Forbes, Robert Bennet

Forbes, Robert Bennet

(1804–89) merchant, author; born in Jamaica Plain, Mass. (brother of John Murray Forbes). He entered the China-trade business of his uncles James and Thomas H. Perkins at age 13 and stayed with the company when it merged to become Russell & Company (1830). In 1839 he became head of the Company and ignored the British boycott of Canton during the Opium Wars. Owner of several ships, he supported innovations in marine safety and ship design that included the first iron-hulled tugboat. During the terrible famine of 1847, he personally commanded a ship that took food from Boston to Ireland. During the Civil War he organized a short-lived "Coast Guard." A prolific pamphleteer, he wrote about the China trade and marine matters. His memoirs are titled Peronal Reminiscences (1876; 3rd ed., 1892).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.