SALEM--Lost in the shuffle of last weekís St. Patrickís Day celebration was the story of Salemís first important Irish-American citizen, Simon Forrester.
Forrester was born in Kelleenbach, Ireland, in 1748 of Irish-Scotch parents.
His father, a farmer, was able to send his son to Cloyne College in County Cork. For one reason or another Simon returned home after completing his education and resumed working on the family farm.
But agriculture was not in the young manís plans for his future. Family tradition has it that at the conclusion of a hard day of labor in 1767, Simon exclaimed, "This is the last time I will reap grain in old Ireland!"
He then packed up his worldly belongings and made his way to England.
Forrester soon found himself serving aboard the Salem schooner Salisbury, which was heading for home under the command of Daniel Hathorne. The captain liked the young Irishman and invited him to make his residence at the Hathorne home at 27 Union St. in Salem. Forrester readily accepted the offer.
At the time Hathorne and his wife, Rachel, were raising three young daughters. They would later have two more girls and two boysóNathaniel, the father of the famous author Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Daniel. Both sons would die while away at sea.
Simon Forrester also made his living as a mariner and eventually worked his way up to shipís captain. When the American Revolution erupted in 1775, Simon was given command of the sloop Rover, one of Salemís first privateers. In the space of a few months in the summer and fall of 1776, the Rover captured four British merchant vessels. These prizes and their contents were condemned and sold at auction in November for nearly 3,000 pounds sterling.
Under the laws governing privateering, the captain and crew split half of the proceeds of the prize auction. As a result, Simon Forrester was financially secure enough to support a wife and family. In early December he married Daniel Hathorneís daughter Rachel. The couple would have 11 children, seven girls and four boys.
After the wedding Simon stayed home from sea but continued to do his part for the war effort. In the winter following his marriage he purchased and outfitted, in partnership with Joshua Ward of Salem, the Black Snake, a 60-ton sloop. Under the command of Capt. William Carlton the sloop took at least one prize and also managed to free an American ship that had been captured by a British naval vessel.
Captured by English
Forrester himself was back at sea privateering by 1780 as master of the 300-ton ship Centurion out of Boston. Over the next two years he would also be given command of Elias Derbyís ship Patty and the 300-ton Exchange owned by Derby and Nathaniel Silsbee. The Exchange was captured in Delaware Bay in 1782 by three British vessels, but Forrester was soon back in Salem after a swap of prisoners between England and America.
At the conclusion of the war in 1783 Simon Forrester had built a 163-ton brigatine, which he named the Good Hope. He spent much of the next six years at sea, trading in ports in the West Indies, Europe, and up and down the American coast. He retured from the sea in 1790 at the age of 42 to concentrate on managing his growing mercantile business.
Forrester added two more vessels, the 171-ton bark Good Intent and the 194-ton ship Vigilant, to his one-ship fleet. He then acquired a substantial wooden home and wharf (now called Central Wharf) on Derby Street from Jonathan Ingersoll. That home still stands on the eastern corner of Derby Street and Hodges Court. It may have been designed by Samuel McIntire, Salemís great architect and carver.
From India to Russia
As Salemís lucrative trade with the East Indies developed in the 1790s, Forrester acquired more vessels and expanded his trade routes. Soon he was trading in India, Batavia, China and other portsóand adding to his already substantial fortune. He was also one of the first Salem merchants to trade in Russia.
Like any shipowner, Forrester suffered periodic setbacks. Simonís Good Intent was taken as a prize by a British privateer and condemned in 1794, and his ship Perseverance went down in a storm off Cape Cod in 1805. These losses were certainly easier to cope with than the suicide of his son, Simon Jr., who jumped overboard during a voyage in 1807.
Simon Forrester was active in civic affairs in his adopted town of Salem.
He was a member of the Salem Marine Society and served on the committee that arranged for a beacon to be erected on Bakerís Island. The captain was also a contributor to the subscription drive to develop the Salem Common on 1801.
In 1810 Forrester, who was a member of the North Church, donated a plot of land at the corner of Mall and Bridge streets to local Catholics as a site for their planned church, which would be named St. Maryís.
Simon Forrester died on the Fourth of July in 1817, leaving an estate valued at approximately $1.5 million. He is buried just inside the main gate in the Charter Street Burying Point.