Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Forbes, John (1710-1759)

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FORBES, JOHN (1710–1759), brigadier, born in 1710, was a son of Colonel John Forbes of Pittencrieff, co. Fife. 'In his younger days he was bred to the profession of physic; but early ambitious of the military character he purchased into the regiment of Scots Greys, where by repeated purchases and faithful services he arrived to the rank of lieutenant-colonel' (Scots Magazine, xxi. 272) on 29 Nov. 1750. He had reached that rank in the army on 20 Dec. 1745. He was aide-de-camp to Sir James Campbell, Avho commanded the British cavalry at Fontenoy; and before the battle Forbes was sent to Brigadier Ingoldsby to point out where his attack was to be made. He was present with his regiment at Laffeldt, and was sent by Sir John Ligonier to inform the Duke of Cumberland that the French were about to attack. He was employed as quartermaster-general during the latter part of the war.

He was given the colonelcy of the 17th foot on 25 Feb. 1757. Soon afterwards he was sent to America as adjutant- general, and on 28 Dec. he was appointed a brigadier there. In the plan of operations for 1758 he was charged with the capture of Fort Du Quesne, which the French had built on the Ohio, and against which Braddock had failed so disastrously in 1755. He arrived at Philadelphia at the end of April, but had to wait there for troops and stores till the beginning of July. His force consisted of Montgomery's Highlanders, reckoned at 1,400 men, 400 men of the Royal Americans (now King's Royal Rifle Corps), and 40 artillerymen, with about 5,000 provincials. The latter he described as with a few exceptions' an extreme bad collection of broken inn-keepers, horse jockeys, and Indian traders' (to Pitt, 6 Sept.), but they turned out better than he expected. The Virginians were commanded by George Washington.

In spite of the remonstrances of Washington (Sparks, ii. 300), whose behaviour Forbes regarded as 'noways like a soldier,' he decided not to follow Braddock's route, but to cut a fresh road through western Pennsylvania, across the Alleghanies. His plan was to advance by steps, making a stockaded camp and blockhouse at every forty miles, and bringing up a fortnight's supplies to it before he moved on. He made a treaty with the Cherokees, and hoped that 'their cousins, the Highlanders,' would have a good effect upon them, but many of the Indians deserted him during his preparations. He reached Carlisle with his main body about 10 July, and moved on to Raystown (now Bedford), where a fort was built by the advance party under Colonel Henry Bouquet [q. v.] The road across the Alleghanies proved feasible, but its difficulties and the bad 'weather made progress very slow. Forbes himself was so reduced by a 'cursed flux,' that he had to travel on a hurdle slung between two horses. Early in September the advance party of 1,500 men established itself on the Loyalhannon, within forty miles of Fort Du Quesne, but a detachment of 800 men under Major Grant, sent forward to reconnoitre the fort, was surprised and routed by the French on the 14th, with a loss of 283 officers and men. Forbes with the main body did not reach the Loyalhannon till November. On the 18th a force of 2,500 men, lightly equipped, set out for Du Quesne, which was reached on the 25th, and was found to have been abandoned by the French. Forbes wrote to Pitt (27 Nov.): 'I have used the freedom of giving your name to Fort Du Quesne, as I hope it was In some measure the being actuated by your spirits that now makes us masters of the place.' It is now the busy manufacturing town of Pittsburg. Leaving a garrison of 200 provincials, Forbes returned to Philadelphia in a prostrate condition. He died there on 11 March 1759, in the 49th year of his age, and was buried in Christchurch on the 14th with military honours.

He is described as 'just and without prejudices; brave without ostentation; uncommonly warm in his friendships, yet incapable of flattery; . . . well bred, but absolutely impatient of formality and affectation; . . . steady in his measures, but open to information and counsel.' According to Bouquet the success of the expedition was entirely due to him: 'in all his measures he has shown the greatest prudence, firmness, and ability.' Washington also recognised his ' great merit.'

[Forbes's letters to Pitt are in the Public Record office, America and West Indies, No. 87; his letters to Bouquet in British Museum Addit. MS. 21640, ff. 28-233. See also Scots Magazine, xxi. 272; Gent. Mag. 1759, ii. 39, 171; Stewart's Highlanders, i. 324; Sparks's Writings of Washington, ii. 279-327; Parkman's Montcalm and Wolfe, ii. 132; Campbell Maclachlan's William, duke of Cumberland, p. 138.]

E. M. L.