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AB Farquhar, who surrendered York, had Maryland & York roots

Many local history buffs in York County, Pennsylvania, are well aware of the role that young businessman Arthur Briggs Farquhar played in the controversial (to this day) surrender of the borough of York to oncoming Confederate troops during the Civil War’s Gettysburg Campaign. Hearing reports that a powerful column of enemy forces was approaching York from the west after marching from Gettysburg, Farquhar, tired of the perceived dithering of York’s councilmen, jumped into his carriage and road along the turnpike to Abbottstown. There, he met with Confederate Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon and negotiated the terms by which the Rebels would occupy York. He then returned to York and reported the results to Chief Burgess David Small and the town council. Stunned by his impetuous (and unauthorized) action, they climbed into his carriage and rode west to seek out the Rebel leader. They met Gordon at Farmers Post Office, about 10 miles west of York, and officially negotiated the peaceful surrender of the borough.

Farquhar later stated that several Yorkers were upset with his actions. Troubled by the response, the businessman traveled to Washington, D.C., and met with President Abraham Lincoln to discuss the situation. Lincoln, taking him by the hand, escorted Farquhar to the office of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and joked that here was the chap who surrendered York to the Rebels; “what should we do with him?” Amused at the story, Stanton jokingly offered Farquhar a commission in the army. Years later, Farquhar became a millionaire from his farm equipment company and a noted civic leader in York. His estate off of Richland Avenue was a hub of social activity.

Farquhar, born in Sandy Spring, Maryland, to Quaker parents, had roots in both York and Sandy Spring. I recently had the chance to visit his parents’ graves and tour the meeting house where he worshipped as a child and young man.

William Henry Farquhar was born in York in June 1813. When he was 11 years old, his family moved to Sandy Spring in Montgomery County, Maryland, where they became pillars of the local meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (commonly known as the Quakers). He was educated at the local Quaker school and then at Brimstone Academy in Alexandria, Virginia. He married Margaret Briggs in 1844; the couple had eight children.

Arthur Briggs Farquhar was born in Sandy Spring on September 28, 1838. He also attended Brimstone Academy, then under the tutelage of his uncle Benjamin Hallowell. One of his schoolmates was Robert E. Lee’s son, William Henry Fitzhugh (“Rooney”) Lee. In 1856, Farquhar moved to his father’s native York and worked for a company that manufactured agricultural implements. He eventually took over the business after a devastating fire, calling his new company the Pennsylvania Agricultural Works (later known as the A. B. Farquhar Company). During the Civil War, he provided stretchers and chairs to the Union army and later contracted hundreds of wooden coffins for the dead soldiers after the Battle of Gettysburg.

This red brick Quaker meeting house at Sandy Spring dates from 1817. The first structure, a wooden frame building dated from 1753. A second facility replaced it; that wooden building was later used as a storage facility after being moved on roller logs to a new location.

The side of the meeting house facing the entry lane that leads to the Olney-Sandy Spring Road shows the date of construction, 1817.

A curtain separated male worshippers from females in the early years of the Quaker services. Over time, that practice ceased. The balcony was added well after the structure was built. James Lehman, a local historian and curator, graciously granted me access to the building and explained its fascinating history.

The Sandy Spring Quakers (and many other residents of Montgomery County) opposed slavery; many were ardent abolitionists. Some congregants were active in the Underground Railroad movement. A nearby history trail interprets the area’s role in the Underground Railroad and highlights several natural terrain features that helped shelter freedom seekers. A museum recalls the enslaved people of the region and the movement to free them and help others. Nearby is another museum, Woodlawn Manor, once a prominent stop on the local Underground Railroad network.

This plaque on the front wall of the meeting house (by the front porch) briefly recalls the interesting history of the Sandy Spring Quakers.

The burial ground of the Sandy Spring Meeting House contains the graves of prominent educator Benjamin Hallowell, his family, and scores of other Quakers.

York-born William Henry Farquhar is among the many people buried behind the Sandy Spring Meeting House. He was the father of A. B. Farquhar.

Margaret (Briggs) Farquhar is buried next to her husband. They named their son Arthur Briggs in honor of Margaret’s family heritage. Another son was named Hallowell Farquhar for their brother-in-law, educator Benjamin Hallowell.

A.B. Farquhar is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery off of N. George Street in York, Pennsylvania, some 80 miles to the north of his parents’ graves.

To read more about A.B. Farquhar and his role in the surrender of York, please pick up a copy of this new book (available from most leading Internet retailers or from independent bookstores such as Civil War and More in Mechanicsburg, PA).