Retired Deputy U.S. Marshal Follows the Trail of Robert Forsyth’s Murderer
The historical marker to the first U.S. Marshal killed in the line of duty, Robert Forsyth of the District of Georgia, stands just outside the cemetery of St. Paul's Church in Augusta. Dedicated in June 2008, marker 121-12 relates the bare outline of the full tragedy that changed the lives of both assailant and victim. U.S. Marshal Forsyth was a contemporary of Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee and the father of a Governor of Georgia who served as Secretary of State in two presidential administrations. While in the process of arresting a former churchman named Beverly Allen, the respected lawman was shot and killed on January 11, 1794.
Although found guilty, Beverly Allen escaped prison after six weeks of confinement. Although it was suspected that he escaped, with the aid of friends, to Kentucky, Allen’s fate was always vague. In those early times, finding refuge in the wilderness was the option to jail or a death sentence. While there were many questions about Allen after he fled Georgia, it is almost certain that he died in 1817. For some 23 years after the death of U.S. Marshal Forsyth, Beverly Allen remained a shadowy figure in hiding. In our agency research of Forsyth's death, we knew that much of the story.
It is also almost certain that retired deputies never forget the detective instincts they acquired over years of working fugitive cases. In early 2012, Retired Deputy U.S. Marshal Rom Latham read an article on the Forsyth murder and decided to take a closer look at Beverly Allen—or more succinctly, what happened to the fugitive. The trail led to Logan County, in Western Kentucky—a county founded in 1792. Latham wondered--why the flight to this remote section?
He contacted historians and genealogists, particular the Logan County Genealogical Society, to find out the fate of Beverly Allen. The local archives proved to have some fruitful material, and Latham began collecting the copies to compile a case of sorts. In Finley's History of Russellville and Logan County, an account revealed what may have been the answer.
The strong emotions of guilt and religious friction were likely the reasons Beverly Allen came to be in a place called "Rogue's Harbor. "He was among others that fell from society's clutches to rebuild themselves. One writer noted the area "attracted the worst that society had to offer. Murderers, thieves and villains of every stripe had taken haven in the far west of the day, in a place unlikely to scrutinize evildoers."ii Early religious revivals, particularly under Pastor James McGready, who drew thousands to his camp meetings, made this area unique. The local citizenry tolerated the most horrid of past crimes. While news of a reward and ample information reached the Kentucky Gazette in May 1794, Lexington was far from "Rogue's Harbor," which later was renamed Russellville. iii
Beverly Allen began a practice in medicine. His wife, who resided for some time in Georgia, joined him in Logan County. His wealth again grew, and he invested in new land around Big Whippoorwill Creek. Rather than sell, he acquired property, and later retired from medicine to tend to his lands. Allen never left his cocoon of land and friends, and it assured that the distant reward offered for his arrest never saw fruition. He later returned to religious teachings, and headed a school in his community. Among his students was evangelist minister Peter Cartwright. He wrote out his will on October 26, 1816 and died only months later, in February 1817. He was buried in the Allen Cemetery south of Russellville. iv
Latham finished his inquiry by contacting Ray Chandler, a journalist who wrote an article on the subject in the summer 2006 issue of Georgia Backwoods Magazine. It happened that he was also a descendant of Beverly Allen's brother, and the family was fully aware of the history. He confirmed the findings. In conclusion, a most unlikely fugitive was finally found and the case can finally be closed.
i) From Findley's History of Russellville and Logan County (KY), pages 43-44.
ii) Ken Horn, "Camp Meeting Breakthrough," seventh installment, Today's Pentecostal Evangel, July 19, 2009, 23.
iii) Ibid.; Kentucky Gazette, May 31, 1794.
iv) Findley's History, 101; Notes from Rom Latham, dated April 25, 2012; Will of Beverly Allen, Logan County Archives, Will Book "A", 620-628.