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By Keith A. Forbes. Disabled, he now lives in Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK. Keith is a member of the UK's The Society of Authors and an activist for the elderly and the disabled. He and is wife went to Pittsburgh to research and develop this article. Historical resources in Scotland and a genealogist from Dunfermline have stated General John Forbes shown above and below, who was not married and died childless, was related to the author via a sibling of the General's.
Books about General John Forbes (1707-59)
The British Defeat of the French in Pennsylvania, 1758. Military History of the Forbes Campaign against Fort Duquesne. (see above) Douglas R. Cubbison. First published in 2010, 251 pages. A major military study of the campaign directed by British Army Brigadier General John Forbes to drive the French from the USA.
Redcoats in the Wilderness: British Officers and Irregular Warfare in Europe and America, 1740 to 1760 by Peter E. Russell. With a great deal about General John Forbes.
John Forbes: Scotland, Flanders and the Seven Years War, 1707-1759. In November 1758 Brigadier General John Forbes's army expelled the French army from Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio River. Over seven months Forbes had co-ordinated three obstructive and competitive colonies, managed Indian diplomacy, and cut a road through over a hundred miles of mountain and forest.. A June 15, 2015 book by John Oliphant. Bloomsbury Publishing. 1st Edition. 224 pages. ISBN 9781472514127.Bloomsbury Academic. 17 &BW illustrations. US RRP $115.99. Described by Stephen Brumwell, author of "George Washington, Gentleman Warrior, "as the first full length biography of a neglected yet highly significant figure in British-American history.'" Based on extensive research on both sides of the Atlantic.
General John Forbes earlier as a Colonel, and as a younger man. He was one of the distinguished members of the Forbes Clan of Scotland.
Pittencrieff House Museum. Photo taken May 1, 2015 and copyrighted by author Keith Forbes and Lois Forbes during their visit.
He was born on 5 September 5, 1707 (not 1710 as an American account shows) at what was then (since 1701) the family manor home and then-extensive land holdings of Pittencrieff estate, at Pittencrieff House (now a museum) in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland. He was the second of three sons of Colonel John Forbes a distant cousin of Lord Forbes, and Elizabeth (nee Graham) Forbes. His brothers were Arthur (older, older) who remained at Pittencrieff and Hugh (younger) who later moved to Edinburgh and became a prominent attorney. There have been many John Forbes in history - (including another (later) British Army general who served in India). But this one more than deserves special mention. Forbes (who died 11 March 1759 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, now USA), inscribed his name indelibly and uniquely in both British and American military and geo-political history.
As a young boy growing up in the house, he made the inscription shown above:
The five photos immediately above of commemorative events outside the house were on May 1, 2015 taken by authors Keith Forbes and Lois Forbes and are copyrighted.
Scots soldiers were first officially attracted to the British (English) Army when in 1757 in London, Cabinet Minister Mr. Pitt (later, Lord Chatham), otherwise known as William Pitt the Elder recommended to King George II that he employ Highlanders in his service, as the best means of ensuring their loyalty. The king approved the plan and letters of service were immediately drawn up to raise several Highland regiments. Most clans responded positively and many battalions of men signed up, some from the most remote parts of the Highlands. Clan chiefs or their most favored kin obtained commissions.
Initially, young John Forbes studied medicine, but in his second year as a medical student, decided to become a soldier. He was accepted and commissioned, in 1735, as a lieutenant in the Scots Greys. He saw action in the War of the Austrian Succession. He later served with the British Army in the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 under the infamous Duke of Cumberland. as acting quartermaster-general. A capable and effective soldier, John Forbes won praise from General Lord Ligonier and others. His first significant appointment was as Quartermaster General in the Third British Army of the Duke of Bedford. Later, he served in various campaigns including Louisburg in Canada. General Forbes was 48 years old when he was dispatched to America in command of British soldiers and American troops recruited mostly in Virginia.
