Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thomas Marsh Forman (1758-1845)
MSA SC 3520-1836

Biography:

Thomas Marsh Forman was born on August 20, 1758, into a life of wealth and privilege. He was the eldest child of Augustina Marsh and Ezekiel Forman, who lived in Kent County, Maryland. They had three other children: William, Elizabeth (1762-1820), and Sarah. Ezekiel was a prominent figure in the community, and was elected to public office a number of times. [1]

By the summer of 1776, Forman was eager to take part in the rebellion against the British which was taking shape. His father Ezekiel had been a member of the local revolutionary committee since 1774, and Thomas got a position as a cadet in the First Maryland Regiment's First Company, led by John Hoskins Stone. Cadets were essentially officers-in-waiting, upper-class young men who hoped to receive commissions. One of the officers in the company was Benjamin Chambers, who would later marry Forman's sister Elizabeth. [2]

The regiment had formed in the early part of 1776, and in July it had been ordered north to reinforce the Continental Army in New York amid fears of an impending British attack. Forman did not join the troops in July, but instead arrived in New York in the middle of August, about the time he turned eighteen. According to one account, when the war started Forman and his brother William were "sent into the country" to keep them out of harm's way, but Forman "got out of a window at night and rode away to join the American army at New York." [3]

As a cadet, Forman had no formal duty with the army. He may have served as an aide to one of the officers, or joined the other aspiring officers on the battlefield. Cadets' main goals were to build personal connections and demonstrate their gentlemanly comportment while they waited for an opportunity to become officers in their own right. Forman served with the Marylanders during the fall of 1776, many years later recalling that he was with the army in early December when it "retreated over the Delaware." In late 1776, as the Continental Army expanded, he was commissioned first as a lieutenant, then as a captain, commanding a company in a Pennsylvania regiment led by his uncle, Colonel David Forman. [4]

Forman saw combat several times during the Philadelphia Campaign of 1777-1778, as the Americans unsuccessfully tried to prevent the British from occupying their capital city, including the battles of Germantown (October 1777) and Monmouth (July 1778). In January of 1779, Forman was appointed aide de camp to American general William Alexander, Lord Stirling. He held that post for only a short time, resigning in May of that year and leaving the army. [5]

Back home in Maryland, Forman took up the life of a gentleman planter, living on Kent Island for a time, before settling in Cecil County. In 1783 and 1784, Forman was a justice of the peace, although he was only in his mid-twenties. In 1790, 1792, and 1800, he was elected to the House of Delegates from Cecil County. By 1800 he was a Republican, though his party allegiance in the 1790s is not known. [6]

Forman also had a long career as an officer in the Maryland Militia, a position he got as much because of his political connections as his military experience. In 1794, he was named the major of the Forty-Ninth Regiment, based in Cecil County, a post he held until he resigned in 1798. However, in 1810, he returned, this time as a brigadier general, commanding the First Brigade, all of the troops from Cecil and Harford counties. He held that rank for nearly twenty years, and was in command during the War of 1812. [7]

In early 1813, a British invasion fleet arrived in the Chesapeake Bay, and throughout that spring it launched a series of raids on costal towns in the northeastern part of the bay, an area under Forman's military jurisdiction. In quick succession, British troops attacked Frenchtown and Elkton on April 29, Havre de Grace on May 3, and Fredericktown and Georgetown on May 5, along with other smaller sites. Although the militia did what they could to oppose the British, they were not prepared nor equipped to face their experienced enemy.

In the summer of 1814, Forman once again was called on to take command of his men. Just two months after his marriage to Martha Ogle Callender, he was called away on duty, and the family sent their valuables away, in case their home was raided by the British. In August, after Washington, DC was burned by the British, Forman, accompanied by a slave named Jacob, marched his men to Baltimore to prepare for an attack on that city. Forman's own troops were in poor health and badly equipped, but over all Baltimore was well defended. Forman expressed great confidence in the Marylanders' ability to withstand a British assault: "The force at this place will soon be very great. Troops are flocking in from all points...I am certain they [the British] will never willingly meet anything like an equal force." [8]

So confident was Forman that he dreamed of, and nearly carried out, a sortie out of the city's fortifications against the British, hoping to "strike a bold stroke which would serve my county and immortalize my dear little wife's husband...My imagination soared into the regions of fame and my darling Martha's approbation." Wisely, his senior commanders did not allow the mission, understanding that the Marylanders' only advantage came from their strong defensive position, and an attack away from the fortifications was doomed to failure. [9]

After the British were ultimately repulsed, Martha Forman journeyed to Baltimore to join her husband, and the two returned to their home a month later. Forman stayed in the militia until 1837, rising to major general, but his men were never called into active duty again. He remained a leading Republican, and later Democratic, leader for years to come, actively supporting Andrew Jackson, but did not run for public office after 1800; he was nominated to run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1811, but declined it. For the rest of his days, Forman remained a country gentleman. [10]

Forman married twice. His first wife was Mary Porter, the widow of Alexander Porter of Delaware. Thomas and Mary had one daughter, named Delia. Sadly, Mary died in 1801, and Thomas remained a widower until 1814, when he married Martha on May 19. She was nearly thirty years his junior, and herself a widow; he first husband James Callender died in a shipwreck in 1811. Thomas and Martha had no children. [11]

They lived in a large plantation house known as "Rose Hill," in Cecil County, which still stands today. Forman owned several thousand acres, much of it inherited, and as many as fifty slaves. According to one of his neighbors, and his apparent good friend, Sidney George Fisher, Forman had a reputation for having an unpleasant personality. "He was always noted for his violent, reckless temper but I thought that age somewhat softened him, and that he treated his wife [Martha] well," wrote Fisher in his journal in 1841. Yet, he continued, Forman "is very cross and savage to his wife, gives her no money and obliges her to perform all the duties of superintending their large establishment without assistance. She seems almost crazy with her troubles." Forman, according to Fisher, "never had a legitimate child, but many bastards as he was a handsome man, and noted for bonne foruntes," ignoring Forman's daughter Delia. [12]

Two years later, another entry from Fisher told the same tale.

