ALIAS FRANK FORESTER
by Julia Pines-Rosol
Although he was considered "peculiar" by his neighbors because he was a writer and his eccentricities amused some and annoyed many, he still became a notorious figure in America's literary past.
This was William Henry Herbert, Esq., a native Britisher and scholar who wrote under the non de plume "Frank Forester." Considered to be America's first sportswriter, he brought the idea of sport as a widespread leisure activity to the attention of a provincial public for the first time. It was Forester who wrote the hunting, fishing and trapping, of field sports and horses and horsemanship in such a way that a "sporting fever" caught fire in America that has yet to be extinguished.
Frank Forester was among the many noteworthy figures in American history who "discovered" Orange County and used it as an escape from hectic city life. For Forester, the Warwick Valley, with its great hills, rippling brooks and simmering lakes," was his retreat.
It was soon after his arrival in America, in 1831, that he was first introduced to "the beautiful little town of Warwick, New York." The occasion was a Fourth of July celebration with friends, in the country, and so impressed was Forester with the area that for the next 15 years, he made his three-day journey to Warwick several times a year.
On that particular Independance Day, Frank Forester made the acqaintance of Thomas Ward, proprietor of Warwick's Wawayanda House, whom he deemed as "the keenest sportman and most thorough character in the United States."
This was to be the beginning of a long and enduring friendship between the two men and Ward would prove to be one of the few true friends Forester would ever make. So taken was the writer with his new friend that he incorporated his character into the series of books he wrote on the region.
Under the transparent anagram "Tom Draw," Tom Ward became known and loved from Maine to Mexico as a jolly, congenial sportman and countryman. With his circumference some two or three inches greater than his five-and-a-half foot height. Tom was one of the most powerful, yet enduring and fleet-footed men Forester had ever met.
The two made quite a pair, the one short and rotund, the other tall and slender - but in their frequent hunting trips, througout the Warwick woodlands, Forester was often wont to keep up with the innkeeper who, undaunted would dive right through the brush at a smashing pace. Forester and Ward were "fast friends, comrades and boon campanions" and the days Frank Forester spent in Warwick were some of the happiest days of his life.
Perhaps it while quest of the region that Forester first delved into the fast paced world of the American trotting horse, Orange County, and Goshen in particular, had long been known as the "Cradle of the Trotter," producing some of the world's finest trotters. Harness racing history was being made all around the writer
As a regular contributor to such periodicals as AmericanTurf Register and The Spirit of the Times, Frank Forester brought the sport of the American trotter to the attention of the country. Already known as a good road horse, the trotter was brought to the fore by Forester who enjoyed a good harness race. Through his pen, he gave the fledgling sport a mighty shove, bringing out into the open for all the world to see.
By the mid 1830's, trotting was suddenly in the public eye and well on its way to becoming the nation's "first sport," the pride and love of the people - and, all with no small thanks to Frank Forester.
When his Horse of America was published some years before his death, Forester found himself with a runaway best-seller on his hands. Never before had so thorough a compendium of informantion been produced on the horse and on the trotting horse in particular. Covering the entire history of harness racing to 1856 as well as containing copius records of over fifty seasons of racing, the two volume Horse of America quickly became a classic.
Not only was Forester's Horse of America a success, so were nearly all the other nearly two dozen volumes he composed. The Warwick Wooklands, My Shooting Box, and The Deerstalkers, among them, were all popular books in their day and received widespread exposure.
Within 15 years of coming to America, Frank Forester had become one of his adopted country's leading literary figures, and led an affluent life that was the envy of many. Yet, as successful and admired as Forester was, most of his personal life was fraught with misery and despair, for the happy days he spent in Warwick were few and far between. Prone to frequent bouts of mental depression and eccentric behavior, Frank Forester's private life could hardly have been deemed a success.
While his manner could be refined and engaging when he wanted it to be, Forester was generally quick to anger, imperious and overbearing, so much so as to beget fear and, sometimes, hate. Wayward and self-willed, he put many people off and he wasn't well-liked by his neighbors at his home, The Cedars, in Newark, New Jersey. These same neighbors declared him unworthy of both his wives and an unfit campanion for the second.
Forester's moods and attitudes shifted quickly and often. At one moment he was loving and attentive, the next his wife found him suspicious of her fidelity or was accused of mismanaging the household. It was little that neither Sarah Baker, his first wife, whom he married in 1839 (and who died in 1844), nor Adela Birdlong, whom he married in 1858 were very happy with him.
