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James Macfarlane
By J. P. Lesley (1885)

An Obituary Notice of James Macfarlane. By J. P. Lesley.

(Read before the American Philosophical Society, December J., 1885.)

The Society has suffered, by the recent death of its member, Mr. James Macfarlane, of Towanda, in Bradford county, Pa., the loss of a man of distinguished abilities and sterling virtue, universally loved, respected and confided in, a practical business man of the first rank, a lawyer of great reputation, especially for his conduct of railway litigation, a judicious geologist especially devoted to the subject of coal, the author of valuable books in extensive circulation, and a citizen of the Commonwealth entrusted at various times with the conduct of public affairs.

He was elected to membership in this Society, Jan. 19th, 1883, and regarded it with genuine pleasure and pride, as the best recognition of his standing among men of science and literature, not only in his native State, but in this and foreign lands. But his busy life and literary works prevented him from making communications to the Society, at its stated meetings, which he could not attend on account of the distance from his home, the multiplicity of his engagements, and his failing health.

He became a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in 1880, and a fellow in 1882, and assisted at its meetings in Boston, Montreal, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Ann Arbor, the latter but a few weeks before his death.

In 1872 Pennsylvania College conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

He was appointed by Governor Hartranft, in 1874, one of the ten Commissioners for the Second Geological Survey, and was punctually present at all the quarterly meetings of that board up to the present year, taking the most lively interest in its proceedings, being an active member of its Publication Committee, and answering readily to every call for business consultation and official action in Harrisburg and Philadelphia around the year. In fact, he completely identified himself with the Survey and thought nothing a trouble which he could do to further its progress, or improve its operations. Its success has been largely due to the devotion of his singular intelligence and disinterested cooperation. His loss is felt severely in many places, but nowhere more severely than in the circle of distinguished men appointed to accomplish the will of the Legislature respecting the Geological Survey. His training in general geology, and his rare acquaintance with the coal measures, his experience in publishing his own scientific works, and his legal acumen, combined to make his appointment to this official post a fortunate event, and to make his sudden death a calamity. It may be said with truth that no other citizen of the State can be found to exactly replace him.

Shortly before his death he occupied another most useful and responsible office, that of Arbitrator for the general coal-trade centring at Buffalo in Western New York. His choice for such a post itself sufficiently marks the character of the man, and the distinguished consideration in which he was held by everybody, as a man of honor intelligence and experience in affairs. He stood in the midst of many rival interests, both of capital and labor, a referee and mediator, an adjuster and a judge, armed with no powers but such as were voluntarily conceded to him by all concerned for the general good: and it is needless to say with what tact and skill, and integrity he fulfilled his difficult duties to the general satisfaction. That he was a good citizen, a loving friend and devout Christian will not explain it; for many a good man would fail to fill such a place for want of other qualities which he possessed. Some men are born to rule; others live to make themselves the servants of mankind, and he was one of these, and died in the general public recognition of it; all honor be to his memory!

Middle Pennsylvania may be proud of its Scotch and Scotch-Irish settlement blood; its Hendersons and Hamiltons, its Rosses apd Stewarts and Murrays, its McAlisters, McKinleys, McCormicks, McCauleys and McFarlanes; strong wills, bold hearts, long heads and stalwart bodies; great breeders of handsome and able children; a capable race for thinking strongly and executing vigorously the plans and purposes of men.

James Macfai||ne was of this fine stock. His face wore the aspect of intense vitality; his forehead was high and massive; his voice was pitched low, and his speech was decisive; he had no hesitations. One could divine at a glance why he was an ardent Christian and why he was a powerful legal pleader. He lived the life of a perpetual thinker, whose will was as urgently exercised as his reason and his imagination; for he lived in the thick of the general battle of life. Such men always come to the fore, and formulate events, and qualify the next generation. They hold the plough by both handles, and deepen the furrow at every tillage, turning up the subsoil sooner or later; doing all things thoroughly.

I speak of James Macfarlane warmly as a personal friend to whom I owe much; but I may be permitted to say that I regard with a sentiment akin to veneration the Scotch courage which could suffice to deliberately face and execute such an enterprise as the description of all the Coal Regions of America, and follow it with such another enterprise as his geological guide to the Railways of the United States, he, a practising lawyer and practical coal operator, as if he were a man of leisure. Such operations are only for tire world’s workers, born and bred to much thought and many deeds.

His first home was in Gettysburg, where he was born, Sept. 2d, 1819, and graduated at Pennsylvania College in 1837. That same year he joined the corps of civil engineers on the line of the North Branch canal, with headquarters at Towanda. After several years of this employment, he went to Carlisle, read law with Judge Graham, was admitted to the bar in 1845, and settled to practise in New Bloomfield, Perry county, for eight years, serving three years as District Attorney. Here he married Mary Overton, daughter of the late Edward Overton, who survives to lament his loss. In 1851 he returned to Bradford county to practice law at Towanda, being in 1852 elected District Attorney of the county, until 1859. He then accepted the position of General Superintendent of the Barclay Coal Company, which he relinquished, in 1865, to organize the Towanda Coal Company, which afterwards passed under the control of the Erie Railroad. He then became General Sales Agent of the Associated Blossburg Coal Company, with offices at Rochester, Syracuse and Elmira. In 1880 he organized the Long Valley Coal Company and developed its mines. In 1885 he was selected, as I have already said, to be Arbitrator of the Bituminous Coal Combination at Buffalo. When the combination was broken up, he returned to Towanda to work on a second and enlarged edition of his Geologists’ Traveling Hand-book, or American Geological Railroad Guide, when, without warning, he died of heart disease, Oct. 15th, 1885.

He leaves his work half done, about 200 pages being in type, and many pages of MS. in a more or less finished state.

The Coal Fields of America is his most noted work and has had a large sale on both sides of the Atlantic. This brought him a considerable practice as an expert in coal operations. He wrote several geological articles for the American Encyclopedia, and one on the Bituminous Coal Fields of Pennsylvania for Gray & Walling’s Atlas. He wrote also for the Evangelical Review.

Coal Regions of America
By James MacFarlane (Third Edition) (1875) (pdf)

The Pennsylvania Canals
By James MacFarlane, Ph. D. (pdf)

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