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Henry F. French

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Henry F. French
Head and shoulders photograph of a man in an overcoat. He has a full beard with sideburns and has his white hair parted at the his right with it being of enough length to be tucked a few inches behind his left ear. He wears a serious expression and is looking to the left.
Henry F. French c. 1866
Assistant District Attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts
In office
President of the Massachusetts Agricultural College (now the University of Massachusetts Amherst)
In office
United States Assistant Secretary of the Treasury
In office
Personal details
Henry Flagg French

(1813-08-14)August 14, 1813
Chester, New Hampshire
DiedNovember 29, 1885(1885-11-29) (aged 72)
Concord, Massachusetts
Spouse(s)Anne Richardson (1838-1856)
Pamela Mellen Prentiss (1859-1885)
Alma materHarvard Law School[a]

Henry Flagg French (August 14, 1813 – November 29, 1885) was an American agriculturalist, inventor, lawyer, judge, postmaster, writer, assistant secretary of the treasury, and the first president of the Massachusetts Agricultural College (now the University of Massachusetts Amherst). He was also a prominent figure in many agricultural societies, a vice president of the United States Agricultural Society, and a patent holder. He is perhaps best known for his development and popularization of the French drain, as well as being the father of renowned sculptor Daniel Chester French, who created the iconic statue of Abraham Lincoln central to the Lincoln Memorial.[1]

Early life[edit]

Henry Flagg French was born in Chester, Rockingham County, New Hampshire, on August 14, 1813, to the Honorable Daniel French (1769–1840), who was attorney general of New Hampshire[2] and Sarah Wingate Flagg Bell French (1782–1878). He died November 29, 1885, in Middlesex County, Concord, Massachusetts. He is buried at Exeter Cemetery, in Rockingham County, New Hampshire.[1]


He received his general education at Pinkerton Academy in Derry and then at Pembroke, and after that at Hingham, Massachusetts. He first studied law at the law office of his father Daniel French, and attended Harvard Law School.


On October 9, 1838, he married Anne Richardson (1811–1856), daughter of William Merchant Richardson (1774–1838), chief justice of New Hampshire. They had four children: Henriette Van Mater French Hollis (1839–1911), William Merchant Richardson French (1843–1914), Sarah Flagg French Bartlett (1846–1883), and Daniel Chester French (1850–1931).

Three years after Anne Richardson's death, on September 29, 1859, he married Pamela Mellen Prentice, (1821–1895). They had no children.


He was admitted to the bar on August 14, 1834 (his 21st birthday). He practiced law in Chester for five years, until his father's death in 1840. In 1839, he succeeded his father as postmaster in Chester. He then moved to Portsmouth, where he lived for one year, and then in 1842 he moved to Exeter and continued to practice law there until August 1855. He was a county solicitor from 1838 to 1848 and a bank commissioner from 1848 to 1852. He was justice of the court of common appeals from 1855 to 1859. He was district attorney for Suffolk County from 1862 to 1865. From 1852 to 1859 he was president of the Rockingham Agricultural Society. From 1865 to 1866 he was president of the Massachusetts Agricultural College.[3] In 1852, he received honorary Master of Arts degree from Dartmouth College. On August 15, 1855, he was appointed justice of the court of common appeals. He held that office until August 1, 1859.

In September 1859, he opened a law office in Boston. In 1860, he moved his family to Cambridge, where he continued to live for some years. On November 19, 1862, he was appointed assistant district attorney and held that position until July 1865. In September 1865 he moved to Amherst. In 1867 he resumed his law practice in Boston. In 1876 he was appointed by President Grant as 2nd assistant secretary of the United States Treasury, where he served until 1885.

Selected works[edit]

Although he only published one full book, French was a very prolific writer and wrote hundreds of articles for a number of agricultural journals:

The New England Farmer

In the span of nearly 20 years Henry F. French wrote over 120 articles for the New England Farmer, a paper operated by his brother-in-law, Simon Brown, which circulated around New England and much of the Northeast United States, with letters from readers as far away as Maryland. The subjects of these articles were diverse, with many having strictly practical advice, while others being more humanitarian and philosophical in nature. Topics covered include French's travels to Europe farm maintenance, drainage, orcharding, dairy farming, women's rights, the advantages of an education, and various thoughts on establishing a more agrarian, egalitarian American society.

The Country Gentleman


  1. ^ Contrary to some posthumous biographies, French never actually attended college, only going to law school so he to study for the state bar exams. This was brought up in a letter by his daughter, Harriet V. French, after a Mr. W.H. Bowker mistakenly said French was a Dartmouth alumnus in his dedication speech of UMass Amherst's French Hall.


  1. ^ a b "Henry Flagg French: Owings Stone Family Genealogy". owingsstone.com. Retrieved August 24, 2020.
  2. ^ "Ever wonder why it's a 'French drain'? It's got nothing to do with France". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 15, 2015.
  3. ^ Profile, Massachusetts.edu. Accessed April 19, 2024.

External links[edit]