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June 2004

From Obscurity to Greatness, the Story of Uriah Forrest


Uriah Forrest was born about 1746 in St. Mary’s County. He was the second of four known sons of Thomas Forrest (1710-1782) and Henrietta Raley (1714-1791) who lived in the area now known as Loveville. Their home was known as “Forrest Hall.”


He was a direct descendant of Patrick Forrest and Margaret Fox who were married at St. Giles in the Field, Holbourn, England on June 16, 1605 and then came to Jamestown, Virginia in 1608 aboard "The Second Supply." Their grandson, Patrick Forrest, was transported to Maryland from Jamestown, Virginia by Thomas Hatton in 1648.


On January 2, 1776, Uriah Forrest was appointed as a First Lieutenant with the Second Independent Maryland Company. By June 29 of that same year, he had been promoted to Captain in Colonel Thomas Ewing’s Battalion for the Flying Camp. The officers serving under him were First Lieutenant William Bond, Second Lieutenant Moses Tabbs, and Ensign Edward Mattingly.


His first military action was the defense of St. George’s Island, the site of the first battle on Maryland soil during the Revolutionary War. On July 12, 1776, warnings were issued that Lord Dunmore’s fleet had been spotted and “forty sail of square rigged vessels are as far up the Bay as Point Lookout.”


The next day, Colonel Richard Barnes reported to the Council of Safety that he had traveled to Point Lookout himself and had observed these ships. At the same time, he had ordered five companies of militia to go there as fast as possible to attempt to prevent them from landing. He added that “two small vessels drove on shore from the fleet, on board of one of them was three whites and two Negroes, three of which now have the small pox on them.” One of the men in the two small vessels had advised Col. Barnes that the fleet planned to take St. George’s Island the next morning. Nevertheless, The Council of Safety took a “wait and see” attitude.


On July 15, Col. Jeremiah Jordan wrote to the Council telling them that there was between 70 and 80 sail of vessels lying off the mouth of the St. Mary’s River and that 10 boats, full of men, had landed on St. George’s Island and had returned for more.


Col. Jordan wrote the Council on July 17 that the enemy had attempted to land on St. George’s Island and had been driven off by the militia. Although there had been heavy fire, only one American casualty was reported, Captain Rezin Beall who was said to have been “dangerously wounded in the shoulder (as he says from a rifle) which has rendered him incapable for duty.”

In later years, Captain Beall related the events of that day. He said that his lookout had warned him before dawn of the arriving ships. He deployed his 100 men in a thin line along the coast in the bushes opposite the ships, with orders that if the enemy tried to come ashore they would not fire until their boats were 25 yards from the shore. Each ship filled a boat with armed men and was soon moving toward the shore. The firing of Captain Rezin's men was such a surprise that the boats were thrown into confusion, and many of Captain Beall's men got in a second shot before their fire was returned by the British. The enemy did not attempt to land, but returned to their ships and indulged in vigorous big-gun fire. This fire killed and wounded a number of men, wounding Captain Beall in the hip.

This remarkable act of repulsing 80 enemy sail with 100 men prompted Captain Beall's friends to confer on him the title of The Little Iron Man. (Source: Colonial Families of the United States from the Immigrants by Fiedler M. M. Beall).


At last, the Council took full action and ordered additional troops to St. George’s Island. On July 19, Col. John Dent reported that “Our strength at present is about 400 Militia, exclusive of Capt. Forrest’s Company.” Major Thomas Price was ordered to replace Col. Dent. In a report to the Council from Maj. Price, he stated “Enclosed you have Gov. Eden’s answer to Mr. Wolstenholme’s letter which was brought to Capt. Forrest who I ordered to that station in place of Capt. Mackall who I could not so well depend upon.” By August 5, it was reported that “Dunmore’s fleet is gone off from the mouth of the Potomac, very sickly and in great distress.”


In the past, some historians have treated the invasion at St. George’s Island with their noses upturned because they are of the opinion that the British only went there to secure wood and water and that it had few implications in the grand scheme of things. The same thing happened there as would later occur during the War of 1812. St. Mary’s County had a hard time defending herself because her troops were constantly being pulled out to protect places such as Philadelphia and New York. As a result, Southern Maryland was an easy mark for the British who plundered here throughout the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.


