Robert Forsyth, 40, died January 11, 1794 in Augusta, Georgia, of a single gunshot wound to the head, when he served the Allen brothers with court papers in a civil suit. Born in Scotland in 1754, he moved with his family to the United States as a teenager. Believing in American independence, he enlisted in the army during the Revolutionary War, and attained the rank of Captain under Major “Lighthorse Harry” Lee. He eventually earned the rank of Major for his work provisioning the southern army after leaving Lee’s legion.
After the war, Forsyth worked in various government positions, including tax assessor and Justice of the Peace. He was a member of the Masons, and achieved the rank of Master of the Lodge Columbia and Deputy Grand Master for the State of Georgia. On September 26, 1789, at the age of 35, he was appointed the first Marshal for the District of Georgia by President George Washington.
On the day of his death, Forsyth, accompanied by two of his deputies, entered the home of a Mrs. Dixon, to serve Allen brothers, Beverly and William, with court papers. Upon his request that they accompany him outside, the brothers instead ran to a second floor room, bolted themselves inside and readied their weapons. When he heard the deputies approaching, Beverly Allen fired his pistol. The bullet went through the door and struck Forsyth in the head. He was dead before his body hit the floor- the first of over 200 marshals and deputies killed in the line of duty. The two deputies arrested the Allens, but they escaped from the local sheriff and were never brought to trial.
Robert Forsyth left behind a wife and two sons. One of his sons, John Forsyth, became the governor of Georgia and served as the U.S. Minister to Spain, a position in which he negotiated the treaty acceding Florida to the United States. He also served as Secretary of State under Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren.
Calhoun, Frederick. The Lawmen: United States Marshals and their Deputies, 1789-1989. New York: Penquin Books, 1991.
Somer, Robin Langley. The History of the U.S. Marshals. Philadelphia: Courage Books, 1993.