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Confederate scout William Downs Farley – the early years

27 October 2012 No Comment

In this issue I am beginning a series of articles about one of Jeb Stuart’s most trusted scouts, South Carolinian William Downs Farley. The role of Farley in our recent stage production was played by Joshua Hicks, husband of leading lady Maddison Hicks, who surely resembled the dark haired, handsome Farley. But it was a minor role and there is so much more to tell about this intrepid, legendary scout. So sit back and relax. We’re going on a long, long journey. 

William Downs Farley had Virginia roots. His grandparents Archer Farley and Ann Robertson hailed from the old Dominion. The Robertson family lived in the Orange, Culpeper area. So it is quite possible that the scout had relatives in Culpeper. We’ll come back to this much later in the saga. 

Archer Farley was a direct descendent of the “Douglas” of Scotland, and thus there was fighting blood in the veins of the Farleys. Ann Robertson Farley gave birth to William Robertson Farley in 1801 in Charlotte County, Virginia. He emigrated to South Carolina at age twenty-one, married Phoebe M. Downs and commenced the practice of law in the village of Laurens. They named their firstborn son William Downs Farley, after his father-in-law, Colonel William F. Downs, a distinguished lawyer, member of the Legislature, and an officer of the War of 1812. The father of this Colonel Downs, was a patriot of 1776. Thus we see why William Downs followed the traditions of his race and plunged into the conflict of 1861. 

From and early age, William Downs Farley exhibited an intellectual hunger for literature. Passionately fond of Shakespeare and the elder poets, he loved to wander into to the woods, stretch out under a tree and read for hours. But at the sound of the hounds, he’d throw his athletic body into action and join the chase. 

At age 17 he and a friend made a tour of the Northern States. Afterwards he attended the University of Virginia and during the summers he took the opportunity to hike through the Virginia countryside. His familiarity with the terrain would reap benefits for the Confederacy. 

Farley gained a reputation for athletic prowess during his years at the University of Virginia. Following graduation he and several friends embarked on a traditional visit to the Natural Bridge. Each year a contest was held to see which graduate could scale the rock wall to the highest point. Farley not only won the challenge but when he reached the location of the “G. W.” George Washington had previously carved he halted his climb in order not to surpass the father of our country. 

He returned to South Carolina to render service to his father who had become an invalid and to join him in the practice of law. His father’s business required frequent visits to the interior of the state so Farley’s was able to feed his wander lust and craving for adventure. 

A great follower of political affairs, Farley was a “warm” advocate of States Rights and entered into the spirit of secession with enthusiasm. He was instrumental in bringing a unanimous opinion in his own district. 

His father passed away just before the opening of the war. Farley made frequent visits to Charleston, with the hope of being on the scene of action should an attack be made on the city. But his younger brother Hugh Saxon Farley, who had attended the Citadel and then West Point for two years, was one of the first cadets to resign as political tensions mounted. He volunteered his services to the defense forces forming in Charleston. 

Stay tuned to find out which Farley brother would fire the first shot on Fort Sumter.

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