In 1776, the call went out to send troops to New York, but the local troops were hampered by the lack for firearms. The Council noted that they had ordered Capt. Forrest to remain in St. Mary’s County and that “he will be obliged to borrow arms from the Militia.”


In another message dated August 19, the Council wrote “Capt. Forrest and Capt. Brooks have no arms but what they have borrowed or can borrow of the Militia. We have therefore ordered them to their stations in Calvert and St. Mary’s to supply the place of Capt. Beall and Capt. Thomas. As soon as they get arms we shall order them to march immediately.”


This delay probably saved Uriah Forrest’s life as he was not present at the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776. The Maryland troops, under the command of Col. William Smallwood (of Charles County), were specifically called upon by General Washington to allow American troops, who had been surrounded by British troops, to retreat. They were credited with saving the American Army.


Col. Smallwood reported to the Council that “General Washington ordered me to march down a New England Regiment and Capt. Thomas’ Company (this was Capt. John Allen Thomas of St. Mary’s County) to support and cover the retreat. The fire was very heavy on both sides. Thomas’ men contributed much in bringing over the troops. Have enclosed a list of the killed and missing amounting to 256 officers inclusive. General Washington expressly sent and drew our Regiment from its Brigade to march down towards New York and cover the retreat.”


Many years later, George Washington Parke Custis, adopted son of George Washington and grandson of Martha (Dandridge) Washington, wrote:


“The famed regiment of Smallwood, composed of the flower of Maryland youth, both Catholic and Protestant, was recruited principally in the lower Counties and the Eastern Shore. The 10th Legion in the American Army marched into Philadelphia in 1776, 1,100 strong, was cut to pieces a the Battle of Long Island, gallantly struggling for victory against an overwhelming foe, and at the close of the memorable campaign of ’76 at the Battle of Princeton, mustered 60 men commanded by the late Gov. Stone, then a Captain; the prison ship and the grave had all the rest.”


On October 13, Col. Thomas Ewing reported that he sent three companies, under the command of Maj. Eden (this was James Eden, another St. Mary’s Countian), on their way to New York by way of Philadelphia and that they had arrived in Harlem on September 18, while Capt. Uriah Forrest arrived on October 13 and that “the enemy has landed 4,000 troops at Kingsbridge, New York.” Ewing also reported “By the last return I had 237 privates sick, besides officers owing to our lying on the cold ground without straw or plank. Medicine is very scarce. Numbers of soldiers are without blankets. The first three companies have gained great honor under the command of the Major Eden.”


Time marched on and there are various accounts given about Uriah Forrest but mostly related to the commission of officers under his command and payments for goods and supplies. Undoubtedly he participated in a number of campaigns in and around New York and Pennsylvania.


On May 3, 1777, Uriah Forrest was promoted to Major in the 3rd Maryland Regiment. On October 10, 1777 Samuel Chase wrote to Governor Thomas Johnson from his post in Yorktown (Pennsylvania) saying “I wrote to you this morning the best accounts I could obtain of the Battle of the 4th instant (Battle of German Town). Major Forrest had his thigh broken by a musquet ball. Our loss is between 600 and 700 killed, wounded, and missing.”


The Battle of Germantown was a fiasco. Fog had set in and one contingent of soldiers was unaccounted for. Washington had also devised a complicated plan that split his forces. He surely had no desire to repeat the mistakes made during the French and Indian War when Colonial troops had mistaken each other for the enemy, killing many of their own. Ultimately Washington was forced to retreat with the British in pursuit. It was a defeat with the Americans suffering 152 losses, 521 wounded, and over 400 captured.


Despite the hopes that Forrest’s leg would get better, it did not. On November 18, 1778 Dr. Charles Frederick Wiesenthal wrote to Gov. Johnson that shortly before this letter he went down to St. Mary’s County and amputated Col. Forrest’s thigh. One would think this would have resulted in end of Forrest’s wartime activities, but it did not. On August 18, 1779 he was appointed Auditor General. Just four months later, on December 27, “Lt. Col. Uriah Forrest to the Command of the 7th Regiment on promotion of Lt. Col. Peter Adams.”


