Early Forbes Road From Philadelphia to Pittsburgh

250 years ago, the Forbes Trail was completed in Pennsylvania. Who was the man behind the trail and how did he come to build it?

John Forbes (1707-1759) was born in Scotland. First commissioned in the Scots Grays as a lieutenant in 1735 after military school, he saw some minor battle action until the French and Indian War broke out in the American Colonies. Assigned to fight along with the many British in Nova Scotia, he arrived in North America to defend Fort Louisburg against the French. In December of 1957 he was promoted to Brigadier General and was assigned to an expedition to capture Fort Duquesne in Pittsburgh, which was also held by the French.

In 1758 General John Forbes began his move to capture Fort Duquesne. An earlier attempt by General Braddock and George Washington to capture the fort had failed. Braddock died in that attack. Forbes had a new plan. He was going begin a slow deliberate march to the fort, forbes all the while securing his lines of communication and supplies via a string of forts along a new road through Pennsylvania from the East.

Previously other troops had used what was called Braddock’s Road to approach Fort Duquesne. Braddock’s Road went from Western Maryland northwest to Pittsburgh, through Fort Cumberland and Fort Necessity. John Forbes’ decision was to use a different route almost straight east through the wilderness of Pennsylvania. Amongst political fighting from Pennsylvania and Virginia, both of whom claimed they were in charge of the Ohio River country around Pittsburgh, General Forbes plan was approved. Virginia politicians had been afraid they would not be included in the development around Pittsburgh if a road did not serve them well enough. Forbes squelched their political arguments by promising to improve Braddock’s Road, for Virginians, as well as build his new road for Pennsylvanians.

By 1758 roads, or trails, had already connected Philadelphia to Carlisle Pennsylvania, due east. But Carlisle was the edge of the wilderness, with no roads continuing on toward Pittsburgh. With over 5000 troops, Forbes left Carlisle Pennsylvania into the wilderness where there previously were no roads. Forbes cut a 20 foot wide road from Carlisle over the Allegheny Mountains, through a supply fort at Raystown (now Bedford) and another fort at Ligonier. The Raystown fort had been built by a group of 800 soldiers who moved ahead of the main army, specifically to find a place to build a fort as a supply depot. Raystown had been an isolated and deserted trading post at that time. Forbes was ill during much of the trip of hacking through the wilderness, dani-info and had to be carried on a litter. Still he survived to complete the task. His path eventually became known as Forbes Road or Forbes Trail.

Forbes Road left the French at Fort Duquesne in a dilemma. Now they would have to defend both this new road and Braddock’s Road from the south. Just 12 miles from Fort Duquesne, Forbes’ troops were spotted. The weaker French troops eventually burned Fort Duquesne and abandoned it. Forbes took control of it and renamed it Fort Pitt, in honor of William Pitt, the British secretary of state. As well as winning back the fort, Forbes now left a new road which connected Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.

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