Forbes family

From Academic Kids

This article is about the Forbes family related to US Senator John Kerry. For information about the Forbes family associated with Forbes magazine, see Forbes family (publishers).

The Forbes family of China and Boston, of which US Senator John Forbes Kerry and John Murray Forbes are members, amassed a huge fortune in the China trade, initially trading North American furs and manufactured goods for tea and other goods from China.

Forbes also made a considerable fortune smuggling opium during the Opium Wars. The British wanted to keep a monopoly on supplying the Chinese with opium grown in India. However, during the Opium Wars the British ships were prevented from delivering their cargoes of opium and American ship owners such as Forbes, who could sail the final miles, made great amounts of money delivering the cargoes for the British. Forbes family members later engaged in other merchant banking and railroad investment projects around the world.

Born in France, John Murray Forbes entered the China trade at the behest of his Perkins uncles, and after his brother Tom Forbes died, and thereafter John Murray Forbes was mentored by the Chinese merchant Houqua who considered Forbes to be like a son. Following John Murray Forbes into China were several brothers and cousins, including Francis Blackwell Forbes, the great grandfather of John Forbes Kerry. The Forbes family lived and traded in China at first due to a family connection with the Perkins family. Later, some of the Forbes family sold their China trading interests to the Russell and Company, a shipping empire which was headed by Robert Bennett Forbes, and was later associated with Yale's development and endowment. Yale's Skull and Bones society was founded by William H. Russell, one of the members of the wealthy Russell family, in 1832.

The Dictionary of American Biography reports that the noted American ship captain Robert Bennet Forbes played "a prominent role in the outbreak of the Chinese Opium War."

Several of the Forbes family cashed out of their dealings in China after the Opium War, and reinvested in Europe and the United States. Some of the population growth of Chicago and Midwestern Plains states in the middle to late 19th century was due to John Murray Forbes' railroad projects in Michigan and Chicago. The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co., from Chicago west to the Pacific was built by John Murray Forbes who had perhaps a reputation for sound financial management amongst the railroad tycoons of the day. In 1879, William Forbes, son of John Murray Forbes, risked the fortune to financially back Alexander Graham Bell's telephone company, and become president of the company, a risk which paid off. Cameron Forbes used his wealth to become Governor General of the Philippines. His niece Ruth Forbes Paine Young tapped her Forbes family inheritance to finance the International Peace Academy. Her husband invented the Bell Helicopter used in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. In a tiny footnote to history, Ruth Forbes Paine Young's son, Michael R. Paine, and his wife Ruth Paine, allowed Maria Oswald, the wife of Lee Harvey Oswald, to live in their house as a family friend, and Oswald's rifle was stored for a time in the Paine's family garage.

Many Forbes family members purchased estates in France and Massachusetts, and generally remain influential there, in local or national politics. John Forbes Kerry is a U.S. Senator and was a candidate for President of the U.S. Though he is a beneficiary of several Forbes family trusts (c. 2002), Kerry has not worked in the private sector for Forbes family business interests and has devoted his life to a career in public service. Kerry's first cousin and friend, Brice Lalonde, an environmentalist activist, is a French Green party politician who was a candidate for President of France in 1981 and currently mayor of Saint-Briac-sur-Mer near the Forbes family estate.

Until recently, the Museum of the American China Trade in Boston was curated by a Forbes great-grandson, Dr. H. A. Crosby Forbes, an expert on Chinese porcelain. The museum was a monument to the China merchants and the great wealth accruing to Boston created in the China trade. The [renamed] Forbes House Charitable Trust now owns the Captain Forbes House Museum on Boston's South shore.

The Forbes family owns, through the family JM Forbes Naushon Island Trust, named for the wealthy John Murray Forbes, the private Naushon Island, part of the Elizabeth Islands NW of Martha's Vineyard and SW of Cape Cod.

The Forbes family of China and Boston is descended from Scottish immigrants (See Forbes genealogy below for Sen. Kerry and other Forbes family members in America and ancestors in Scotland).


Forbes family line in Scotland, beginning with Sir John De Forbes

The earliest record we have of the Forbes family is that of the marriage of Solvathius Forbes to Maravilla, daughter of King Gregory the Great, in 870 AD.

There are various ideas concerning the origin of the Forbes surname, but the one most accepted is that the name was first assumed by a man named Ochonchar, from Ireland, who slew a ferocious bear in the district of Forbear. Forbear became spelled and pronounced as Forbes.

Probably the ancestors of the Forbes family

  • Solvathius Forbes (c. 850), married daughter of King Giric of Scotland
    • Christopher Forbes
      • Christopher Forbes
        • Duncan Forbes
          • Ochonchar Forbes
            • Fergus de Forbes
              • Alexander de Forbes
                • Duncan de Forbes

Confirmed ancestors of the Forbes family

  • Sir John De Forbes, a man of rank and importance in the reign of William the Lion, of Scotland
  • Sir Fergus De Forbes, (b. before 1272)
  • Alexander De Forbes, (d. 1303, Loch Ness, Scotland), governor of Urquhart Castle in Moray, defended it 1304 against Edward I
  • Alexander De Forbes, (b. before 1303- killed 1332 while fighting at the side of David II in the Battle of Duplin)
  • Sir John of the "Black Lip" Forbes, (b. in Aberdeenshire, Scotland), 1332 - d. before November 20, 1406), m. to Margaret Kennedy
  • Sir William Forbes (Laird of Kynaldy), (1385 - killed January 25, 1445 at the battle of Arbroath), m. to Agnes Fraser
  • Sir Alexander Forbes (Laird of Kynaldy), (d. 1477), m. to Maria Hay
  • William Forbes, (b. in Pitsligo, Scotland, before 1477-), m. to Mariot Olgilvy
  • William Forbes, (b. in Dauch, Scotland, before 1500-), m. to Elizabeth Forbes
  • Alexander, 1st Forbes (Laird of Newe), (d. 1561), m. to Jean Lumsden
  • William, 2nd Forbes (Laird of Newe), (d. 1571), m. to Margaret Gordon
  • John "Blue Bonnet" 3rd Forbes (Laird of Newe), (d. 1616), m. to Isabel Burnet
  • Alexander, 4th Forbes (Laird of Newe), (d. 1654), m. to Janet Robertson
  • William, 5th Forbes (Laird of Newe) (d. 1698), m. to Helen Forbes
  • John Forbes (b. Descrie, Scotland, 1670 - 1739) m. to Margaret Farquharson
  • Archibald Forbes, (b. Deskrie, Scotland, 1713-1793, d. December 3, 1793, New Miln, of Keith, Scotland), m. to Henrietta Grant

Descendants of Archibald Forbes in the United States

There is no connection between the descendants of Archibald Forbes and the family that publishes Forbes magazine, which was founded by Bertie Forbes. However, Bertie Forbes, born in New Deer, Scotland, is a descendant of the Forbes clan in Scotland.


  • 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.
  • The Bingham Genealogy Project, by Doug Bingham,, 2003

External link

This article contains content from HierarchyPedia ( article Forbes family (, used here under the GNU Free Documentation License (


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