On February 13, 1780, Baron deKalb wrote to the Governor and Council saying “The other officer for whom I am to intreat your favour is Lt. Col. Forrest. This gentleman is no longer able to continue his services in his regiment and his holding a commission in it precludes the appointment of another field officer and throws all the hardships of the duty upon the Major. The holding of commissions by persons unable to discharge the functions is prejudicial to the service.” On February 19, 1781, Col. Forrest resigned as Auditor General and at the same time resigned his commission in the 1st Regiment, Maryland Line.


In a letter dated February 26, 1781 from Samuel Huntington of Philadelphia (writing for the Continental Congress) to Gov. Thomas Sim Lee, he wrote “Your Excellency will receive enclosed the extract of a resolve of the 23rd instant requesting the State of Maryland to advance to Lt. Col. Forrest, an account of the United States a sum equal to seven years half pay of a Lt. Colonel in lieu of the half pay he might otherwise have been entitled to during his natural life. Upon resignation of this officer, Congress have thought proper, in consideration of his past services and particular misfortune of the loss of a limb in the public service, to grant him the benefit and emoluments contained in the enclosed resolution.”


On March 20, 1781, Uriah Forrest was appointed as Commissioner for the preservation of British Property, but by December 15, 1781 he was being referred to as “late a Commissioner.” Nevertheless, he was still serving various offices in St. Mary’s County as he was the recipient of various amounts for disbursement to or on behalf of soldiers.


On October 11, 1789, at the age of 43, Uriah Forrest married Rebecca Plater who was then about 25 years of age at “Sotterley”. Col. Forrest did not come from the same social circles as the Platers, but he had undoubtedly come to know Rebecca’s father during the course of the war and probably Mr. Plater was impressed with this young man who had acquitted himself very well and who was treated (and rightfully so) as a hero.


Rebecca Plater was the daughter of George Plater III and his second wife, Elizabeth Rousby of “Sotterley.” George Plater III graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1752. He was a lawyer and served as a Justice of the Peace and was also Naval Officer of the Patuxent. He was a member of the convention to form the Maryland State Government, a delegate to the Continental Congress, and was President of the Maryland convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution. In 1791, he was elected the sixth Governor of Maryland.


By the time of the 1790 census, Uriah and Rebecca (Plater) Forrest were shown living in Montgomery County (actually they were living in Georgetown, a part of what would ultimately become the District of Columbia) next door to Benjamin Stoddert, a friend, business partner and fellow Southern Marylander.


Benjamin Stoddert was born in Charles County, Maryland in 1751 and was the son of Captain Thomas Stoddert (killed in Braddock’s Defeat in 1755, during the French and Indian War) and Janet Donaldson. Janet Donaldson was the daughter of Reverend John Donaldson and his wife, Elizabeth, of St. Mary’s County.


Benjamin Stoddert had also served during the Revolutionary War. In 1776 he joined the Continental Army as captain of the cavalry and was later promoted to Major. At the Battle of Brandywine, he was so severely wounded that it was determined he was no longer fit for active duty. Nevertheless, he remained in the Army as secretary of the board of war until 1781. In 1798 he became the first Secretary of the Navy.


Uriah Forrest and Benjamin Stoddert were friends and confidantes of George Washington. Their friendship had been forged under fire during the Revolutionary War and continued until their deaths. After the war, Benjamin Stoddert and Uriah Forrest became business partners, establishing a successful merchant shipping firm. According to Margaret King Fresco, a Forrest descendant, they were co-owners of the schooner "Union" which traded between Baltimore and the West Indies.

When George Washington was assigned the responsibility of selecting a suitable site along the Potomac River for the new nation’s capital, he turned to Stoddert and Forrest, asking them to purchase key parcels of land in the area before the formal decision was made by the Continental Congress, then meeting in Philadelphia. This was done to preclude escalating property prices. They would then transfer the parcels to the government. They agreed and President Washington’s diary of March 29, 1791 noted that he had "dined at Col. Forrest's today with the Commissioner and others." The men moved quickly as construction of the White House began in 1792 followed by the Capitol building in 1793.

The home of Uriah Forrest was known as “Rosedale”, but is known today as the Forrest-Marbury house. According to several historians “this is the site of one of the United States’ most significant historical events--the establishment of the federal city of Washington, D.C." On December 31, 1992, the house became the Embassy of the Ukraine.

