Joseph E. Farrar

Joseph E. Farrar (1830–1892)

Joseph E. Farrar was a Richmond builder and civic leader in the decades after the American Civil War (1861–1865). Farrar was born free and held a respected position as a contractor before the abolition of slavery, but he needed a gubernatorial pardon to escape being sold into slavery after being convicted of receiving stolen property. He began his civic involvement less than a month after the fall of Richmond, helping organize the Colored Men's Equal Rights League. Farrar and other leaders established the Virginia Home Building Fund and Loan Association to assist African Americans in purchasing their own homes. He also received contracts from the Freedmen's Bureau to work on school buildings in Richmond. Farrar held leadership positions in a series of Baptist and educational organizations and served on Richmond's common council as a member of the Knights of Labor's reform faction. He remained active in the community until his 1892 death in Richmond. MORE...

 

Early Years

Farrar was born on November 7, 1830, in Charlottesville. He was the son of James Farrar and Critty Hawkins Farrar, both of whom were free blacks. References to him early in life do not include a middle name or middle initial and later references do not indicate what the middle initial stood for or why or when he began to use it. Farrar learned to read and write and, late in the 1840s, began training as a carpenter with a builder in Charlottesville. About 1858 or 1859 he moved to Richmond, where he married Rachel Willis Grey, the daughter of a free barber. They had three sons, one daughter, and another child who died young.

Farrar quickly established himself as a respected contractor in Richmond. After he was arrested in September 1863 for receiving stolen property and convicted the following month, white and black residents of Charlottesville and Richmond (including one of the judges of the criminal court) petitioned the governor for a pardon. His sentence was to be sold into slavery, but Farrar received a pardon on November 2.

Public Service

After the Civil War, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands contracted with Farrar to work on school buildings in Richmond. He believed in the importance of education in improving the lives of men, women, and children who had formerly been enslaved, and on July 2, 1867, a group that included Farrar, Ralza M. Manly, and several other men received a charter for the Richmond Educational Association to establish a school to train African American teachers. The Richmond Normal and High School (Richmond Colored Normal School after 1870) opened in 1867 and was deeded to the city in 1876. A member of the association's board of directors, Farrar became vice president in 1868 and president in 1875.

Farrar was eager to help African Americans purchase their own homes after the Civil War, and in October 1868 he joined Peter H. Woolfolk and several other men in establishing the Virginia Home Building Fund and Loan Association, of which he later served as president. Farrar began investing in real estate in 1867 when he purchased a lot on Fourth Street in what later became the city's Jackson Ward. During the next two decades he bought and sold several lots in the vicinity and erected houses on some of them, but it is not known how many buildings he constructed in Richmond. Farrar also repaired or constructed additions to local churches, and he built the gallows used to hang the notorious convicted murderer Thomas J. Cluverius in 1887. By 1890 Farrar's Richmond real estate was valued at $8,500.

Having become a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1862, Farrar was elected a deacon the following year and clerk in 1866. He served on committees of the regional Colored Shiloh Baptist Association beginning in 1867, and he regularly attended the annual meetings of the Virginia Baptist State Convention, which elected him assistant secretary in 1871. That year Farrar also became a member of the executive board, and in May 1876 he was elected treasurer, a position he held until his death.

Early in the 1880s he joined a group of African Americans who believed that they and not white Baptists should take on responsibility for missions in Africa. The Board of Foreign Missions of the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention of the United States of America (National Baptist Convention after 1895) established its headquarters in Richmond, and Farrar served on its executive board from 1881 until 1887, when he was elected treasurer. In 1872 he represented Ebenezer Baptist Church on the board of trustees of the Friends' Asylum for Colored Orphans (later Friends' Association for Children), and in 1887 he was named to the board of managers of the Lynchburg Baptist Seminary (later Virginia University of Lynchburg).

In the aftermath of the Civil War Farrar joined other African Americans in fighting for their full civil and political rights as citizens. On May 9, 1865, less than a month after the fall of Richmond, he helped organize the Colored Men's Equal Rights League of Richmond, of which he was elected treasurer. During the autumn of 1867 Farrar attended the meetings that organized the Republican Party in Richmond. Earlier that year Congress had passed the Reconstruction Acts, placing Virginia under military rule and giving African American men the right to vote and hold office. In May 1869 Farrar attended a convention of black delegates that met in Richmond to oppose Virginia's readmission to the United States without assuring suffrage for blacks. He was a member of the committee that prepared the resolutions calling for Republicans to ratify the new state constitution drafted in a convention that met in 1867–1868 and to work for the establishment of free public schools. In June 1869 Radical Republicans nominated Farrar as one of nine candidates to represent the district of Richmond and Henrico County in the House of Delegates. After newspapers reported on his 1863 arrest, however, he was dropped from the ticket later that month.

Later Years

Farrar did not return to politics until 1886, when the Richmond common council elected him to fill a vacant seat on March 22. Two months later he was named a candidate for the common council on the reform ticket of the Knights of Labor, and he received the highest number of votes in Jackson Ward on May 27. A member of the Reformers' caucus on the council, Farrar served on the committees on relief of the poor and on accounts and printing. He regularly attended the monthly meetings and offered several resolutions, including ones to appoint a city building inspector, to allow for a chaplain at the separate almshouses for blacks and whites, and for the city to acquire five acres on Navy Hill for a park. Farrar did not run for reelection at the conclusion of his term in 1888, although he made an unsuccessful attempt to return to the common council as an Independent Republican in 1890.