As an infantry General, he earned his unique claim to fame as a Brigadier General and also as the Commander in Chief of a British Army in which Colonel (later, General and President) George Washington served as his aide. General John Forbes was a genuine British and American hero and made a significant contribution to their military history less than two decades before the American Revolution. He secured a large portion of the United States for the British Crown. He ensured the military and political future of America's first President. He made it possible for Colonel George Washington, as he was then, to meet his future wife, then the young widow Mrs. Martha Custis, daughter of John Dandridge, a gentleman of Virginia. His mission was to defeat the combined forces of French military units and American Indians who had earlier inflicted a crushing defeat on the valiant but ill fated British General Braddock (whose name was later given to a town in Western Pennsylvania).
General Forbes's name is stamped indelibly in the British history of the USA and Pennsylvania. Without him, the vast western lands beyond the Ohio River might never have been settled by English speaking colonists. It was a complex time in conflicting British and French military strategies as they related to America well over two decades before independence from Britain. Although the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1748 had concluded the war between Britain and France, it had failed to establish the boundaries of their respective colonies in America. Both nations laid claim to strategic lands around the head waters of the Ohio River, for their rivers flowing into and out of western Pennsylvania that were navigable, long and important. In 1749 French intentions were to perfect a line of strong military fortifications all the way from French strongholds in Upper Canada on the St. Lawrence River to the mouth of the Mississippi River; in other words from coast to coast. In that year, under French General Celoron, the French Canadians sent an armed party of nearly two hundred men via 23 canoes, from Montreal via the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario, then overland, to Lake Erie, then overland again, finally to the Allegheny River. There, they demanded that the British Governor of Pennsylvania withdraw all British settlers and military from what they believed was the territory of the French King. When the demand was refused, fighting broke out. Once again, the French and British were enemies, both determined to win their conflicting claims militarily. In March 1752 the French King appointed Admiral the Marquis Duquesne as Governor of Canada and conduct a war from Montreal and defeat the British and its colonial forces. Initially, that French campaign was successful. General Braddock was the British General first appointed to defend the territory. To supplement his own British troops, including Scottish regiments of foot that had provided garrison duties, he recruited American militia from New York and Pennsylvania. Near what was then Aliquippa (now Pittsburgh), his British troops, not acclimatized to conditions in America, with the equally ill prepared American colonial militia, met up with a huge force of seasoned French veterans, French Canadian militia and their own allies, American Indians - who had been promised all the spoils of war including looting, captured women and more, if they would join in. That battle, on July 9, 1755, was a disaster for General Braddock and his British Americans. Most were captured and butchered by the Indians. They decapitated the Scottish soldiers and comrades and impaled them on poles. Only relatively few Americans and British survived. General Braddock lost his life and his aide, George Washington (pictured below), then 23 years old and at the time a British Army Captain, was lucky to escape capture in the defeat. He observed the battle from a safe distance. The lost battle and its savagery caused an outcry of revulsion - and a demand for revenge, even as the victorious French and Indians dug themselves in. General Forbes exacted that revenge later, even though he was not a well man at the time. His overall leadership and loyalty of his men were key factors as force- marched through Pennsylvania, in one of the most rigorous campaigns ever mounted anywhere in adverse and hostile conditions.
