Forbes Road was also called the Raystown Path, or Old Trading Path. Forbes Road was a widening and improvement of an older trading path to make a military road under the leadership of British Brigadier General John Forbes during the French and Indian War. His goal was to cross the Appalachian (Allegheny) Mountains with heavy artillery and an army large enough to repel French forces at Fort Duquesne in what is now Pittsburgh on the Ohio River. General Forbes' men constructed the road in 1758 from Carlisle, Pennsylvania to Fort Duquesne, connecting Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. The road from Carlisle to Fort Duquesne was about 200 miles (322 km).
Forbes Road followed the "Raystown Traders Path," a Delaware-Shawnee Indian and fur trader pack trail connecting the Susquehanna (Harrisburg) and Ohio rivers via Raystown (modern Bedford). The construction part of the way from Harrisburg to Raystown (Bedford) was relatively easy because of the unfinished Burd's Road (1755) originally intended as a military supply route to connect to Braddock's Road. At Raystown General Forbes had a choice of heading south to Fort Cumberland, Maryland, where he could follow Braddock's Road toward Fort Duquesne. Instead he picked the the more direct route, choosing to widen the older Raystown Traders Path even though it involved building switchbacks on several steep grades. It took six months to finish the Forbes military road west to Fort Duquesne.
After the French retreated, and the French and Indian War ended, the new British Fort Pitt immediately became a significant trading center. Forbes Road and Braddock's Road became important routes for British and American settlers to cross over the mountains to Pittsburgh, the Ohio Valley, and into what became the old Northwest Territory of the United States.
As roads developed in America settlers were attracted to nearby communities because the roads provided access to markets. They could sell their products at distant markets, and buy products made far away. If an ancestor settled near a road, you may be able to trace back to a place of origin on a connecting highway.
Counties east to west: Philadelphia, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lebanon, Dauphin, Cumberland (Carlisle), Franklin, Fulton, Bedford (Raystown), Somerset, Westmoreland, and Allegheny (Fort Duquesne).
There is no known list of settlers who travelled Forbes Road. Most of the new settlers in the Pittsburgh area after 1758 would have arrived via Forbes Road from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, or via Braddock's Road from Fort Cumberland, Maryland.
After 1758 pioneers from eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey would have been the most likely ones to traverse Forbes Road. Philadelphia was America's busiest seaport until about 1810, so some immigrants from Europe who landed in Philadelphia may also have used Forbes Road to head west. People who followed Forbes Road most likely would have settled in Pittsburgh, western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, or Kentucky.
Mrs. Mary Dewees, a genteel lady, kept a journal of her voyage from Philadelphia to Kentucky in the fall of 1787. Her company evidently followed Forbes Road to Pittsburgh, where they had to wait until late fall for the river water to rise high enough to transport their flatboat down the Ohio River. She provides many details of what such a trip was like at that time and her diary makes a great read:
- Cochran, Samuel P. "Mrs. Mary Dewees's Journal from Philadelphia to Kentucky, 1787-1788," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 28 (1904):182-198. Digital version at Internet Archive - free.
- "Chapter Three: The Forbes Road and the Campaign of 1758" in The French and Indian War in Pennsylvania in ExplorePAHistory.com Explains the story of Forbes Road in the context of the larger war effort.
- "The Point: Indian Trails to Fort Duquesne" in Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Gives detailed description of the trail and towns (outposts) along the trail.
- "The Pennsylvania Road briefly describes the military contruction, results, and later civilian uses of both Forbes and Braddock's roads.
- Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, 10th ed. (Draper, Utah: Everton Pub., 2002), 853. (FHL Collection 973 D27e 2002). WorldCat entry.
- "Forbes Road" [general road marker at Bedford] as explained at ExplorePAhistory.com at http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=134 (accessed 20 December 2010).
- "Forbes Road (Raystown Path) #1" [road marker SW of Carlisle] as explained at ExplorePAhistory.com at http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=135 (accessed 20 December 2010).
- "Col. James Burd" [road marker in Highspire] as explained at ExplorePAhistory.com at http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=130 (accessed 20 December 2010).
- "Forbes Road" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forbes_Road (accessed 18 December 2010).