John Murray Forbes

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John Murray Forbes
Born (1813-02-23)February 23, 1813
Bordeaux, France
Died October 12, 1898(1898-10-12) (aged 85)

John Murray Forbes (February 23, 1813 – October 12, 1898) was an American railroad magnate, merchant, philanthropist and abolitionist. He was president of both the Michigan Central railroad and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad in the 1850s.

Life and career[edit]

Forbes was born in Bordeaux, France. His parents were Ralph Bennett Forbes and wife Margaret Perkins, sister of Thomas Handasyd Perkins, founder of a Boston Brahmin family merchant dynasty involved in the China trade. The Forbes family settled in Milton, Massachusetts, where his father was an energetic but unsuccessful businessman who died when John was only six. His father's brother was John Murray Forbes (1771-1831), lawyer and diplomat. His cousin was Francis Blackwell Forbes, both grandchildren of James Grant Forbes I. His brother was Robert Bennet Forbes (1804-1889), sea captain and China merchant.

Forbes attended school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, then at Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts, from 1823-28. He was one of three brothers sent by their uncle to Canton, China, and achieved some financial success during a short time spent trading in Canton. However, unlike his brother Robert Bennet Forbes who devoted himself to the China trade, Forbes returned to Boston and became an early railroad investor and landowner.

As with Jay Gould and E. H. Harriman, Forbes was an important figure in the building of America's railroad system. From March 28, 1846 through 1855, he was president of Michigan Central Railroad, and he was a director and president of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, he helped with the growth of the American Middle West.

He supplied money and weapons to New Englanders to fight slavery in Kansas and in 1859 entertained John Brown. In 1860 he was an elector for Abraham Lincoln. Staunchly pro-Union, he is given credit for founding the New England Loyal Publication Society in early 1863 (Smith 1948). [Historical Note: In 1863, John Murray Forbes, served as a 'confidential agent' of Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Wells, in Paris, France. Source: Office of Naval Records and Library, Record Group 45, indicating a 'gift of personal papers'. Citation: "The Union", A Guide to Federal Archives Relating to the Civil War, 1986, edited by K.W. Munden and H. P. Beers, 452.]

After the Civil War, Forbes was elected as a 3rd Class (honorary) Companion of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.

Forbes was a delegate to the Republican conventions of 1876, 1880 and 1884, he eventually became displeased with the Republican party and worked successfully to get Democrat Grover Cleveland elected President.

Forbes's many philanthropic activities included the re-establishment of Milton Academy, a preparatory school south of Boston, Massachusetts in 1884.

Edward Waldo Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson's son, published Forbes biography in the September 1899 issue of "Atlantic" magazine. The Emerson and Forbes families were close. John Murray's son, William Hathaway Forbes, married Ralph's daughter, Edith Emerson. In Letters and Social Aims, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of Forbes: "Never was such force, good meaning, good sense, good action, combined with such domestic lovely behavior, such modesty and persistent preference for others. Wherever he moved he was the benefactor... How little this man suspects, with his sympathy for men and his respect for lettered and scientific people, that he is not likely, in any company, to meet a man superior to himself," and "I think this is a good country that can bear such a creature as he."

His cousin Francis Blackwell Forbes (1839-1908) is the great-grandfather of 2004 U.S. Democratic presidential candidate John Forbes Kerry. His eldest son, William Hathaway Forbes (1840-1897) became the first president of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company and father of William Cameron Forbes. Another of his sons was John Malcolm Forbes, the yachtsman and horseman. His great great great great grandson is Jonathan Meath, a renowned Emmy award-winning television producer.[1]

The small community of Forbes, Missouri, is named for him.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mary Stewart Hewitt". Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. Jan 10, 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-14. She is survived by her husband, Peter M. Hewitt; two daughters, Margaret F. Meath of Lorton, Va., and Sarah M. Tibbetts of Scituate, Mass.; two sons, James S. Huntington-Meath of Chapel Hill, N.C., and Jonathan G. Meath of Cambridge, Mass. 
  2. ^ Eaton, David Wolfe (1916). How Missouri Counties, Towns and Streams Were Named. The State Historical Society of Missouri. p. 174. 
  • Life and Recollections of John Murray Forbes, ed. by Sarah Forbes Hughes, Two Volumes, Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1899.
  • An American Railroad Builder: John Murray Forbes, by Henry Pearson, Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1911.
  • Forbes: Telephone Pioneer, by Arthur Pier, 1953.
  • Smith, George Winston. “Broadsides for Freedom: Civil War Propaganda in New England.” The New England Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 3. (Sep., 1948), pp. 291–312.
  • White, John H., Jr. (Spring 1986). "America's most noteworthy railroaders". Railroad History 154: pp. 9–15. ISSN 0090-7847. OCLC 1785797. 

External links[edit]