One of his Highland Regiments, raised in 1757 after the recommendation of Prime Minister Pitt (later, Lord Chatham), was Montgomerie's Highlanders (or 77th Regiment of Foot in official British Army parlance), from the names of its colonel, the Hon. Archibald Montgomerie, son of the Earl of Eglington. A popular man in the Highlands, Montgomerie (later Earl of Eglington and a General in the British Army, colonel-in-chief of the Royal Scots Greys, he died in 1796) personally formed into a regiment of thirteen companies of 105 rank and file each, a total of 1,460 effective men, with the requisite number of officers, 65 sergeants and 30 pipers and drummers. The Colonel's commission was dated January 4, 1757. The commissions of the officers were dated each a day later than his senior in the same rank.Montgomerie's Highlanders embarked as a regiment at Greenock for Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. They were attached to the corps of British Army regulars, including the Royal American provincials under the overall command of Brigadier General Forbes. (They feature prominently in periodic battle reenactments at Fort Ligonier in Pennsylvania). The final British Army military mission of the campaign was to attack and take Fort Duquesne from the French. The inclusion of Montgomerie's Highlanders brought the army of General Forbes to 6238 men in strength. Staff officers with General Forbes were young and ambitious. Archibald Montgomery was also from Scotland. Henry Bouquet (of Montgomerie's Highlanders) was from Scotland and Switzerland. Others included John Armstrong, Joseph Shippen (a Princeton graduate and member of a prominent Philadelphia family), Harry Gordon - a noted military engineer, William Byrd, George Mercer of Virginia, George Croghan and John Ormsby. They began in Philadelphia, then a British stronghold.
The careful campaign planning yielded one unique, non-military benefit. General Forbes readily granted permission to his aide George Washington, by then an acting Colonel - appointed as such, incidentally by Scots-born Virginia Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie - and in command of the Virginia recruited militia, to interrupt briefly his military duties to begin his serious courting of the widow Martha Dandridge Custis, whom he married in 1759. American history says much more about the marriage and life together of George Washington, the lady with whom he had been smitten and married - and his exploits that led to his victories in the American Revolution and election as first President of the United States. Instead, US history seems to give the credit to Washington. Nor has never acknowledged the debt owed by Washington to General John Forbes, which instead of being reciprocated by Washington, led to a serious attempt by Washington to ruin Forbes militarily. This is one of the major omissions in American history. It has also omitted to say that Washington was lucky to escape a court martial, or worse, for directly disobeying General Forbes on at least one occasion, although he later made up for it by faithfully following further orders. Washington and Forbes did not agree, and it became quite a bitter dispute between him and Forbes, on the route to follow. Colonel Washington of the Virginia forces wanted to take the old route he had earlier recommended to General Braddock several years earlier, even though it had proved disastrous, a complete military failure, in fact the worst such failure in British military history. Cautious General Forbes wanted - and got, partly because he outranked Washington but mostly because he felt it was too risky - a brand-new route, to be cut through the wilderness by the troops. Even though it would take longer it would mean less risk and more surprise. It was what was decided, over Washington's objections. It was to prove to be the right decision.
Then came the much-heralded forced march through that wilderness in 1758, during much of which General Forbes was carried on a litter, struck down by fever, but not so incapacitated that he could not make decisions. The brigadier and his troops reached Raystown, about 90 miles from Fort Duquesne, in September. Major Grant of Montgomerie's Highlanders was sent with 400 of his Highlanders and 500 provincials for a detailed assessment. When near the French fort, Major Grant advanced with pipes playing and drums beating, as if entering a friendly town. The enemy retaliated and were joined by Indians friendly to the French. Protected by thick foliage, they poured destructive fire upon the British. Major Grant tried to force his way into the wood, but was taken in the attempt. On seeing this, his troops dispersed. Only 150 Highlanders returned. More than 231 of them were killed or wounded. The latter included Captain Hugh Mackenzie; Lieutenants Alexander Macdonald, Archibald Robertson and Henry Munro; and Ensigns John Macdonald and Alexander Grant. Near Aliquippa, where the French and Indians had established formidable defenses. General Forbes roused himself to take personal command.
