YOUR SILENT NEIGHBORS
Bleaker I. Forbes, Carpenter and Adventurer
by David K. Leff
Town Poet Laureate and Deputy Town Historian
At 93, the oldest man in Collinsville when he died, Bleaker I Forbes (1817-1910) was born in Canton Village and spent his youth in town. When he was age seven, his father took him and the rest of the family to see General Lafayette in Hartford. When he was thirteen he went to the city alone to see General Andrew Jackson. His father was a great admirer of Jackson and had visited the general at Jackson’s home, the Hermitage, in Tennessee. The elder Forbes was one of eight founders of the Collinsville Jackson Club.
Wanting to see the country, Forbes left with a couple friends in 1832, traveling light and cheap and making their way as far as Mobile, Alabama. Here he pursued his trade as a carpenter and joiner. He stayed seven years in Alabama, working in a number of places. He gained notoriety when he repaired a cotton gin with gearing that required only one horse to operate it where four had previously been required. Forbes also worked four months in the Pensacola, Florida Navy Yard.
Much interested in military matters, Forbes joined a company of volunteers and was appointed adjutant by the governor of Alabama for three years. He also became a judge-advocate in court-martial cases. After his time in Alabama, Forbes returned briefly to Collinsville, but in 1850 left for California at the height of the gold rush. He got to San Francisco partly by sailing vessel, partly by poling a boat up river, and partly on foot. He quickly got a job in his trade at $10 a day and secured board for $2 per day. He worked at it a week before heading for the gold fields to prospect. His four years in California were tough and he was not particularly successful at mining, but he made enough to secure passage home.
After returning to Collinsville, Forbes spent 15 years as a waterwheel mender, general mechanic, and carpenter for the Collins Company. In 1861 he married Elizabeth Dewey. She died in 1900. Late in life, Forbes became known as a great spinner of stories about his experiences.
Forbes died after an illness of less than two weeks. His death was “due to old age and a gradual ebbing away of life’s forces, like a candle that had burned clear to the end of its wick,” according to the Hartford Times. Survived by nieces and nephews, the funeral was held at his home with the Reverend C. E. Coolidge of the Collinsville Congregational Church presiding.
Bleaker I. Forbes is buried in the Village Cemetery, Collinsville.
“Your Silent Neighbors” introduces readers to people out of Canton’s past. Readers are encouraged to visit these gravesites and pay their respects to the people who have helped make our community what it is today.