John Forbes

views updated Jun 08 2018

John Forbes

Born 1710 Fifeshire, Scotland

Died March 11, 1759 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

British military leader who captured Fort Duquesne

John Forbes led the British capture of Fort Duquesne in 1758. This fort was located in the heart of the Ohio Country (on the site of present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) and was vital to British hopes of controlling that region. Despite his poor health, which required him to be carried in a hammock strung between two horses, Forbes accompanied his troops as they cut a one-hundred-mile road through the wilderness to reach the fort. The general died just a few months after successfully completing his mission.

Sent to North America

John Forbes was born in 1710, in Fifeshire, Scotland. Little information is available about his early years. It is known that he trained to be a physician before joining a unit of the British army called the Scots Greys in 1735. Forbes fought in Europe during King George's War (also known as the War of the Austrian Succession), and was promoted quickly through the ranks. He became a lieutenant colonel in 1745, and was placed in charge of his own regiment in 1750. In 1757, he was sent to North America to fight in the French and Indian War (1754-63; known in Europe as the Seven Years' War).

The French and Indian War began in 1754 in North America, where both Great Britain and France had established colonies (permanent settlements of citizens who maintain ties to the mother country). The British colonies, known as America, stretched along the Atlantic Ocean from present-day Maine to Georgia. The French colonies, known as New France, included eastern Canada, parts of the Great Lakes region, and the Mississippi River basin. Both the British and French hoped to expand their land holdings into the Ohio Country, a vast wilderness that lay between their colonies and offered access to valuable natural resources and important river travel routes. But the Ohio Country was controlled by the Iroquois Confederacy, a powerful alliance of six Indian (Native American) nations whose members had lived on the land for generations. As Iroquois influence started to decline in the mid-1700s, however, the British and French began fighting to claim the Ohio Country and take control of North America. Once Great Britain and France officially declared war in 1756, the conflict spread to Europe and around the world.

In the early years of the French and Indian War, the French formed alliances with many Indian nations. The French and their Indian allies worked together to hand the British and their American colonists a series of defeats. In 1757, however, William Pitt (1708-1788; see entry) became secretary of state in the British government and took charge of the British war effort. Pitt felt the key to defeating France was to attack French colonies around the world. He decided to send thousands of British troops to North America and launch an invasion of Canada. Like other British leaders, Pitt was frustrated by the British Army's lack of success in North America. He felt that part of the problem was a lack of strong leadership. Pitt handpicked several talented officers, including Forbes, to direct the British war effort in North America.

Advances toward Fort Duquesne

Forbes was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and given command of a major military operation against Fort Duquesne. This French fort was located at a strategic spot known as the Forks of the Ohio, where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers joined to form the Ohio River. Both the British and the French considered the Forks so important that the first battles of the war had been fought there. In 1755, British Army forces under General Edward Braddock (1695-1755; see entry) had marched from Virginia to the Ohio Country in order to attack Fort Duquesne. But they ran into an ambush as they crossed the Monongahela River and were badly defeated by the French and their Indian allies.

Forbes launched his own expedition against Fort Duquesne in the spring of 1758. His army consisted of forty-eight hundred American colonists and fifteen hundred British Army soldiers. One of his field commanders was George Washington (1732-1799; see entry), who had first visited the Forks of the Ohio on a diplomatic mission in 1753, and had witnessed Braddock's defeat there in 1755. Rather than follow Braddock's route through Virginia, Forbes decided to carve a new road through the wilderness of western Pennsylvania. His forces made a slow, careful advance toward the fort. They cleared a path through woods and over mountains, and they built supply depots along the way to help them hold the fort once they had captured it. Forbes also spent a great deal of time and effort talking with the Indians of the Ohio Country and giving them gifts to gain their support. Unlike Braddock, he understood the importance of having Indian allies, and tried to lure them away from the French.

Forbes overcame many obstacles on the way to Fort Duquesne. For example, he had to convince settlers along the Pennsylvania frontier to provide supplies for his troops, and he had to settle frequent arguments between his British officers and his colonial troops. But the most difficult situation he had to face was his own poor health. Forbes suffered from a painful skin condition that made it difficult for him to move, and he also caught a serious intestinal illness called dysentery. By September, the only way for him to advance with his troops was by riding in a hammock strung between two horses. Although the general was in tremendous pain, he managed to keep his forces together and inspired them with his courage and wit.