What he, Colonel Washington and their subordinates saw there, on the French perimeters, was sickening - the skeletons and impaled skulls of the defeated British and American forces led by General Braddock who was buried there. For some men of less stature it might have been regarded as an omen. For General Forbes it was an outrage that sparked his fiery Scottish soul to heights of fury, to seek and get revenge in full measure. In pincer movements devised by the General himself, the combined British American forces prepared to attack and destroy the French and Indians. Expecting the same grisly methodology used by the Indians to be used on them too, this time by American, English and Scottish soldiers, the French and Indians were in complete disarray. The Indians in particular feared and had duly warned that if they did not obey the persuasions of General Forbes and his team to get them to change sides they faced certain annihilation by a stronger force and resultant disgrace of both them and their ancestors and descendants. They elected wisely not to fight any more. News of British victories in Canada also disheartened the French. They were encumbered and outnumbered. They fled, but not before the French troops torched their fort. The French ambition of owning lands from Canada to the Ohio ended suddenly. They left their ammunition, military hardware and provisions as prizes for the British and American troops. The British Army's presence in strength at last in the area, supported by their Virginia colonial allies with their own men ensured that the French campaign was never again attempted. Officers of Montgomerie's Highlanders killed at Fort Duquesne included Captains William Macdonald and George Munro; Lieutenants Colin Campbell, Alexander Macdonald, Alexander Mackenzie and William Mackenzie. Many more are unaccounted for.
On November 25, 1758, General Forbes and Colonel Washington stood side by side as their troops marched into Aliquippa, to take formal possession of the land where two rivers - the Monongahela and Allegheny - meet to form a mighty third - the Ohio. At this place, they renamed the small town, originally the name of the ruling Indian queen Aliquippa, then re-named by the French as Fort Duquesne, as shown below.
Capture of Aliquippa, later Pittsburgh PA. Right image shows Fort Ligonier in Pennsylvania, one site of his campaign for victory.
It was an impressive sight as the newly arrived army, wearing brilliant uniforms, marched in four columns, with flags flying and drums beating. They reached the camping ground, halted and took possession, while Colonel John Armstrong raised the flag, the Union Jack, over the British territory.
General John Forbes duly claimed, in his own words, "this prodigious tract of fine, rich country" in the name of his king. He and his army of several thousand had marched over rough, rugged Allegheny mountains and endured much in the way of hazards and hardships. The progress had been slow as a road - Forbes Road - had to be built ahead of them. It was bitterly cold and as a special favor, an order was issued from the General that every working soldier could have, daily, a gill of spirits, diluted with water. November 25, 1758, was of such great importance that London rejoiced and both New York and Philadelphia joined in the celebrations with military parades of their own.
An American military historian recorded the event thus: "As the banner of England floated over the waters, the place, at the suggestion of General Forbes, was with one voice called Fort Pitt (later, when it became a town, Pittsburgh). It is the most enduring monument to the famous English statesman William Pitt, the Peacemaker. Long as the Monongahela and Allegheny shall flow to form the Ohio; long as the English tongue shall be the language of freedom in the boundless valley which their waters traverse, his name shall stand inscribed on the Gateway of the West."
He was one of the most renowned military heroes in the history of the Forbes Clan.
Photo right: Forbes Memorial, Christ Church, Philadelphia
On Sunday morning December 3, 1758, in a very ill state and on a litter, General Forbes left Pittsburgh with a large staff, including the Highlanders, and returned by slow, painful stages to the city of Philadelphia. He died there on March 11, 1759. When General Forbes became seriously ill, the surgeon who attended to him was James Craik (1730–1814) - also a native of Scotland, who studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and subsequently went to the West Indies as a British army surgeon. Not long thereafter, he moved to Norfolk, Va, where he practiced medicine. In 1754 he was appointed surgeon of George Washington's Virginia Regiment. During its various campaigns, including service with General Forbes British Army troops in defeating the French at Fort Duquesne now Pittsburgh, Craik and Washington became close friends, Craik served with the Virginia Regiment until it was disbanded in 1762. Due to Craik's service as a surgeon during the Fort Necessity campaign, he was granted several thousand acres of land on the Ohio and Kanawha rivers. He eventually settled on a plantation near Port Tobacco, Md., where he established a profitable private medical practice. In May 1777 Craik accepted GW’s offer to become deputy director general of the hospitals in the middle department. Craik served in the Continental medical department until the end of the war, becoming one of the three chief hospital surgeons in October 1780 and the chief physician and surgeon of the army in March 1781. After the war Craik moved to Alexandria, Va., and was one of the physicians who attended GW during his last illness in 1799. Craik made frequent social and professional visits to Mount Vernon, and accompanied GW on his trips to the frontier in 1770 and 1784. In the 1780s and early 1790s, GW's nephews, George Steptoe and Lawrence Augustine Washington, attended Alexandria Academy, and boarded for a time with Craik He was married to Mariamne Ewell (1740–1814), and he had several children. His son, George Washington Craik (1774-1808), received financial support from GW towards his education.
