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John Forbes

John Forbes

The British general John Forbes (1710-1759) commanded the expedition that captured Ft. Duquesne during the French and Indian War.

Little is known of John Forbes's early life other than that he was the son of Col. John Forbes of Fifeshire, Scotland. Although trained as a physician, young John purchased a cornet's commission in the 2d Royal North British Dragoons. Serving in various staff positions during the 6 years he participated in the War of the Austrian Succession, he won rapid promotion. By 1745 he was a lieutenant colonel, and in 1750 he was appointed lieutenant colonel of his own regiment. In 1757 he became colonel of the 17th Foot. With the outbreak of the French and Indian War in the American colonies, he accompanied his regiment to Halifax, where, as adjutant general to the Earl of Loudon, he furthered his own cause by a number of valuable suggestions.

In December 1757 Forbes was made a brigadier general in America only, and William Pitt assigned him to command the expedition against the French stronghold Ft. Duquesne. His force was made up of Montgomery's Highlanders, a detachment of Royal Americans, and 5,000 provincials from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina. Young George Washington accompanied the expedition. Among the trials that beset Forbes were the reluctance of the Pennsylvania Assembly and the refusal of the Maryland Legislature to appropriate funds. Bickering between his officers and the provincials and the reluctance of the local inhabitants to furnish provisions contributed to delays. Forbes's Cherokee allies deserted early in the campaign, while the western Indians held back. The almost continuous rains made a morass of the road built by the army. Yet Forbes continued to press forward through the wilderness, building blockhouses along the way. His road across the Allegheny Mountains later became one of the most important routes of America's western expansion.

From the beginning of the campaign Forbes was troubled by illness, and his troops were spirited by his show of courage. Successful negotiations won over the western Indians to the British side. Although British skirmishing parties were twice defeated, the French evacuated Ft. Duquesne without firing a shot in its defense. On Nov. 25, 1758, five months after the campaign began, Forbes raised the British flag over the fort, now renamed Pittsburgh. He returned to Philadelphia "looking like an emaciated old woman of eighty" and died on March 11, 1759.

Further Reading

Forbes's letters are collected in Alfred Proctor James, ed., Writings of General John Forbes Relating to His Service in North America (1938). Alfred Proctor James and Charles Morse Stotz, Drums in the Forest (1958), has an excellent account of Forbes and his capture of Ft. Duquesne. The military situation is discussed in detail in William A. Hunter, Forts on the Pennsylvania Frontier, 1753-1758 (1960). See also Leland D. Baldwin, Pittsburgh (1937). □

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Forbes, John

John Forbes, 1710–59, British general in the French and Indian Wars, b. Scotland. He entered the British army in 1735, won distinction and promotion in the War of the Austrian Succession, and in 1757 was made a colonel and was sent to reinforce the expedition against Louisburg, Nova Scotia. Courageous, thorough, and particularly able as a quartermaster, he was promoted (Dec., 1757) to brigadier general (in America only) and assigned to command an expedition to take Fort Duquesne, the French stronghold at the forks of the Ohio River. Forbes decided not to use the road that Gen. Edward Braddock had taken to his disastrous defeat on the same mission in 1755. Instead he moved (1758) his force of nearly 7,000 men in short stages through W Pennsylvania, establishing successive depots as he went. West of Raytown (now Bedford) he cut a wagon road over the Alleghenies, which, later known as Forbes Road, became a chief highway of Western migration. An advance column under Major James Grant was severely repulsed by the French on the night of Sept. 13–14 while making a reconnaissance in force. However, French and Native American prisoners captured in a subsequent skirmish (Nov. 12) revealed that the French were weak. George Washington was given command of one of the three brigades into which Forbes then divided his army to assure fullest mobility in a quick thrust at Duquesne. But the French garrison decamped (Nov. 24), and Forbes occupied the burned fort on Nov. 25 without further fighting, promptly renaming it Fort Pitt (whence Pittsburgh).

See A. P. James, ed., Writings of General John Forbes Relating to His Service in North America (1938, repr. 1971).

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