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John F. Tompkins, physician and farmer, was born in 1823 in Edgecombe County, the son of John F. and Rosanna Spruill Tompkins. Shortly after Tompkins’s birth, his father died, and John subsequently was raised by his mother’s family in Nash County. He attended the University of North Carolina in 1840-1841 but left to study medicine privately.
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In 1846, Tompkins began practicing medicine in Washington in Beaufort County. Later that year he married Caroline C. Bonner of Bath, where the two settled, living in the former rectory of St. Thomas Church. Within the next few years, Tompkins’s interests changed from medicine to agriculture, and in 1852 he began editing and publishing the Farmer’s Journal, devoted to “improvements in agriculture, horticulture, and the household arts.”
The following year Tompkins moved to Raleigh, helping organize the North Carolina Agriculture Society and the first State Fair. He and his wife rented a home in Raleigh owned by Thomas Ruffin, a leading Southern agriculturalist and supporter. In 1854, Tompkins, his publication failing, sold the Farmer’s Journal to William D. Cooke, the proprietor of the Southern Weekly Post. Tompkins then closed out his lease, sold his furniture, and disappeared from Raleigh. He died prior to 1860, as he does not appear on that census, however nothing is known of his final years.
Cornelius O. Cathey, Agricultural Developments in North Carolina, 1783-1860 (1956)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 43—sketch by Claiborne T. Smith Jr.
Wesley H. Wallace, “North Carolina’s Agricultural Journals, 1838-1861,” North Carolina Historical Review (July 1959): 275-306