north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
     Benjamin Forsyth was a hero of the War of 1812, serving as an officer in the elite Rifle Regiment, later the United States Rifle Corps. For his courageous effort during the war, the state of North Carolina named Forsyth County for Benjamin Forsyth when it was created in 1849. His family’s home before the War of 1812 was near Germantown in Stokes County.

     The early life of Benjamin Forsyth is relatively unknown, although family tradition maintains that he was born in the early 1760s to James and Elizabeth Forsyth. He likely was born in Hanover County, Virginia, where deed books show he owned property in the 1780s. By 1794 Forsyth was living in Stokes County having accumulated 3,000 acres of land in Stokes County in addition to plots in Germantown. Forsyth served as a representative of Stokes County in the North Carolina General Assembly in 1807 and 1808.

     In 1808 Forsyth joined the U.S. First Rifle Regiment and rose to the rank of captain by the outbreak of the War of 1812. He was promoted to major and later made brevet lieutenant colonel. Forsyth was best known for his hit-and-run strategy attacks on British forces throughout Quebec and southern Canada. His best known attack came at Elizabethtown (Canada) in February 1813. Forsyth led his troops across the frozen St. Lawrence River and attacked a British garrison from behind, suffering limited losses but inflicting immense damage on the British fort. He was also well respected for his role in the capture of York in April 1813 and for the initial attacks on Fort George.

     A legend among his men for his courageous exploits, Forsyth exhibited a boldness that led to his death in June 1814. He led an American ambush and died on the battlefield while futilely attacking a much superior British force. Forsyth remained a hero to his men though, considered after death, “an excellent officer, and, under suitable circumstances . . . of important service.” He is buried in Champlain, New York.

     Following the war, Forsyth’s family sold his estate and moved from Stokes County to Tennessee. In 1817, the General Assembly passed a resolution of appreciation for Forsyth, and established a fund for the education of his only son James. The son attended Hillsborough Academy and the University of North Carolina at the expense of the state. He joined the United States Navy as a midshipman, and drowned when his ship was lost at sea in 1829. In 1849, when a new county out of Stokes, it was named for Benjamin Forsyth, Stokes’s fallen hero.


References:
Adelaide Fries and J. Edwin Hendricks, Forsyth: The History of a County on the March (1976)
Sarah McCulloh Lemmon, Frustrated Patriots: North Carolina and the War of 1812 (1973)
Samuel A. Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina, V (1906)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, II, 225--sketch by Sarah McCulloh Lemmon
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north carolina highway historical marker program


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