Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Forsyth, William (1722-1800)

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648396Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 20 — Forsyth, William (1722-1800)1889William Forsyth

FORSYTH, WILLIAM (1722–1800), merchant, was born in 1722 at Cromarty, where his father, a native of Morayshire, had settled as a shopkeeper. He made good progress at the town school, then taught by David Macculloch, not only in the ordinary branches, but in the classics. Forsyth spent some time in a London counting-house, but, his father dying suddenly, he was called home, and had to take the place of head of the family at the early age of seventeen. Cromarty was then in a low state. The herring had deserted the coast, and there was no trade. Forsyth, however, saw that the old town had some special advantages. There was a fine harbour, and ready access to the surrounding districts, not only by the roads, but by the firths of Dornoch, Dingwall, and Inverness. He therefore formed the bold and original idea of making it a depôt of supplies for all the country round, and this plan he carried out with energy and success for many years. He brought flax and other commodities from Holland. He traded with Leith and London, and was the first to introduce coal (about 1770), called by the country people ‘black stones.’ On the suggestion of his old schoolfellow, Dr. Hossack of Greenwich, he started the manufacture of kelp. He also employed many of the people in their own homes in spinning and weaving in connection with the British Linen Company, of which he was the first agent in the north, and encouraged fishing and farming industries. For more than thirty years he was the only magistrate in the place, and such was the confidence in his judgment and integrity that during all that time no appeal was taken against any of his decisions. The general respect of the neighbourhood was shown by his popular title as ‘the maister.’ Forsyth not only did much to revive the old glory of the town, but helped many young men to make their way in the world; one of these was the well-known Charles Grant, chairman of the East India Company, and M.P. for Inverness. Forsyth died at Cromarty 30 Jan. 1800. He was twice married, first to Margaret Russell, who died within a year in childbed, and next, after eleven years, to Elizabeth Grant, daughter of the Rev. Patrick Grant of Nigg, Ross-shire. He had nine children, three only surviving him. He and his family were large benefactors to Cromarty. Hugh Miller, himself a native of Cromarty, says: ‘He was one of nature's noblemen; and the sincere homage of the better feelings is an honour reserved exclusively to the order to which he belonged.’ He also says of the inscription on his gravestone in Cromarty churchyard, that its ‘rare merit is to be at once highly eulogistic and strictly true.’

[Memoir by Hugh Miller, 1839.]

W. F.