My Georgia History

U.S. Marshal Robert Forsyth

US Marshal John Forsyth

US Marshal John Forsyth

Robert Forsyth was born in the country of Scotland in 1754. He came to America with his parents and lived in New England. Some time before his 20th birthday he moved to FredericksburgVirginia. When America went to war with England for our independence, Forsyth fought in the Continental Army. Three years later, on January 10, 1779, he received a commission as Captain in the Core of Partisan Light Dragoons under Major “Light Horse Harry” Lee.  

Robert Forsyth left Lee’s Legion to accept another post. He received a letter from General George Washington expressing regret that he was leaving Lee’s command, but relief that Forsyth would be “in another line of the Army.” Working as aide-de-camp to General Avery, Forsyth’s new responsibility was to provision the southern army. Forsyth earned a promotion to Major of the first Virginia Legion on March 21, 1781.

After the war, Forsyth returned to Fredericksburg. He married and had two sons Robert and John. In 1785 Forsyth and his family moved to Augusta Georgia. There he engaged in private business, real estate and farming. Forsyth was active in various civic affairs and served his community as a tax assessor and justice of the peace. Forsyth became a trustee of the RichmondAcademy. He also became a member of the Society of the Cincinnati and the Masons. He became Master of the Lodge Columbia and Deputy Grand Master for the state of Georgia.

In 1789 President George Washington appointed him as the first Marshal for the District of Georgia. Robert Forsyth conducted his first US census here in 1790. On January 11, 1794, Marshal Forsyth, accompanied by two of his deputies,

John Forsyth Marker

John Forsyth Marker

went to the house of Mrs. Dixon, in Augusta, to serve a civil court process on two brothers, Beverly and William Allen. Beverly Allen, a former Methodist minister from South Carolina, saw the Marshal approaching, so he hid in a room on the second floor of the house. When Forsyth knocked on the door of the room, Alan fired his pistol at the direction of the knocking. The ball hit Forsyth in the head, killing him instantly. The deputies arrested the two brothers immediately. Robert Forsyth was 40 years old. He left behind a wife and his two sons, Robert and John. John was 13 at the time of his father’s death. William Allen pleaded not guilty and was released on bail. Beverly Allen was sent to the Richmond County Jail but managed to escape with the help of a guard. He was recaptured a short time later and placed in the Albert County Georgia jail. But justice was not to be served. Led by William Allen, a group of armed men helped Beverly Allen escape the second time. The Allen Brothers reportedly, fled to Texas and were never recaptured.

Robert Forsyth was buried at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery in Augusta Georgia. His grave is marked with a stone which reads:


Forsyth Grave Stone

Forsyth Grave Stone

Sacred to the memory of Robert Forsyth Federal Marshal of Georgia who, in the discharge of the duties of his office fell a victim to his respect for the laws of his Country and his resolution in support of them, on the 11th day of January 1794 in the 40 years of age. His virtues as an officer of rank and unusual competence in the war which gave independence to the United States and in all the tender and endearing relations of social life have left impressions on his Country and friends more durable engraved than this Monument. Marshal Forsyth was survived by his wife and their two sons, Robert and John. John Forsyth later became the governor of Georgia and the U.S. Minister to Spain, helping negotiate the treaty with Spain that acquired Florida for the United States.

In 1981 the United States Marshals Service created the “Robert Forsyth Act of Valor Award,” which commemorates the first Marshal killed while performing the duties of his office. The award consists of a gold plaque and $1500, which is given to a US Marshals Service employee who has demonstrated unusual courage, good judgment, and competence in hostile circumstances, or who has preformed an act or service which saved the life of another person while endangering his/her own life.

Several years ago I was watching television as President George Bush Sr. was addressing a group of law enforcement officials.  He stated “that over the years we have lost”, I don’t  remember the number, “men and women who gave their lives in the line of duty starting with Robert Forsyth in Augusta, Georgia.”

Written by: Mark Woodard

Research Sources:

The Lawman: US Marshals and Their Deputies, 1789-1989; Calhoun, Frederick; New York, Penguin Books 1991

The History of the U.S. Marshals; Sumer, Robin Langley. Philadelphia, Courage Books 1993

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