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John Forbes First Forbes in America

1608 - 1661


The son of an outspoken critic of the Church of England who fled to Holland, John Forbes (or Fobes*) followed the Puritans to the Plymouth Colony as an indentured tradesman, acquired land and a minor position, and was the progenitor of generations of Forbes in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

In 1603, James VI of Scotland ascended to the English crown in 1603 as James I of England and Scotland. The countries were embroiled in religious upheaval between the strict adherents of John Calvin (1509 –1564) and other Protestants. The “pure” Calvinist believers or “Puritans” maintained that their congregations needed to be separated from the English state church. Starting in about 1607, many Puritans moved to Leyden, Holland, to create their own religious community.

Among them was the Reverend John Forbes (1568 – 1634), brother of Patrick Forbes (1635 – 1635), 5th Laird of Corse and Bishop of Aberdeen. In 1605, he was appointed moderator of the Aberdeen assembly, which was held contrary to the king's orders. When he was summoned before the privy council, he declined its jurisdiction due its spiritual nature. A jury found him guilty for high treason and James I banished him to Holland.

In 1608, his son John was born in Leyden, South Holland, United Netherlands Republic. With the other children of the congregation, young John began adopting the Dutch language and customs. After an attempt by the English government to silence their criticism of the Anglican Church and the King, the congregation decided to settle in the colonies. Rather than continuing the Dutch influence in New Amsterdam, they chose to obtain a land grant from Plymouth Company, an English joint-stock company founded in 1606 to establish settlements on the coast of North America.

Starting in 1620 with the Mayflower, several ships sailed from England and Holland with members of the Puritans seeking the relief from religious persecution. In 1629, then 19-year-old John Forbes likely joined them on the Talbot, one of Isaac Allerton’s ships that sailed from England 24 April 1629 as part of the Higginson Fleet. To pay for his passage, Forbes became indentured to tailor and merchant Isaac Allerton, who had arrived on the Mayflower and had become one of the wealthiest colonists of the time. As an indentured servant, John Forbes would not be listed on any passenger manifest or any other document. In fact, he is only mentioned after his required 7 years and was granted the usual 25 acres and 12 bushels of corn.

In October 5, 1636, no less than William Bradford, off and governor of Plymouth, filed charges of trespassing against John Forbes, William Merick, George Partridge, and Richard Clough. The jury found them guilty and fined them 5 pounds sterling and court costs. However, on the very day, the town granted him land in the new settlement of “Duxborough” (later Duxbury) and acquired an additional 20 acres at Green Harbor in 1637.

In 1637, Fobes married Constant Mitchell (1614 - 1690?) , the daughter of Thomas Mitchell and Margaret Vochin. Both Constant and her brother Experience were born in Leiden, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands, and arrived at the Plymouth aboard the ship Ann in 1623. The couple had seven children: Mary (1645 - ?), John (1646 – 1661), Joshua (1647 - 1676), William (1649 – 1712), Edward (1651 – 1732), Caleb (1653 – 1710), and Elizabeth (1657 – 1739).

Other documents indicate that he was awarded the privilege to bear arms in 1643 and “propounded as a freeman” (terminated his indenture obligation) on March 3, 1645. In 1645, Forbes became one of the 54 original proprietors or founders of the “Bridgewaters” (Bridgewater), then still a part of Duxbury. The other men granted land included Bradford himself, the redoubtable Miles Standish, and Experience Mitchell, the brother-in-law of Forbes. He later acquired a small tract of land at Powder Point in 1649. In 1651, Forbes was appointed constable of Duxbury and in 1658 to 1659 served on a committee investigating a drowning and compensating the Indians for their assistance.

In 1661, William Brett and Arthur Harris were witnesses for Forbes’s will when he was “lying sick and expecting his change.” He bequeathed part of his Estate to his two eldest sons John and Edward, and to his daughter Mary, and left the remainder to be divided by his wife. Fifteen-year-old son John died soon thereafter and left his portion of the estate to his brothers Edward and William.

However, this grant of land to Constant was apparently not enough to satisfy the vestiges of Forbes’s indenture agreement with Isaac Allerton. As noted by the town records: “In answare unto a request made to the Court by the widdow Vobes, requesting some supply of land in respect unto the conditions of an indenture made betwixt Mr. Isacke Allerton and her husband, John Vobes, late deceased, the Court gives liberty that any for her may looke out some land for her supply, and a competency wilbee graunted and confeirmed unto her" The land was apparently granted from Saconett Neck on June 3, 1662.

The ”widdow Vobes” remarried in 1662 to John Briggs (1609 – 1690) of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. He was a Commissioner to the Rhode Island Court from 1654 to 1656, again in 1659, and again from 1661 to 1663. They had no children together. Although no official death was recorded, she likely died shortly after her second husband in about 1690, in Portsmouth.

In 1676 under the command of Capt. Michael Peirce of Scituate, son Joshua was slain in “King Philip’s War” (also called the First Indian War) by a tribe of Narragansets under the command of Canonacut.

Son William became a Lieutenant and ran a ferry from Little Compton across the Sakonnet River to Newport, what is today part of Middletown, RI. In 1679, he first married Elizabeth Southworth, daughter of Constant and Elizabeth (Collier) Southworth. This was in spite of Constant Southworth’s will in which he left his daughter “my next best bed and furniture, with my wife's best bed, provided she do not marry William Fobes; but if she do, then to have (only) five shillings.” After Elizabeth died in 1681, he married Martha (Pabodie) Seabury, widow of Samuel Seabury and daughter of William and Elizabeth (Alden) Pabodie, born in Duxbury 24 Feb. 1650, died 25 Jan. 1712 in Little Compton.

Son Edward became a deacon and took an active part in public service, serving often as a juror and elected to several terms as Bridgewater's representative to the General Court of Massachusetts. He owned and operated a sawmill.

Son Caleb married Sarah Gager in 1681 in Norwich, New London County, Connecticut. He became a Constable on the east side of Norwich, Connecticut in 1684-85; First Deacon in Church of Preston; Selectman; Town Treasurer; Committee on Land and Highways; was a signer of the Preston, Connecticut petition to the Legislature for incorporation of the town in October 1686 and named among the fifteen landholders on the Plantation Act, dated 15 January 1686, on record at Preston.

Daughter Elizabeth married Joseph Russell (1650–1739) and lived Dartmouth, Bristol County, Massachusetts, until the age of 80.

As a result of religious persecution in Scotland, John Forbes established an American Forbes legacy that today includes over 180 people named “Fobes” and “Forbes” in the Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut area alone. Are you a descendant of the First Forbes in America? Share your story with your cousins in the Clan Forbes Society!

* Forbes was fluent in the Dutch language, in which the letters “V” and “F” were pronounced similarly. When Forbes arrived in the Plymouth Colony, clerks transcribed his name as they heard it: “Fobes” or “Vobes.” Not until the early 19th century when descendants wrote or signed their own names did the spelling “Forbes” start to re-emerge. However, some descendants have maintained the early American spelling “Fobes” until today.

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