Concord paymaster paid out millions to those who served

  • The home at 167 N. Main St., Concord, where paymaster Henry McFarland lived during the Civil War. He utilized this home to pay the returning Union troops in Concord at the conclusion of the war. James W. Spain II / For the Monitor

Published: 2/9/2019 8:45:23 PM

There is a beautiful old home located at 167 N. Main St. in Concord that has seen more greenback currency pass through the front doors than many banks located within the state of New Hampshire. This building was at one time the home to the American Red Cross and provided much to the members of our little community. A very giving home with a very rich history indeed.

Back in the 1800s, this home was the residence of Henry McFarland, a very distinguished gentleman. A caring man, he contributed much to the local history and shared many memories to those that embraced our local lore. He grew up in Concord and enjoyed the community as a young boy in the 1830s and 1840s.

McFarland was educated and well liked, held some very interesting jobs over the years and traveled about our country. He did love his country and took great pride in his position working for the United States government as a paymaster. When the troops returned to Concord after the Civil War, they would stop at 167 N. Main St. to visit Henry and he would disperse the money the government owed to the soldiers for the service they provided to their country during the war. The disbursement of funds varied over the years and at times included solid gold, but most of the time it was cash, referred to during this period as greenbacks.

There were express charges on large sums of money and the paymasters were not provided assistance by the War Department, so McFarland found himself managing cash and essentially managing his own business from his home.

He would travel to Boston and sometimes New York to exchange large treasury drafts for currency, pack the greenbacks into his leather trunk and return to Concord with the funds to pay the troops with cash. Several times he came home late at night with his leather trunk and returned to his home at 167 N. Main St. with as much as $150,000.

McFarland was indeed concerned; he mentioned to his friends that he had some anxiety traveling around with a leather trunk full of cash, no guards, his animosity the only form of protection. The people within our community did not have knowledge that he was returning on a somewhat routine basis with trunks full of cash.

Years later, when McFarland was questioned about his position as paymaster, living and working out of his home on North Main Street, he said he did have a dog at the house and he felt the dog would alert him if there was an attempt to steal the government cash. As a backup to his dog, he always kept a heavy double-barreled shotgun loaded and placed behind his front door, just in case.

When the Civil War concluded and the troops returned to Concord there was so much cash disbursed by the Concord paymaster that during a short period – Aug. 1. to Sept. 10, 1865 – it is said that  $250,000 was handed out the front door of his home to the returning soldiers. Years later, McFarland mentioned that he distributed over $1.5 million to the soldiers at the end of the war.

The home located at 167 N. Main St. witnessed millions of dollars in greenbacks and gold with relatively no security, perhaps a true testament to the values possessed by our ancestors during that era.

When Washington closed the Concord paymaster’s office, they mustered out McFarland on Jan.15, 1866, and awarded him the brevet of lieutenant colonel for his faithful service from his home in Concord.

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