Ironically, it was only during General John Forbes's funeral in Philadelphia that his command received official notification from England that he had been appointed a full General of the British Army. He was a bachelor, with no children but with family including brothers and a sister living in Dunfermline, Scotland.
On Wednesday, 14 March 1759, he was buried in Philadelphia's Christ Churchyard, at 2nd and Market Streets. It was the first Episcopal church in the USA. He was only 49 years old. He never went home to Scotland. His long military funeral procession wound its way towards the spire of the church, then the most prominent building in the city. The church, built of brick between 1727 and 1744 was the imposing destination for the solemn and hugely well-attended event. Great silent crowds stood hatless as solemn minute guns thudded out their mournful respects. Military pioneers and detachments of infantry, officers wearing crepe arm bands, drums and colours swathed and draped in black, led engineers, staff officers, a pair of cannon, the deceased’s bareheaded servants, a riderless horse, pairs of medical officers and civilian and military clergy walked before the coffin. The silver-handled coffin itself was borne on the shoulders of six field officers, majors and colonels. Behind came official mourners, Governor Denny and his council, the entire Pennsylvanian representative assembly including judges; magistrates and gentlemen of the Province and City. There were also pairs of officers representing the garrisons dotting the frontiers of the colony. Brigadier General John Forbes, commander of all His Majesty’s forces in the southern British colonies, Colonel of the 17th Regiment of Foot, was carried with appropriate pomp and ceremony to a hero’s grave. All through the ceremony the minute guns outside were heard booming with dreadful regularity and as the congregation emerged the troops fired three volleys of musketry into the air. The only person missing from that event, to salute the fallen hero too, was George Washington.
General John Forbes's obituary was published in the Pennsylvania Gazette the day after that splendid funeral. It said in part: "As a Man, he was just, and without Prejudices; brave, without Ostentation; uncommonly warm in his Friendship, and incapable of Flattery; acquainted with the World and Mankind; he was well bred, but absolutely impatient of Formality and Affectation. Eminently possessed of the sociable Virtues, he indulged a cheerful Gratification; but quick in his Sense of Honour and Duty, so mixed the agreeable Gentleman and Man of Business together, as to shine alike (tho’ truly uncommon) in both Characters, without the Giddiness sometimes attendant on the one, or the Sourness of the other."
Washington had a much longer and luckier life than General Forbes. He served as the first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797. On his death in 1799, he was land rich, with 70,000 acres in Virginia and 40,000 acres in West Virginia. Like Generals Braddock and Forbes earlier, Craik attended to the funeral of his mentor, George Washington.
Visitors to the attractive city of Pittsburgh are welcomed. They can see the impressive monument (shown below) to General John Forbes, founder of the city, so-named by him in honour of his hero William Pitt the Elder, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1758.
Pittsburgh, well-served by air, a regional hub, and by train and road, is not at all the smoky steel city it once was, but is now in many places a glass palace following extensive economic redevelopment of many areas following the departure of the steel mills and their related industries. Today, it is the home base or regional centre of many leading US regional, national and multi-national companies. (corporations) either based or with offices in the city.
The monument is where he and George Washington once stood. It is at Point State Park where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, separate up to that point, both feeding Pittsburgh, meet. They form the huge Ohio River, which connects ultimately with and becomes part of the mighty Mississippi River.
