William W. Gordon

 

William W. Gordon, the first president of the Central of Georgia Railroad, was a lawyer, politician, and soldier who oversaw the creation of the first rail line connecting the port of Savannah with the cotton-growing region of the state.

 

Gordon was born on January 17, 1796, into a Georgia planation family. Upon his father's death in 1804, he was sent to school in Rhode Island and later appointed a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After graduation he served one year before resigning his commission and returning to Georgia.

 

Gordon apprenticed to a Savannah judge, married the judge's daughter, and enjoyed a successful career at the Georgia Bar. He belonged to the Georgia Hussars, a cavalry squadron, of which he was captain from 1827 to 1837. In 1833, Gordon was elected an alderman and served until 1836; he also won election to the Georgia legislature, first as a representative in 1835 and then as a senator in 1838. In addition, from 1834 to 1836, he served as the mayor of Savannah.

 

Gordon's greatest contribution to Georgia was his work with the Central Railroad and Banking Company. The Central of Georgia Railroad began construction in 1837 after the completion of the Charleston and Hamburg Railroad by the state of South Carolina in 1833. This line, which terminated across the Savannah River from Augusta, threatened to divert trade from Georgia and render the state an economic backwater. Gordon and his business partners sought to maintain Savannah's centrality to the cotton-export trade.

 

In March 1836, Gordon was named to the company's board of directors and appointed its first president. Construction of the line began in 1836. Though slowed by the financial panic of 1837, Gordon’s drive and seeming omnipresence helped keep the project alive. 

 

By the summer of 1839, stagecoaches were providing transportation from the end of the line to Macon. Gordon traveled constantly, supervising construction, negotiating rights-of-way, and dealing with labor disputes.

 

His exertions exhausted and soon killed him. He died in March 1842, a year before the line was formally opened. He left behind his wife, Sarah Anderson Stites, and four children, including William Washington Gordon II, father of Juliette Gordon Low, Founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA.

 

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