Congressman, legislator, reformer. Born in Virginia in 1759, Farrow was the son of John Farrow and Rosannah Waters. The family moved to South Carolina a few years after his birth, settling near Spartanburg in Ninety Six District. Farrow fought for the patriot cause in the Revolutionary War and achieved the rank of colonel. He had little formal education, but fellow lawyer John Belton O’Neall recalled him as the most dedicated and persistent member of the bar and praised his persuasive ability. After the Revolution, Farrow became a Democratic-Republican. In 1794 or 1795 he married Elizabeth Herndon of Newberry. They had no children. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1810 and a U.S. congressman in 1812. In 1816 Spartanburg District elected Farrow to the South Carolina House of Representatives, where he pursued a goal he had conceived several years before: the creation of a state lunatic asylum.
Initially, Farrow made little progress in this endeavor because of the state’s preoccupation with the events leading to the War of 1812. In the postwar years, however, political and economic conditions were more favorable to the asylum initiative. In 1817 the state began to implement an ambitious scheme of public works. The following year the state House of Representatives approved Farrow’s motion to appoint a special committee to investigate the condition of the insane in South Carolina. The committee, which Farrow chaired, reported that the state contained numerous lunatics who needed the protection and care an asylum would provide. The legislature, with little dissent, passed several resolutions calling for the construction of an asylum in Columbia. But the act to establish the institution was delayed by the financial panic of 1819, a budget deficit, and legislative opposition to expensive public projects. In 1820 Farrow tried but failed to get an asylum act through the General Assembly. The following year he was not reelected to the House, but his ally William Crafts, Jr., of Charleston secured a seat in the state Senate and succeeded in achieving Farrow’s goal. In 1822 Farrow was reelected to the House and appointed to the legislative commission to oversee the asylum’s construction. He did not live to see it completed. He died in Columbia on November 18, 1824, and was buried at Head’s Ford on the Enoree River in Spartanburg District. The asylum that he had fought so hard to establish did not open until 1828.
McCandless, Peter. Moonlight, Magnolias, and Madness: Insanity in South Carolina from the Colonial Period to the Progressive Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Moore, Alexander, ed. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Vol. 5, 1816–1828. Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1992.
O’Neall, John Belton. Biographical Sketches of the Bench and Bar of South Carolina. 2 vols. Charleston, S.C.: S. G. Courtney, 1859.
Trezevant, Daniel. Letters to His Excellency Governor Manning on the Lunatic Asylum. 1854. Reprint, New York: Arno, 1973.