Not only did Uriah Forrest and Benjamin Stoddert assist in securing the land for the new capital, they also loaned the government bond money to begin construction of the Capitol building. Another lender was Philip B. Key (son of Dr. John Key and wife, Cecelia Brown of St. Mary’s County). Uriah Forrest is recognized as one of the founders of Washington, D.C., and rightfully so. Before all was said and done, his efforts on behalf of the new capitol ended up in him losing his personal wealth.


About 1796 General Forrest had mortgaged “Rosedale” to obtain loans from the state of Maryland to bolster the new Federal City's economy. Reversals of fortune forced Forrest, along with many of his peers, into bankruptcy in 1802. He was only able to salvage “Rosedale” by having his brother-in-law, Philip Barton Key (husband of his wife’s sister, Ann Plater), accept the mortgage. Key in turn, granted Forrest lifetime use of “Rosedale.”


The General died July 6, 1805 still plagued with debt. After his death, the estate was almost lost again to debts and litigation. In 1815, Philip Barton Key died, and in a written statement forgave the mortgage and returned the property to Rebecca (Plater) Forrest outright. Upon Rebecca's death, by the terms of her will, the property transferred to her daughter, Ann (Forrest) Green in 1843. “Rosedale” was kept in the family, even as most of the other parcels, originally 240 acres, were sold.


Uriah Forrest was an influential man whose opinion was sought not only by George Washington but Thomas Jefferson who corresponded with him and exchanged views in what was a discussion centered on the Bill of Rights.  "I have a right to nothing which another has a right to take away." His philosophical loyalty was not with Jefferson and his "states rights" approach, however, as he was a member of John Adams’ Federalist Party that favored a strong central government.


It was Forrest who apprised the recently inaugurated John Adams in 1797 that despite Vice-President Jefferson's protestations of support and friendship, Jefferson was, in fact, seeking to undermine Adams' power. It was also Forrest's blunt advice to the President in April 1799 that, though late in the day, salvaged the Administration from the continuing machinations of the Hamiltonian faction.


In addition to other service, Uriah Forrest was elected to the Maryland General Assembly for several terms; served in the U.S. Senate; and was Clerk of the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia until his death.


Rebecca (Plater) Forrest never remarried and died at “Rosedale” on September 5, 1843.


Notice in National Intelligencer--Rebecca Forrest, relict of the late General Uriah Forrest died in Georgetown September 6, 1843 in the 80th year of her age (Washington, D.C. Probate Records, 1836-1847).


Uriah Forrest and Rebecca Plater had seven children. They were:


Ann “Nancy” Forrest, 1790-1870, who married John Green July 21, 1814 in Washington, D.C. One of their children was Alice Green who married H.H. Prince Don Angel de Iturbide y Huarte of Mexico.


George Plater Forrest, July 14-1794-August 26, 1843 who married Eleanor Maria Chapman. Margaret Fresco says he was sent by the government in 1820 to the Chickasaw Nation in Arkansas where the Indians called him "The Fire Dancer."


Henry Forrest. He may have predeceased his mother as he is not named in her will in 1840.


Eliza Forrest who married Upton Scott Reid on June 13, 1814 in Washington, D.C.


Maria Forrest (March 3, 1799-March 27, 1869) who married first, Lt. John Tayloe IV on November 13, 1817 at “Rosedale.” She married second, Dr. Benjamin Schenkmyer Bohrer on June 10, 1834.


Benjamin Stoddert Forrest who married Ann Maria Summers, February 18, 1823 in Montgomery County, Maryland.


5/15/1840: Died on Tuesday last at his res. in Rockville, Montgomery Co., Md., Benjamin Stoddert Forrest, for many years President of the Maryland Senate and a distinguished member of the bar. (National Intelligencer Newspaper Abstracts, 1840).


Uriah Forrest, Jr. who may have also predeceased his mother.


6/11/1826: Uriah Forrest, Attorney at Law, will practice in Montgomery Co. Court, Md. (National Intelligencer Newspaper Abstracts, 1824-1826).


Prepared by: Linda Reno and Greg White, June 13, 2004


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Copyright 2002 Linda Reno, Charlotte Hall, Maryland and Marcella Jehl Dawson, Houston, Texas. All rights reserved.. No part of these pages may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without written permission of the author(s).

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