Brigadier General John Forbes (or Fforbes) lived from 5 September 1707 to March 11, 1759. He was a British Army officer best known for his role in the French and Indian War, the North American end of the Seven Years' War. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
John Forbes was born on the family estate at Pittencrieff on the western outskirts of Dunfermline in Fife: today the house is a museum and the estate is a public park. He was the son of an army officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Forbes and his wife Elizabeth Graham. John initially trained for a career in medicine but abandoned this when he purchased a commission and became an officer in the The Royal North British Dragoons, better known as the Scots Greys.
Forbes quickly saw action abroad in the War of the Austrian Succession, and then served under the Duke of Cumberland during the 1745 Jacobite Uprising, taking part in the Battle of Culloden. In 1750, Forbes was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Scots Greys. In 1757 he was sent to North America as Colonel of the 17th Regiment of Foot to fight the French and their Native Indian allies in what was effectively the New World end of the Seven Years' War then taking place across Europe. He was promoted to Brigadier General at the end of the same year and given command of an expedition, later known as the Forbes Expedition, sent to capture Fort Duquesne, an important French stronghold on the Ohio River that had two years previously defeated British attempts to capture it.
During much of 1758, Forbes, working from his headquarters in Philadelphia, prepared for his advance into Ohio by building a new road protected by a series of forts from eastern Pennsylvania that crossed the Allegheny Mountains. His force of 7,000 men began their advance in the summer, with his advance guard being defeated at the Battle of Fort Duquesne during the night of 13-14 September 1758. As a result, Forbes decided to hold off from a full assault on the Fort until the following Spring. Within a short time, however, diplomatic moves led to the Native Indian tribes of the Ohio Valley changing sides to support the British. Forbes took advantage of the weakened French position and marched on Fort Duquesne, which was abandoned and burned by its defenders before the British arrived.
Forbes remained at Fort Duquesne until November 1758, having it rebuilt and renamed as Fort Pitt, after William Pitt, the Secretary of State in the British Government. Today the site of Fort Pitt lies within the city of Pittsburgh. Forbes had fallen ill during the campaign and in December 1758 he returned to Philadelphia, where he died the following March. He was buried in Christ Church in Philadelphia.