Pittsburgh also has a long boulevard named Forbes Street, again to commemorate this General John Forbes. It stretches for miles, in various stages of affluence, from near Point State Park, through downtown Pittsburgh, nearly as far as Wilkinsburg. There is a Forbes Road from Carlisle to Pittsburgh built by the troops of General Forbes. (There are many streets or roads in America named after a Forbes, but this one is very special). The monument above pays tribute to the man who spent only a year in Pennsylvania and died and was buried at a relatively young age in Philadelphia. A further testament to him and his military campaign is at Ligonier, Pennsylvania. Volume XXXV No. 4 (October 1978) of the William and Mary Quarterly, published by the Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia.
Although named Pittsburgh since General John Forbes victory, the name "Duquesne" - the earlier French name - lives on, as an area of Pittsburgh, approached from the city end of Forbes Street. Duquesne University is a prominent building there, one of the many universities in Pittsburgh. The "military" Forbes Road from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh was mapped in 2002 by the Somerset Archeology Society of Pennsylvania. Mapping started at Fort Duart at the top of the Allegheny Mountain in Somerset County. Contact Georgia Sheftic, Somerset Archeology Society, 28ll Lincoln Highway, Stoystown, PA 15563, USA.
Photograph (right) of the General John Forbes Memorial in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, taken personally by Keith and Lois Forbes, when the authors were there. At one point, this author, Keith Forbes lived in Pittsburgh, not far from Forbes Road.
John P.Finnigan wrote:
" I have a
written a Booklet "The Hike Master's Guide to the Forbes Road" - Fort
Bedford to Fort Ligonier. It describes 7 one day walks of about 10 miles. Much of the information has been
accumulated in 33 3-ring Binders, collected from researchers' notes and maps of
their collections that were given to me. My Boy Scout Troop and myself, Fred
Colley and others spent time locating the scars they recorded in the 1920's and
30's, and in 1968 the Hiking Trail was established for the 1976 Bi-Centennial
Hiking Program of Penn's Woods Council over it. As the years have passed, more
and more of those scars are being destroyed. I hope the booklets will help to
keep General John Forbes in the place to which he belongs in history, since now the History Books give one paragraph. My Research Library
would fill a room if displayed."
Co. Sgt. Major Malcolm MacWilliam, 77th Reg't of Foote, Grenadiers (Mark Hagenbuch) wrote:
"I am an 18th century re-enactor of the 77th Regiment of Foot, Montgomerie's Highlanders, Grenadier company. At Christ Church, Philadelphia, our regiment laid a wreath at General Forbes's crypt and conducted a ceremony of mourning. The ceremony was conducted with full 18th century military honours, the 77th lads were in full uniform with accoutrements and weapons."
In his hometown of Dunfermline, Scotland, there was a fabulous General Forbes Day event (see image below) on April 5, 2014 organized mostly by local historian Frank Connelly, when a special ceremony. complete with a unique Forbes Marker marking and commemorating his American exploits his took place at the former home of General Forbes, at Pittencrieff House, Coal Road, Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland. Sadly, his death from his American campaign had disastrous financial implications for his family members. They had to sell their home, built new in 1650 and acquired by them in about 1701. But there is a happier ending to the story. Much later, it was bought by another distinguished gentleman from Dunfermline, Andrew Carnegie, who as a boy had once been forbidden by the later laird of the manor to play in the grounds. Carnegie donated the house and lands, now Pittencrieff House Museum and Pittencrieff Park respectively, to Dunfermline.
At Pittencrieff House Museum, a Forbes Marker was unveiled with actors taking the part of Carnegie and Forbes. And in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the city's daily newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, wrote about the Dunfermline and Pittsburgh connections arising from both General John Forbes and celebrated philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
By this same author
researched, compiled and website-managed by Keith A. Forbes.
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