The Clan Farquharson Society: A Brief History

By John T. Fargason, FSA Scot Lieutenant to the Chief 

When I met Stuart Farquharson for the first time at the Clan Farquharson AGM in Arlington, Texas this past summer, he suggested I write a story about how our society came into existence. I admit that after twenty-five years my mind was a bit hazy on when, where and how certain things took place and who was involved.

But Stuart also suggested I send him, along with this article, a copy of the first edition of our newsletter which became known as the Cairn. When I dug into my files and read the first editorial I found that the answers to most questions were right there on page one. So I suggest that we simply insert that page at this point, marked:

Newsletter, Volume I, Number I, January, 1978

Founded in the USA in 1977

Editorial This is the first of what I hope will be a long and increasingly interesting series of newsletters to members and friends of the Clan Farquharson Society.

In the summer of 1967 I attended my first Highland Games and Gathering of Scottish Clans. This was at Grandfather Mountain near Linville, North Carolina. I was greatly impressed by the number of clans represented there. Each clan society had its own tent equipped with various items of identification such as signs, flags and tartan banners, and furnished with chairs, tables and refreshments for members. I searched for a tent I could call home but found none. At that time I determined to learn whether or not a Farquharson society existed, and if not, eventually to found one.

ClanFarquharson1Now, more than ten years later, our society is at last a reality. I learned that once there was, in fact, a Clan Farquharson Society in Scotland, but that it had been disbanded for many years. The initial push for starting the North American society originated in Toronto during the Scottish World Festival in 1975. I met Dr. Herbert P. MacNeal, Founder and President of the Council of Scottish Clan Associations, Inc. Dr. MacNeal encouraged me to take the first step in establishing the Society and later supplied me with much useful material on how this should be done. Once the decision was made to go ahead with the project received help from others whose knowledge and experience in this field was invaluable to me. Through the Lady Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton, President of the American Scottish Foundation, I was introduced to our Chief, Captain Alwyne Compton Farquharson of Invercauld. Actually, I had met the Chief at the Royal Gathering at Braemar in 1975, and was able to jog his memory with a photograph of the two of us together.

He has been most enthusiastic and cooperative in this venture and has helped not only with a list of North American clansmen who have visited the Castle of Invercauld but also by a generous financial contribution as well. I am also indebted to Lady Hamilton for the names of clansmen who also belong to the American Scottish Foundation, as many have joined our society. The Clan Farquharson Society is still in its infancy, but it is alive and growing and I look forward to the coming year with enthusiasm and confidence. I hope eventually to meet each and every one of our members personally, and would like to encourage all of you who can to attend as many functions as possible of a Scottish nature. This coming summer the Clan Farquharson Society will have its own tent at Grandfather Mountain. Please be there if you can and know that if you do, you will have a place to hang your bonnet. Aye yours, the Editor.

John T Fargason at Braemar Castle in 1975

John T Fargason at Braemar Castle in 1975

There in a nutshell, is the story of the founding of the Clan Farquharson Society.

Going back even before January 1978, I can recall events that piqued my interest in Scotland and things Scottish. One early one was a motion picture called “I Know Where I’m Going;” about an impoverished Highland laird and an English girl who met him and struck up a romance. Another time, a friend of mine in Mississippi (who originally came to the States from the Orkney Islands) invited me to go with him to Savannah to a meeting of the Saint Andrews Society. After the meeting was over, I joined it then and there. That was the first time I had ever seen and heard a bag piper. I determined to obtain a set of pipes someday and learn to play them.

Later that summer my wife and I went to Scotland and I did purchase a set of pipes, plus a kilt and all the accompanying day and evening dress that went with it. Not long after this we went to the Grandfather Mountain Games in Linville, North Carolina. There I really had my first dose of Scotland in America. I remember going to the hotel at the foot of Grandfather Mountain before the games and there in the parking lot was a large man backing out of his car, dressed in a MacLeod kilt. For those of you who don’t know, MacLeod is not a quiet tartan. I determined that if he could do it, so could I. I drove back to our hotel and put on all my Highland finery for the first time and wore it all weekend. Years went by and in 1974 I moved to Connecticut. One day, while watching the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in New York on television, I saw at least twenty pipe bands marching down Fifth Avenue. I contacted a local Scot, Jock MacRae of Stratford, Connecticut, who had a small business selling Scottish products. I asked him how I might get in touch with a band and learn to play the pipes. That week a member of the Shriners stopped by the house and invited me to go to band practice with him.

I met the man who was to be my pipe major for the next thirteen years, Tom Shearer, pipe major of the Pyramid Temple Pipes and Drums. Later, on a trip to Toronto to the Scottish World Festival, I met Dr. Herbert MacNeal, as mentioned above. When I asked him how to found a clan society in the United States, he said, “Find another Farquharson and go from there.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Looking back over the years, I can recall many people to whom I owe a large debt of thanks for all their help. Every one of them became a personal friend. Ben Fargason, a long lost “cousin” from Savannah was one of the first. I was president for seventeen years and he was slated to replace me before he died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Frank Farquharson of Schuyler Falls, New York, was another to whom I owe a great deal. As the society grew and the years passed, I attended many games and made many friends. During the summer, I traveled to Vermont, New York, Connecticut, Virginia, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and other states. For several years, it was just about a full time job. I found a replacement in Karen Pratt Thorpe who took over the presidency in August 1994. Under her able leadership, the Society continued to flourish and prosper. It experienced a large growth in membership. Its name was changed to Clan Farquharson USA. Individual members in different states volunteered their time and effort to become state commissioners.

Under the leadership of Patricia Findlay Scharzmann of Los Angeles, California became the state with the largest number of members. Today the clan is in the capable and able hands of Sharon Farley of Longview, Texas, as President. She is very active and has some excellent help in seeing that things continue to run smoothly. I feel comfortable knowing that Clan Farquharson has a bright future and that we are firmly established as a going concern among the Scottish clan associations of the United States.