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May 14, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

The Famous Forbes Case of Buckingham County: Extra!


A Vivid Rendering of the Terrifying Night

Numerous correspondents from various parts of Buckingham County contributed news and editorials to the Appomattox and Buckingham Times. On March 23, 1904, this evocative report was submitted from Andersonville:

The news came this evening that Mr. John Forbes has pneumonia; Dr. Nowlin pronounced it as such. Truly the old gentleman is going through deep waters. Your readers have heard of the burning, but one will have to go on the premises and see the situation to appreciate the horror. Mr. Forbes had probably the best out houses [barns, stable, smokehouse, etc.] of any one in this end of the county. They were comparatively new, having been built since the war — substantial and of the best timbers. To awake at midnight with the cry of fire in your ears, and to find the granary and tobacco barn on the west; the barn on the north; the two corn houses, stables and smoke-house on the east; barn on the south, and the dwelling on the north side, all on fire. Well might Janie [Forbes] say, ”Oh papa, it’s the judgment!” No two ever did so much in so short a time, I don’t suppose, as did Janie and “Aunt Nancy,” the old colored woman; and here, let me ask those who abuse the colored race to please leave “Aunt Nancy” out. The first thing done was an effort to extinguish the fire in the dwelling. Failing in this, the smoke house being nearest, they succeeded in putting that out, as they supposed. Then the cattle that were penned in between the two barns on the west were saved, next the pigs near the corn house; then it was noticed that the smoke-house was again on fire, and no water. On wings of the wind Janie rather flew than ran to the spring, and this time succeeded. Then they proceeded to carry things out of the house until it fell in. I asked what hour that was. Janie pointed to the clock then on the mantle at Mrs. Sam Forbes’ and said, “It was the last article carried out; it pointed 12:45.” Three times did they have to move the things which were saved.

No one saw the fire and no one came; the bell rope had been severed by dastardly hands in the beginning. After the sun rose Mr. Forbes went for Dick, leaving Janie and Aunt Nancy exhausted from excitement and labor. A little bird perched in a tree overhead commenced a sweet song. Janie said, “Aunt Nancy, the birds are singing and let us sing, too.” Then she went to the branch and washed her face, conscious of the “House of Many Mansions” prepared for all such as love and believe in Him.

This is the only suggestion that the feeble Mr. Forbes was drugged. According to this report, however, he was revived and up with the sun. Dick’s identity is, as yet, unknown.

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