Farrar was born on November 7, 1830, in Charlottesville. He was the son of James Farrar and Critty Hawkins Farrar, both of whom were free blacks. References to him early in life do not include a middle name or middle initial and later references do not indicate what the middle initial stood for or why or when he began to use it. Farrar learned to read and write and, late in the 1840s, began training as a carpenter with a builder in Charlottesville. About 1858 or 1859 he moved to Richmond, where he married Rachel Willis Grey, the daughter of a free barber. They had three sons, one daughter, and another child who died young.
Farrar quickly established himself as a respected contractor in Richmond. After he was arrested in September 1863 for receiving stolen property and convicted the following month, white andof and (including one of the judges of the criminal court) petitioned the for a pardon. His sentence was to be sold into slavery, but Farrar received a pardon on November 2.
The Richmond Colored Normal School
Farrar was eager to help African Americans purchase their own homes after the Civil War, and in October 1868 he joined Peter H. Woolfolk and several other men in establishing the Virginia Home Building Fund and Loan Association, of which he later served as president. Farrar began investing in real estate in 1867 when he purchased a lot on Fourth Street in what later became the city’s Jackson Ward. During the next two decades he bought and sold several lots in the vicinity and erected houses on some of them, but it is not known how many buildings he constructed in Richmond. Farrar also repaired or constructed additions to local, and he built the gallows used to hang the notorious convicted murderer Thomas J. Cluverius in 1887. By 1890 Farrar’s Richmond real estate was valued at $8,500.
Having become a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1862, Farrar was elected a deacon the following year and clerk in 1866. He served on committees of the regionalbeginning in 1867, and he regularly attended the annual meetings of the , which elected him assistant secretary in 1871. That year Farrar also became a member of the executive board, and in May 1876 he was elected treasurer, a position he held until his death.
Early in the 1880s he joined a group of African Americans who believed that they and not white Baptists should take on responsibility for missions in Africa. The Board of Foreign Missions of the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention of the United States of America (National Baptist Convention after 1895) established its headquarters in Richmond, and Farrar served on its executive board from 1881 until 1887, when he was elected treasurer. In 1872 he represented Ebenezer Baptist Church on the board of trustees of the Friends’ Asylum for Colored Orphans (later Friends’ Association for Children), and in 1887 he was named to the board of managers of the Lynchburg Baptist Seminary (later Virginia University of Lynchburg).
In the aftermath of the Civil War Farrar joined other African Americans in fighting for their full civil and political rights as citizens. On May 9, 1865, less than a month after the fall of Richmond, he helped organize the Colored Men’s Equal Rights League of Richmond, of which he was elected treasurer. During the autumn of 1867 Farrar attended the meetings that organized thein Richmond. Earlier that year Congress had passed the Reconstruction Acts, placing Virginia under and giving African American men the right to vote and hold office. In May 1869 Farrar attended a convention of black delegates that met in Richmond to oppose Virginia’s readmission to the United States without assuring suffrage for blacks. He was a member of the committee that prepared the resolutions calling for Republicans to ratify the new state constitution drafted in a convention that met in 1867–1868 and to work for the establishment of free . In June 1869 Radical Republicans nominated Farrar as one of nine candidates to represent the district of Richmond and Henrico County in the House of Delegates. After newspapers reported on his 1863 arrest, however, he was dropped from the ticket later that month.
Farrar did not return to politics until 1886, when the Richmond common council elected him to fill a vacant seat on March 22. Two months later he was named a candidate for the common council on the reform ticket of the Knights of Labor, and he received the highest number of votes in Jackson Ward on May 27. A member of the Reformers’ caucus on the council, Farrar served on the committees on relief of the poor and on accounts and printing. He regularly attended the monthly meetings and offered several resolutions, including ones to appoint a city building inspector, to allow for a chaplain at the separate almshouses for blacks and whites, and for the city to acquire five acres on Navy Hill for a park. Farrar did not run for reelection at the conclusion of his term in 1888, although he made an unsuccessful attempt to return to the common council as an Independent Republican in 1890.