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Joseph Barlow Forbes (January 29, 1840-May 5, 1927) was a member of the Forbes family and a pioneering educator in early Utah history.

Early years[]

Forbes was born January 29, 1840 in Bangor, Maine. His parents encouraged him to become a doctor and educated him to that purpose, but his goals were for the sea. In his early twenties he sailed to Calcutta on the family-owned Pocahontas. This voyage was followed by a voyage as first mate to Southern Europe.

His return arrival to Boston discovered the nation in the midst of a civil war. He returned to Maine to enlist in Company H, Second Maine Volunteers. As a lieutenant, he fought in the Peninsular Campaign, including Bull Run. He was wounded twice. His regiment was discharged in 1862.

The following year he sailed to California, where he accepted a commission as "assistant adjutant-general, with the rank of major" under John Bidwell.[1]

He and a fellow officer left the Army in 1865 to return to the eastern United States by land, with a sidetrip through Brigham Young's so-called empire.

While they were Young's guests, he suggested they use their education to help the Mormons set up schools. They rejected that idea and headed south from Salt Lake City.

There he met Nancy Dayton and decided to take a room with her stepfather and begin teaching school. Shortly thereafter, in 1866, he married Dayton, followed by his conversion to the Latter-day Saint faith, to which he remained committed the remainder of his life.

Mormon Years[]

In ten years following his marriage to Nancy Dayton, she gave birth to ten children and was deeded a farm from her stepfather. They were supported financially by his teaching and her midwifery (she earned five dollars per birth).[2]

Janie Gardner came to live with the family as hired help, and in 1876, she became Forbes's second wife.

In 1887 with the passage of the Edmunds-Tucker Act, plural marriage became a crime, and Forbes was forced into hiding. Eventually he was arrested and contained in the penitentiary in Salt Lake until he signed a document indicating his intention to consider himself married only to his first wife.

When Janie had another baby, the family decided that Forbes would take her and her children to Colorado. About a year later, at Forbes's insistence, Nancy moved there as well. Due to local controversy, she moved out of the community and over the border into New Mexico.

The family's moves remained frequent and complicated until Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto ending polygamy and enabling families like the Forbes to return to Utah without fear.

Forbes Day[]

In 1921, the citizens of American Fork decided to honor Forbes for his long service to the community. In the early stages of planning, this letter was released:

Dear Fellow Students:

At a meeting held in American Fork some time ago, a number of citizens were discussing past experiences, and among other subjects our school days were dwelt upon, then our teachers and their life labors were brought before us.

There was one among them who stands prominently--our friend and former teacher, PROF. JOSEPH B. FORBES. A man who has devoted a life from young manhood until almost up to the present time, covering a period of more than half a century. He has labored for you and me, our parents and grandparents, their children and children's children, and we feel that we can truly arise to the occasion and call his name blessed.

He holds the record today of having been in the school profession longer than any other individual in our glorious State. He has given his "full measure, pressed down and running over," that we may place Utah among the foremost educationally in our splendid country.[3]

April 15, 1921 was selected to be Forbes Day, and the original plan for a dinner and social event turned into a true holiday, with businesses and schools closed. A parade was held with Forbes and his two wives at epicenter. Speeches were given. Then Forbes himself stood to talk. He began with simple weeping, then thanked the residents for their love and returned it, then declared the meeting his funeral: that he was now ready to die and "face my Maker unafraid, and with joy in my heart."[4]

In fact, he held on until May 5, 1927. The Deseret News reported in his obituary that he "had been a teacher for 54 years continuously, 46 years in this community [American Fork], where three generations attended his schools, a record probably unparalleled in the history of education in the west."[5]

In literature[]

His grandson Paul Dayton Bailey wrote extensively about his grandfather in books such as Grandpa Was a Polygamist and Polygamy Was Better than Monotony.


  1. Bailey, Paul Dayton. Polygamy Was Better than Monotony.
  2. ibid. 127
  3. ibid. 165-166
  4. ibid. 169
  5. ibid. 170