Forman is very well. His mind, however, is more feeble, and his bad passions under less restraint. He seemed very cross and out of humor...and was without his usual cheerfulness, gracious manner, and vivid interest in life, which alone made him bearable. He is full of humors and caprices, violent and obstinate, tyrannical and unreasonable, and I doubt not his wife leads a horrible life with him. [13]

After Forman died, Fisher was even more thorough in his scorn:

He is certainly a loss to the nieghborhood...He lived like a Gentleman...In these respects he is certainly a loss which is something to say for a man, but for him one can say no more. His character and course have always been bad, his moral influences evil, he contributed to the happiness of no one & he died without being regretted by a single mortal on earth as he had lived for many years without inspiring anyone with affection...[Martha] led a horrible life with him by reason of his infirmities his violence & his irritable & tyrannical temper." [14]

It is difficult to evaluate Fisher's judgment. He did not allow his distaste for Forman's darker moods to prevent his frequent visits, and as far as is known only expressed his condemnations to his journal. Martha Forman did not hint at anything which would confirm Fisher's accusations, although that is hardly conclusive. Perhaps, even setting aside Fisher's vitriol, Forman was a man with an unpleasant side. Humans are indeed complicated.

Thomas Marsh Forman died on May 8, 1845, at the age of eighty-six. Fisher reported that "he was attacked by a sore throat, which this spring has been an epidemic in the neighborhood & in three days it put an end to his life." He divided his vast property holdings among his grandchildren, the children of his daughter Delia, and left Rose Hill to his wife, along with a significant allowance to be paid from the estate. She moved to Delaware, where she died in 1864. [15]

In October 1845, four months after her husband's death, Martha wrote in her journal:

I cannot express how much I miss my dear husband and how lonely and solitary I feel. I miss him in every thing I miss him every where I miss him from his sofa, I miss him from his chair. I miss him from his table I miss him everywhere, when I walk in the garden, or on the lawn, there is the trees and shrubs planted by his own hands, and reared by his own care, and he watched over them, trimmed and pruned them, and marked their growth from year to year, they were his pleasure and amusement. Alas, alas, and he is never to look on those beautiful trees again, how sad and melancholy the thought...long, long, will he be remembered by us all with sorrow and regret. [16]

Owen Lourie, 2019

 

Notes:

 

1. Edward C. Papenfuse, et al., eds, A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789. Vol I. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 324; W. Emerson Wilson, Plantation Life at Mount Harmon: The Diaries of Martha Ogle Forman, 1814-1845 (Wilmington, DE: The Historical Society of Delaware, 1976), v, 48 (hereafter Forman Diary).

 

2. Papenfuse, et al., 324; Pension of Thomas Marsh Forman. National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, W 5276, from Fold3.com.

 

3. Forman pension; Charles Forman, Three Revolutionary Soldiers: David Forman (1745-1797), Jonathan Forman (1755-1809), Thomas Marsh Forman (1758-1845) (Cleveland: Forman-Bassett-Hatch, 1903), 25.

 

4. Forman pension; John A. Ruddiman, Becoming Men of Some Consequence: Youth and Military Service in the Revolutionary War (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2014), 31-35; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from Fold3.com. On the place of cadets with the First Maryland Regiment in 1776, see "'Anxious of Showing my Zeal for the Love of My County, I entered Myself as a Cadet,'" on the Maryland State Archives research blog, Finding the Maryland 400.

 

5. Compiled Service Record; “General Orders, 12 January 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives.

 

6. Journal and Correspondence of the State Council, 1781-1784, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 48, pps. 341, 516, 527; Maryland 1800 House of Delegates, Cecil County, A New Nation Votes: American Election Returns 1787-1835.

 

7. Adjutant General, Militia Appointments, vol. 2, p. 95 [MSA S348-2, 2/6/5/10]; Adjutant General, Militia Appointments, vol. 3, p. 2 [MSA S348-3, 2/6/5/11].

 

8. Forman Diary, 2; Anthony Pitch, The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1998), 182-183.

 

9. Pitch, 204.

 

10. Forman Diary, 4; Adjutant General, Militia Appointments, 1806-1848, p. 16 [MSA S348-5, 2/6/5/16]; Maryland Republican (Annapolis), 29 July 1811.

 

11. Forman Diary, i, v. The date of Mary and Thomas's marriage is not known; Alexander Porter died in the spring of 1784. Estate papers, Alexander Porter, 1784, New Castle County, DE, Register of Wills, from Ancestry.com

 

12. Forman Diary, v-vi, 449; U.S. Federal Census, 1840, Cecil County, Maryland; W. Emerson Wilson, Mount Harmon Diaries of Sidney George Fisher, 1837-1850 (Wilmington, DE: The Historical Society of Delaware, 1976), 103, 131 (hereafter Fisher Diary).

 

13. Fisher Diary, 123.

 

14. Fisher Diary, 130.

 

15. Will of Thomas Marsh Forman, 1845, Cecil County Register of Wills, Wills, liber B9, p. 307 [MSA C646-8, 1/11/14/15], Forman Diary, vii.

 

16. Forman Diary, 446.

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