The Fahnestock Brothers

The girls were first, and judging by Louisa’s naming of her children, they mothered the later-arriving sons and adored them. The sons came every two years like clockwork from 1825 through 1829. In 1833, when James was 8, Henry 6, and Edward 4, their father Samuel bought the old tavern down the street from his house and turned it into the Samuel Fahnestock Store. All the children grew up in and around the store, but the boys especially were called upon to help, and as they grew into young men, the store became the Samuel Fahnestock and Sons Store.

The store was the largest and most important in Gettysburg, and it made Samuel and then his sons the wealthiest men in town. The Civil War proved pivotal for the brothers—in their family, politics, economics, and their personal futures. In January 1861, Samuel went to stay in Philadelphia with Louisa and her husband, Dr. Cox, quite possibly because of an illness he was suffering. Samuel would not make it home. Just three weeks after South Carolina seceded, he passed away at the age of 64, leaving the store and much of his estate to his sons.

The Gettysburg Compiler noted Samuel’s passing as follows:

“In Philadelphia, on Tuesday last, (at the residence of his son-in-law, Dr. Cox,) SAMUEL FAHNESTOCK, Esq., of this place, aged about 65 years. The deceased has been, for many years, one of our most active and successful merchants – of untiring energy and perseverance. His kind, generous and genial heart brought around him many friends, who regret his departure. Although beyond the three score, yet his hale, hearty constitution would have indicated longer life. It has pleased Providence to cut the thread before he reached the Psalmist’s common verge of life. His remains were brought home and interred in Ever Green Cemetery on Thursday.” (January 21, 1861)

The store then became the Fahnestock Brothers Store. But the three brothers would not be together much to run the store over the course of the war.

On April 12 of the same year, Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter. On April 15, President Lincoln called for the raising of 75,000 troops to put down the Southern rebellion. These initial recruits were generally local militia and enlisted for the period of three months. On April 20, Edward enlisted with the three-month volunteers where he was made a 1st lieutenant in Company E of the 2nd Pennsylvania Infantry. The 2nd Pennsylvania served through July, and Edward mustered out with his company.

As well, they became involved politically with the local Republican Party and the Know Nothings. While the Democrat-leaning Gettysburg Compiler had lauded the life of Samuel in early 1861, by middle of August 1862, the paper was howling conspiracy theories at the brothers for “rigging” an election of party delegates:

Whatever the controversy, Edward wouldn’t remain around for much of it. In December, he reenlisted, this time in the Pennsylvania 165th Infantry where he was made second in command. Though his obituary would claim he was involved in many of the great battles of the war, he was not. His unit was never involved in anything more than skirmishing and had a 3.3% casualty rate. That enlistment would last about seven months, and he was honorably discharged weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg.

The battle itself was transformative for the town and its members, and it no doubt was for the brothers. Though we do not have public records of their thinking, it’s possible that the battle’s effect on the town and on their business ultimately pushed them away. The store, of course, played a huge role in and after the battle as a vantage point, a field hospital, and a supply base for the sanitation commission. Shortly after the war, James left for Philadelphia where he partnered in a new dry goods business that he ran until the partnership ended and he operated a solo business until 1895. He lived another six years before passing away in Atlantic City.

Henry and Edward remained with the business until the early 1880s when they shuttered the business and headed together to Watertown, South Dakota. Henry would spend the rest of his life here in the insurance business, while Edward would eventually move to Minneapolis where he continued in the insurance business until his death.

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