Late in the 1880s Farrar retired from his contracting business, which he left in the hands of his sons. He continued to serve as a grand deacon of the United Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Ancient York Masons and as a director of the local Young Men's Christian Association. In 1888 he headed a committee that oversaw the African American exhibitions at the Virginia Agricultural, Mechanical and Tobacco Exposition, held in Richmond. Farrar died at his Richmond home on the night of March 9, 1892, and was buried at Cedarwood Cemetery, which later became part of Richmond's Barton Heights Cemeteries.

Time Line

  • November 7, 1830 - Joseph E. Farrar is born free, in Charlottesville.
  • Late 1840s - Joseph E. Farrar trains to become a carpenter in Charlottesville.
  • ca. 1858 - Joseph E. Farrar moves to Richmond. He and Rachel Wills Grey, the daughter of a free barber, marry.
  • 1862 - Joseph E. Farrar becomes a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Richmond.
  • 1863 - Joseph E. Farrar is elected deacon of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Richmond.
  • September 1863 - Joseph E. Farrar is arrested for receiving stolen property.
  • October 1863 - Joseph E. Farrar is convicted for receiving stolen property, and sentenced to be sold into slavery.
  • November 2, 1863 - White and black residents of Charlottesville and Richmond successfully petition the governor to pardon Joseph E. Farrar from being sold into slavery.
  • May 9, 1865 - Joseph E. Farrar helps organize the Colored Men's Equal Rights League of Richmond and is later elected treasurer.
  • 1867 - Joseph E. Farrar begins two decades of real estate investment by purchasing a lot on Fourth Street in Richmond's Jackson Ward.
  • 1867 - Joseph E. Farrar serves on the regional committees of the Colored Shiloh Baptist Association.
  • June 2, 1867 - A group of men including Joseph E. Farrar and Ralza M. Manly receive a charter to establish the Richmond Normal and High School (the Richmond Colored Normal School after 1870). The school opens later in the year.
  • Autumn 1867 - Joseph E. Farrar attends meetings that organize the Republican Party in Richmond.
  • December 3, 1867–April 17, 1868 - Joseph E. Farrar participates in the state constitutional convention, supporting ratification of the new constitution and the establishment of free public schools.
  • 1868 - Joseph E. Farrar becomes the vice president of the Richmond Normal and High School (the Richmond Colored Normal School after 1870).
  • October 1868 - Joseph E. Farrar and several other men establish the Virginia Home Building Fund and Loan Association to help African Americans purchase their own homes.
  • May 1869 - Joseph E. Farrar attends a convention of black delegates in Richmond, which opposes Virginia's readmission to the Union without voting rights for black men.
  • June 1869 - Joseph E. Farrar is nominated for a seat in the House of Delegates by Radical Republications. He is dropped from the ticket after his previous arrest is publicized.
  • 1871 - Joseph E. Farrar is elected the assistant secretary of the Virginia Baptist State Convention.
  • 1872 - Joseph E. Farrar represents Ebenezer Baptist Church on the board of trustees of the Friends Asylum for Colored Orphans.
  • 1875 - Joseph E. Farrar becomes the president of the Richmond Normal and High School (the Richmond Colored Normal School after 1870).
  • May 1876 - Joseph E. Farrar is elected the treasurer of the Virginia Baptist State Convention, and serves until his death.
  • 1876 - The Richmond Colored Normal School is deeded to the city.
  • 1881–1887 - Joseph E. Farrar serves on the executive board of Foreign Missions for the Baptist Mission Convention of the United States of America (later the National Baptist Convention).
  • March 22, 1886 - Joseph E. Farrar is elected to the Richmond common council to fill a vacant seat.
  • May 27, 1886 - Joseph E. Farrar wins regular election to the Richmond common council on the reform ticket of the Knights of Labor.
  • 1887 - Joseph E. Farrar is named to the board of managers of the Lynchburg Baptist Seminary (later Virginia University of Lynchburg).
  • 1887 - As part of his contracting business in Richmond, Joseph E. Farrar builds the gallows used to hang the convicted murderer Thomas J. Cluverius.
  • 1888 - Joseph E. Farrar does not run for reelection to the Richmond common council.
  • Late 1880s - Joseph E. Farrar retires from his contracting business, leaving it to his sons.
  • 1888 - Joseph E. Farrar helps oversee the African American exhibitions at the Virginia Agricultural, Mechanical and Tobacco Exposition, in Richmond.
  • 1890 - By this year, Joseph E. Farrar's Richmond real estate investments are valued at $8,500.
  • 1890 - Joseph E. Farrar unsuccessfully runs for a seat on the Richmond common council as an Independent Republican.
  • March 9, 1892 - Joseph E. Farrar dies at his Richmond home. He is buried at Cedarwood Cemetery, which later becomes part of Richmond's Barton Heights Cemeteries.

References

Further Reading
Chesson, Michael B. Richmond after the War, 1865–1890. Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1981.
Chesson, Michael B. "Richmond's Black Councilmen, 1871–96." Southern Black Leaders of the Reconstruction Era, edited by Howard N. Rabinowitz. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1982.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Julienne, M. E., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Joseph E. Farrar (1830–1892). (2016, August 31). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Farrar_Joseph_E_1830-1892.

  • MLA Citation:

    Julienne, Marianne E. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Joseph E. Farrar (1830–1892)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 31 Aug. 2016. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: September 9, 2015 | Last modified: August 31, 2016