FORT SMITH — The U.S. Marshals Museum got a big addition to its collection in a small package last week.
Marshals Service historian Dave Turk hand-delivered from headquarters in Washington, D.C., a small, gold-colored box containing a 2-by-13/8-inch miniature portrait of Robert Forsyth, the first marshal killed in the line of duty, and presented it to the museum’s board of directors at its quarterly meeting Tuesday.
“This piece is extremely important to the museum, and we really appreciate you guys trusting us to put it into our possession, to put this in the museum in the right place,” museum president and CEO Patrick Weeks said in accepting the portrait.
The miniature portrait, which was painted on ivory by famed artist Charles Willson Peale, will be part of an exhibit in the museum on the first generation of marshals, curator David Kennedy said.
Construction work on the 50,000-square-foot museum on the banks of the Arkansas River is expected to begin this spring, and the museum is scheduled to open Sept. 24, 2019, the 230th anniversary of the Marshals Service.
Peale is known for painting many of America’s Founding Fathers and for painting many miniatures. One of his paintings of George Washington hangs in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.
Turk said there is some argument about when Peale painted the Forsyth miniature. Some believe it was a memorial piece created after Forsyth’s death Jan. 11, 1794. Turk said he believed it was painted shortly before Forsyth was killed.
The miniature is important to the collection, Kennedy said, because Forsyth was one of the first marshals appointed by President Washington after passage of the Judiciary Act of Sept. 24, 1789, which created the Marshals Service. Washington appointed a marshal for each of the 13 states, with Forsyth assigned to Georgia.
The Marshals Service acquired the miniature portrait several years ago from Forsyth’s great-granddaughter Carolyn Humphries. At first on loan from Humphries, the miniature was the star piece in the Marshals Service’s American Star traveling museum exhibit that visited 14 cities from 1989-91, Turk said.
“It was still one of our biggest iconic pieces that people look at,” Turk said. “For many years, it was in our Roll Call of Honor at headquarters.”
He said Humphries wanted to give the miniature to the Marshals Service but Turk said the agency thought she should receive some compensation and ended up paying her $13,000 in 1991. An appraisal of the miniature in the early 2000s placed its value at about $250,000, he said.
Forsyth’s name leads the Marshals Service’s Roll Call of Honor as the first of the 264 marshals who have died in the line of duty.
A short biography of Forsyth on the Marshals Service’s website said he was born in Scotland in 1754 and his family moved to Fredericksburg, Va., when he was a teenager. He was commissioned a captain in the Continental Army and fought in two battles during the Revolutionary War before accepting a new post that made him responsible for provisioning the southern Army.
Gen. Washington wrote to Forsyth expressing regret that he resigned his officer commission but was relieved that Forsyth had accepted another role in the Army, according to the biography.
After the war, Forsyth moved to Augusta, Ga., where he prospered and became a community leader. President Washington appointed him the first federal marshal of Georgia shortly after the Judiciary Act became law.
On Jan. 11, 1794, Forsyth and two of his deputies went to a home in Augusta to serve civil court papers on two brothers, Beverly and William Allen. Turk said Forsyth, in the age of gentlemen, allowed the brothers to gather their belongings from their upstairs room before taking them away. The brothers went to their room and locked themselves in.
When Forsyth knocked on the door of the room, the biography said, Beverly Allen fired a gun through the door. The bullet struck Forsyth in the head, killing him instantly. He was 40 when he died and left behind a wife and two sons.
“He was going out doing his job like Christopher Hill in Pennsylvania and was killed,” Kennedy said.
Hill, 45, who joined the Marshals Service in 2006, was the latest member of the Marshals Service to be killed in the line of duty. The husband, father of two and Army veteran was killed Jan. 18 this year in Harrisburg, Pa.
Hill was killed while working with a team of officers who were trying to serve an arrest warrant, according to a news account. It was later determined that he was shot by another officer who fired through a wall during an exchange of gunfire with the suspect.
Article Written By: Dave Hughes with Arkansas Online