Claims the Ohio Country for the British

Forbes's troops had their first encounter with the enemy on September 14. The general had sent out an advance party of eight hundred men under Major James Grant (1720-1806) to scout the strength of the French forces defending Fort Duquesne. As the British troops approached the fort, French soldiers and Indian warriors came pouring out of the woods and attacked them. Washington and his Virginia regiment fought bravely and allowed the remaining British troops to retreat. Still, three hundred men were killed, wounded, or captured in the battle. Then the Indians who had taken part in the attack collected their trophies (scalps, captives, weapons, and supplies that served as proof of their bravery in battle) and went home, leaving only three hundred French soldiers to defend Fort Duquesne.

Learning that the French were running low on supplies, Forbes decided to wait and prepare for another attack. He ordered a full-scale attack on Fort Duquesne in late November. As his men approached the fort, however, they heard a series of explosions. The French had realized they could not defend the fort against the British attack and decided to destroy it rather than allow it to fall into enemy hands. Forbes's men raised a British flag over the remains of the fort on November 25, five months after the expedition had begun.

The following spring, the British began building a huge new fort at the Forks of the Ohio, which would be called Fort Pitt and would eventually become Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The success of Forbes's mission cut the connection between the French colonies along the Mississippi River and those in Canada and claimed the Ohio Country for Great Britain. It also helped convince some of the Ohio Indians to make peace with the British.

Dies shortly after completing his mission

Forbes immediately sent a letter to Pitt informing him of the successful capture of Fort Duquesne (as noted in Letters of General John Forbes Relating to the Expedition against Fort Duquesne in 1758) : "I do myself the Honor of acquainting you that it has pleased God to crown His Majesty's Arms with Success over all His Enemies upon the Ohio, by my having obliged [forced] the Enemy to burn and abandon Fort Duquesne." The general was then carried back to Philadelphia, where he hoped to recover his health before returning to England. By the time he arrived six weeks later, he was very weak and noted that he looked "like an emaciated [terribly thin] old woman of eighty." Forbes never made it back to England. He died in Philadelphia on March 11, 1759, and was buried at Christ Church.

Before he died, Forbes ordered a medal created for the officers who had served under him. As one officer later described it, "The Medal has on one side the representation of a Road cut thro an immense Forrest, over Rocks, and mountains.… On the other side are represented the confluence [junction] of the Ohio and Monongahela rivers, a Fort in Flames in the forks of the Rivers at the approach of General Forbes carried in a Litter, followed by the army marching in Columns with Cannon." The road that Forbes cut through the Allegheny Mountains, which became known as Forbes Road, eventually became an important route for American settlers heading west.

For More Information

Dictionary of American Biography. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center .Detroit: Gale, 2002.

Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998.

James, Alfred Proctor, ed. Writings of General John Forbes Relating to His Service in North America. New York: Arno Press, 1938. Reprint, 1971.

Letters of General John Forbes Relating to the Expedition against Fort Duquesne in 1758. Pittsburgh: Allegheny County Committee, 1927.

John Forbes

views updated May 14 2018

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). □

Forbes, John

views updated May 23 2018


A notable Capuchin Friar Minor of the Belgian Province; b. Aberdeenshire, c. 1570; d. Termonde, Flanders, Aug. 4, 1606. He was the second son of John, 8th Lord Forbes, by his first wife, Margaret Gordon, daughter of the 4th Earl of Huntly, leader of the Scottish Catholics at the time of the Reformation. His father, resolutely antiCatholic, divorced his Catholic wife, and reared John as a Protestant. John was converted to Catholicism through the secret care of his mother, elder brother, and uncle, James Gordon, SJ. He evaded a marriage that his father had arranged for him by escaping in disguise to Flanders. There he joined the Capuchins at Tournai (1593), receiving the name Archangel, as had his brother, also a Capuchin, who had died in 1592. Paul V, at the request of prominent Scottish Catholics and of Archangel's father, sanctioned (1596) the friar's return to Scotland for the purpose of settling an agelong family feud and assisting the Catholic cause. Archangel, however, pursued his studies at Lille and was ordained. He held important offices among the Belgian Capuchins and won many converts. He died as a result of ministering to the plaguestricken. He is recognized as the de jure 9th Lord Forbes.

Bibliography: father cuthbert, The Capuchins, 2 v. (London 1928). A. and h. tayler, eds., The House of Forbes (Aberdeen 1937). Lexicon Capuccinum (Rome 1951) 121.

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