in Bordeaux, France, and raised in Milton, Massachusetts, John
faced his father's death when he was six. At the age of twelve
he entered the family businessa clerk in the China counting-house
of his uncles. Five years later he "shipped before the mast"
to Canton, replacing his brother Tom, who died while serving as
an agent for Houqua, China's leading export merchant. By learning
quickly and acquiring an early fortune, he returned home and married,
but soon sailed back alone to China, in three years gaining what
was then great wealth, $100,000.
Upon returning to the United States, John Forbes left the volatile
China trade and invested in land, iron, and railroads. While actively
participating in the Saturday Club with Boston Unitarians notable
in science, religion, philosophy, and literature, Forbes was president
of the Chicago Central Railroad, which pioneered the first trains
from the East to Chicago. Throughout half a century of investing
in the consolidation of railroad development opening the West,
he led in the creation of the newly industrializing nation's very
first big business. He is recognized as a pioneering precursor
of Henry Ford a century later.
John Murray Forbes, long admired by many for his personal integrity,
contributed to American society through endorsing Wendell Phillips,
providing weapons to fight slavery, and entertaining John Brown.
In addition to providing wartime counsel to President Lincoln
and his cabinet, Forbes was sent on a secret mission to England
which prevented the Confederacy from securing two ironclad ships.
Among his various other philanthropies were his help in building
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as the Tuskegee
and Hampton Schools, and his lead in fostering the Robert Gould
Shaw monument on the Boston Common just across from the Unitarian
Universalist Association on Beacon Street.