The Fahnestock Brothers v. Charles W. Hoffman

Follow the money

As noted in the story of Wesley Culp, in the mid-1850s, Charles W. Hoffman was one of the most prominent businessmen in town. He employed three sons as well as William Culp, Wesley Culp, and Ed Skelly. The Hoffman carriage complex was about 1.5 blocks west of the Fahnestock Brothers store (the last remaining building of the complex is shown at right) and constituted ten different properties with buildings used in his business.

In 1855 or 1856, Charles made the fateful decision to move his business Shepherdstown, Virginia, where he would only last a couple of years before moving further south. This move divided Wesley Culp from his family in the coming conflict and ultimately see him killed at the Battle of Gettysburg.

So why did Hoffman move? We cannot say for sure, but various challenges must have been in play. From legal notices in May 1859, we see that the Fahnestocks as well as Gettysburg resident David Middlecoff were pursuing Hoffman for unpaid debts and undelivered services. Samuel Fahnestock (the brothers’ father) sought $300 in restitution or $10,857 in 2023 US currency. Samuel and his sons claimed a further debt of $425 or $15,380.75 in 2023 US currency. And finally, the business Fahnestock Brothers pursued Hoffman for $900 or $32,571 in 2023 US currency. Further, Middlecoff was pursuing Hoffman for assumpsit or in other words a breach of contract. More than likely, Middlecoff was claiming that Hoffman had failed to deliver a carriage or carriages that he had contracted to deliver. In all, Hoffman appears to have owed nearly $60,000 in 2023 US currency.

A March 1858 real estate posting indicates that Hoffman attempted to sell all of his properties at that time. Why had they been difficult to move? The Panic of 1857, which deeply hurt northern industry and real estate, likely had a role. By 1859, Hoffman still hadn’t sold his properties, and these were listed as assets against which the Fahnestocks could recover their debts. In 1862, the Hoffman properties were sold at a sheriff’s sale, and one of the properties came to the Fahnestock Brothers who then found another carriage maker to take it.

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