/lawyer of District 9 (Columbia), Maury County, TN, born 1808 at NC and died in 1863 at Vicksburg, MS. Gordon is said to have had a 600 acre estate known as "Boxwood." In 1860 Gordon was listed as owning 33 slaves; 17 of the slaves were females between the ages of 1 and 53, and 16 slaves were males between the ages of 4 and 70. His next door neighbor, G. I. Pillow owned over 80 slaves. His slave ownership had increased since 1850, when he owned only 7 slaves.

Gordon married Elizabeth Bradshaw who was born in 1811 and died in 1851. She was a native of Tennessee. Both Elizabeth and her husband died before the 1870 census was taken, the children were running farm in 1870, being reduced in circumstances due to the aftermath of the Civil War and the emancipation of the family slaves.

George Washington Gordon volunteered to serve in the Confederacy in 1862. He was taken prisoner and interned at Johnson's Island (Ohio), a Federal prison camp for Confederate officers on an island in Lake Erie. In the spring of 1865, he was part of a prisoner exchange. The boat carrying him and others docked at Memphis, where Captain Gordon's sister, a nurse, tried to get him off the boat due to his health, but her request was denied. The day after the boat reached the place of the prisoner exchange, Vicksburg, Mississippi, however George was dead. Gordon was a cousin of the famed Confederate General John Brown Gordon, one of the most spectacular generals in the Civil War, who later became senator and governor of Georgia.

George Washington Gordon was the owner of the Gordon Springs resort in Walker County, Georgia. His oldest daughter, Mary Brown Gordon, married Dr. James Le Conte (1832-1862) at Rome, Georgia, on April 22, 1858. He was the brother of Mary's friend Annie Le Conte. Le Conte was the son of William Le Conte and Sarah Angelina of Liberty County, Georgia. (His uncle was Judge Eugenius Nisbet, one of Georgia's original State Supreme Court Justices). James Le Conte graduated from Franklin College (U of GA) in 1853 and Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

After Mary Gordon and Le Conte married, the rest of the family moved back to "Boxwood," the family home in Tennessee. Dr. and Mrs. Le Conte remained in Georgia until Mr. Le Conte's death in 1862 of tuberculosis, at which time Mary remained in Georgia until the late 1860s and then returned to live at Boxwood. She kept house for her brother, George Washington Gordon, Jr., who had taken over the family farm. She still owned the Shellmound farm of her late husband in Dade, Georgia as late as 1900.

Mary LeConte died on 6 April 1903 at Columbia, Tennessee. On the 1900 Census, it states she was a widow and never had any children. This point is key to understanding the correspondence, as most of the letters are written by Margaret Louisa Gordon Erskine, but who signed her name as "your loving daughter." Margaret addresses the letters to "Mamie" which is a nickname for Mary, but she signs them as your loving "daughter." This would seem to be a nickname for Margaret, perhaps because the girls lost their mother in 1851, when Margaret was only about 7 years old, Mary was the oldest child (about 14 years old at the time), she may have filled the role of mother for the younger siblings. Research on Mary shows that she had no children listed with her on the 1860 and 1870 Census, nor on the 1900 Census.

George Washington Gordon's daughter Margaret Louisa Gordon, married Dr. Albert Erskine of Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, in 1872. Dr. Alexander Erskine was born in 1832 at Huntsville, Alabama, son of Alexander and Susan Catharine Erskine. He graduated from the University of Virginia in the "Classical Course" and spent several years in hospital work in New York City. In 1858 he moved to Memphis, Tennessee and commenced the practice of medicine. Two years later in 1860 he married, his first wife, Mrs. Augusta Law White, daughter of Mrs. Sarah Gordon.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Dr. Erskine enlisted in the Confederate Army as a surgeon and served throughout the war (1861-1865). He served in the 15th Tennessee Infantry under Colonel Tyler and the 2nd Tennessee Infantry under Colonel Robertson. He fought in the Battle of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky. He later was in charge of the army hospital at LaGrange, Georgia. He was paroled at Covington, Georgia. 

From 1868-1873, Dr. Erskine was the Dean of the Memphis Hospital Medical College at Memphis (TN). After the death of his first wife, he remarried in 1872 to Margaret Louisa Gordon, daughter of George Washington Gordon of Columbia, Maury County, Tennessee. She was his first wife's cousin. From 1885 to1906, Erskine was Professor of Obstetrics and diseases of children at Memphis Hospital Medical College. He later (1902-1910) served on the staff of Memphis Hospital, dying in1913 at the age of 81.

Erskine's second wife, Margaret Louisa Gordon, was born on October 27, 1844. They were married on 19 Dec 1872, at Columbia (TN) and together they had at least seven children: Mary LeConte Erskine (1875); G. Loulie Erskine (1877); G. Washington Erskine (1879); William Erskine (1880); R. Albert Erskine (1882); Elizabeth Gordon Erskine (1884-1879); and E. Laura Erskine (b.1886). Mary and Elizabeth died young. There may have also been a daughter Carrie that died young as well. Dr. Erskine had two children from his previous marriage, Alex (b.1864) and John (b.1867).Margaret Louisa Gordon died on 9 June 1914, at Columbia, Tennessee.

The first half of the archive consists mainly of letters written by Margaret Louisa Gordon Erskine of Memphis, to her sister Mary Gordon LeConte at Columbia. The second half contains correspondence with additional family members and children. The letters detail the day to day domestic life of the Erskine and LeConte families, in the post-bellum south and the changes it brought to their society.  Mrs. Erskine's letters recount her life on Beale Street in Memphis married to a doctor, while her sister, whose doctor husband died rather early, lives her life in a more rural manner near Columbia, keeping house for her unmarried brother.