Forester was a man who fell hard in love, and was a man who feverishly tried to possess the one he loved to the very core. When Sarah died of consumption in 1844, Forester was devastated. He sent their young son, William George, to England to live and himself became something of a recluse. When he did venture from Newark on extended trips, he more often than not took Sarah's portrait with him to hang on the wall of his hotel room.
Adela Birdlong was ultimately the cause of her husband's death. Thirty-one years Forester's junior, Adela was a pretty young girl from Rhode Isand who was staying with friends in New York over the New Year when introduced to him. Adela must have had quite an effect on Forester, for soon after meeting her, acquaintances found the writer to have cast off all his years of moodiness and eccentric behavior. These same friends were even more astounded when, early in February 1858, Forester announced he was to be married. The bride - Miss Birdlong, the place - The Episcopal House of Prayer, Newark, and the day - February 16, 1858.
Frank Forester idolized his new wife and was frequently heard to say that he "had some hope for the future." Something happened in those first few weeks of connubial bliss, however, for less than two months after the wedding Adela Forester left her husband and returned to her parents in Rhode Island.
The gossips' tongues were wagging and stories flew about concerning the unexpected denouement, but no one knew for sure why the marriage had collasped.
Forester relasped into one of his old despondent moods, spoke endlessly of "the insufferableness of my life with so many cares resting on me," and vowed to end his existence "before too many days." And, a few weeks after Adela's flight, he undertook preparations for his demise.
He closed his house, sold off most of his possessions, paid his creditors and, taking a few select articles (including the portrait of his first wife) moved into New York City's Steven's Hotel.
To all outward appearances, it seemed Forester had put his past behind him. But this wasn't to be so - he was waiting - suspended in a tenuous existence that threatened to explode from the least porvocation. The stimulus for the explosion came in the form of a letter from Adela to Forester's lawyer requesting a divorce settlement.
For several days, after learning of the letter, Forester became even more despondent, pacing his rooms endlessly, and talking only of killing himself. Phil Anthon, a friend, had been with him, trying to talk him out of his depression, trying to rekindle his interest in life - but it was of no avail.
It was in the midst of his pacing, when Forester stepped into his bedroom for a few seconds, that it happened. The sharp report of a pistol brought Mr. Anthon to his feet. The deed was accomplished. Almost simultaneous with the discharge of the gun came the exclamation, "I told you I'd do it" from the lips of the suicide as he staggered back into the parlor and fell to the floor, dead of a bullet wound to the heart.
(Ed. A separate piece that is contained within the article)
Writer who loved Warwick honored at Hall of Fame
In the center of the village of Warwick there is a plaque honoring the memory of Henry William Herbert. "Frank Forester," the man generally regarded as America's first sport writer. Hundreds of people all over the country contributed money to the erection of this memorial, which dates back to 1920, indicative of the esteem in which he was held by the American sporting public of the mid-19th century. Now, a scant 10 miles from the Warwick memorial, the Hall of Fame of the Trotter in Goshen has mounted a display on the great writer, who authored some of the first definitive books on the American trotting horse. His two volume "The Horse of America," published in 1857 became a best-seller almost overnight and is regarded as a classic to this day.
The Warwick connection stems from the fact that shortly after Frank Forester arrived at these shores from his native England - on July 4, of 1831, to be exact, he first visited Warwick and fell in love with it and the surrounding countryside. It was at this time that he befriended the innkeeper of the Wawayanda Inn, Tom Ward, " the keenest sportsman and most thorough character in the United States." The two became fast friends and hunting companions, and it was Tom, under the thinly disguised name of Tom Draw, who became the central character of several of Forester's most famous books, including the classic "The Warwick Woodlands." Much of Forester's inspiration for his books and articles on hunting, fishing and field sports came from his many visits to Orange County.
This is a transcription of an article from the Warwick Valley Dispatch, dated February 8, 1978.
Many of the transcriptions found here are now in published form. They have been published by the Orange County Genealogical Society (in Goshen, New York). Volume 3 includes my Volume 3 and Volume 5. Volume 4 includes my four parts of New Milford history. There is a planned Volume 5, which will include my Volumes 6, 7, and 8, Part 1, which is about 250 transcriptions. They can be purchase through the Genealogical Society. Just Google them and print out the order form. Or they can be purchased from the Warwick Historical Society. They are also on sale at the gift shop at Baird's Tavern. I would like to thank the Genealogical Society and Dan Burrows for their efforts. Started a new blog for images of Warwick. Go to: www.imagesofwarwicknewyork.blogspot.com.