Hon. James Forsyth, L.L.D., the seventh president of the Institute, was born in the town of Peru, Clinton County, New York, on the 8th day of September, 1817. His ancestors were of Scotch-Irish extraction, and came over in the emigration of the years 1719-1730, when about one hundred and twenty families from the north of Ireland settled at Londonderry, Chester, and other towns in southern New Hampshire. His parents crossed Lake Champlain in the year 1816, and settled on the banks of the Ausable river, pioneers in the wilderness. His father, Robert Forsyth, carried on an extensive business, held various offices, and met a premature death by drowning at Plattsburgh, in 1834. His mother was Sabrina, daughter of James Ramsay, of Grafton County, New Hampshire, and was a woman of superior mental force and culture. She died in 1864.
James Forsyth, the subject of this sketch, attended the common schools of his neighborhood, and prepared for college at the Keeseville Academy. In 1835 he entered the University of Vermont, and graduated in 1839. During this year he entered the law office of Simmons & Tabor, of Keeseville, as a student, where he remained until he was admitted to the bar, in 1842.
In the year 1843 Mr. Forsyth removed to Troy, N.Y., where he has since resided. Soon after he came to Troy he became largely interested, professionally, in the railroad interests then developing in the vicinity of Troy, and for more than fifteen years was largely identified with the litigation and legislation growing out of the same, together with other important matter, among which was the noted case of the contested seat of the Supreme court judgeship, between Judge Wright and Judge Hogeboom. Mr. Forsyth, for many years, held the position of attorney and counsel for the Rensselaer & Saratoga Railroad Company and the Troy Union Railroad Company. Of the latter corporation he was the Secretary and Treasurer from the date of its incorporation until the year 1868. He was also a director, attorney and counsel of the Commercial Bank of Troy, from the year 1853 until its close during the war; also a director of the Troy City Bank in 1865. He was one of the incorporators and a trustee of the Union Trust Company of New York, and President of the Troy & West Troy Bridge Company.
Judge Forsyth was a trustee of the Troy Female Seminary and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for many years. He was president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 1868 to 1886 and devoted himself especially to the scientific and technical education of young men for the profession of civil engineering.
James Forsyth died August 10, 1886.
Nason, Henry B., ed. Biographical Record of the Officers and Graduates of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1824-1886. Troy, NY: William H. Young, 1887, pp. 40-41.