30 Sep 2019

History:

Lost Capitol Hill: Death and Resurrection

Last week, we looked at Douglas Forrest – pictured at left – who served aboard the Merrimac during the Battle of Hampton Roads. After this, he served in various positions in the military.

In 1863, he was sent to carry dispatches to France via a pair of blockade runners. He reached Calais safely after some close calls, but was unable to find the Rappahannock there to take him home. Instead, he found himself detained by the French. A year later, the following appeared in the August 24, 1864 Washington Evening Star:

Personal. – We hear that Douglas Forrest, Esq., (son of Com. French Forrest, formerly of the U.S. Navy, who ran off and joined the rebel navy at the beginning of the war,) died not long since in England, whither he had gone in the service of the rebel cause.

Fortunately for Forrest, this article was almost completely wrong as to his whereabouts, his disposition or his state of being. Six months later and very much alive, he found himself in Texas, where he joined the army staff of General Walker. He would not return east until after the last Confederate soldiers in that part of the United States had surrendered.

Forrest stood at a crossroads: Continue on with the law, or return to his first love and become a clergyman. At first, it seemed that the law would take him. He opened a law office in 1866 in Baltimore and worked there for a few years. However, he also traveled and one of the trips took him to the Holy Lands, where he had an epiphany: He wanted to return to the church. Writing a letter to his partner in Baltimore to end their partnership, he re-enrolled in the Alexandria seminary and was ordained in February 1873 in St. Paul’s church in Alexandria. That same year, he would marry Sallie Winston Rutherford.

Thereafter, he served as pastor for numerous churches throughout the country, as close as Ellicott City and as far afield as West Virginia, Ohio and Coronado Beach, California. He also received a Doctor of Divinity from William and Mary in 1879. During his time as a pastor, he was in charge of Trinity Church on 3rd Street just northwest of the Capitol–– one of the largest churches in Washington at the time.

The Trinity Church with the Capitol in the background. On this site now sits the Frances Perkins Labor building (LOC)

Unfortunately, Forrest’s health was not good. He soon took leave of his work and began traveling back and forth between the Washington area and Florida, taking temporary pastoral work when up north. He would die in Virginia in 1902 at age 65. He is buried at Congressional Cemetery in what had, essentially, become the family plot. When his sister had died in 1853, their father was already at the Navy Yard, so Congressional was the obvious place for the burial. When their father died 13 years later in Georgetown, he had been brought across the city – passing up the more obvious candidates like Oak Hill Cemetery – to be buried next to his daughter. Now, the son would find his final resting place near other members of his family, although his connection to Capitol Hill was tenuous at best.

Much like Charles Meads before him, Forrest, the former Confederate, was a pillar of the community by his death. In honor of him and his works, his widow donated a window in St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church in 1910.


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