Named for John Forsyth, Virginia-born lawyer who migrated to Augusta in 1802. He served as the first president of the University of Georgia, state attorney general, U. S. Representative and Senator, ambassador to Spain, returning to Georgia to serve as governor. During his tenure as governor he illegally extended the laws of the state of Georgia into the Cherokee Nation, making him popular with settlers. He supported Andrew Jackson during the Nullification Crisis and was appointed Secretary of State in return. Martin Van Buren asked him to continue in that role. During Van Buren's presidency Forsyth was deeply embroiled in the Amistad affair, advising Van Buren to return the ship's cargo of Africans to Cuba, as desired by Spain. This led to his argument with John Quincy Adams over
The county seat and largest city in the county is Cumming, whose name origin is disputed. Some claim the city was named in honor of Alex Cumming who visited the Cherokee Indians in 1730 while others claim the city is named for William Cumming, commander of the Augusta Blues during the War of 1812 who served with Winfield Scott and was seriously wounded at the Battle of Lundy's Lane.
The earliest settlements in Forsyth were by Woodland Indians, although it would appear that earlier Indians did populate at least a portion of Forsyth. Mississippian moundbuilders, America's first civilization, did follow the Chattahoochee River north through the county. Mounds were reported on the Rogers farm southwest of Cumming. Petroglyphs were also found in the northern part of the county, according to George White's Historical Collections of Georgia. Creek Indians followed the Moundbuilders. By 1760 the push of the Cherokee south and west from the Carolinas had driven the Creek to the south of the Chattahoochee River.
Many of the wealthiest Cherokee called the area home, including James Vann, who owned the ferry across the Chattahoochee at the gateway to the Old Federal Highway. In the western portion of the county, George Welch owned a farm and mill on the site of today's Poole's Mill. In the "Gold Lottery" Welch's mill went to a subscriber, who turned around and sold the property to Jacob Scudder. Scudders became a large settlement near the Etowah River after the lottery. With the Cherokee Removal on the Trail of Tears in 1838, Scudders became known as Fort Scudders. It was one of the infamous Cherokee Removal Forts in Georgia.
Vann's Ferry across the Chattahoochee River was most settlers introduction to the Old Federal Road to Nashville, Tennessee. After walking or riding the 47 miles from Athens travelers could stop and enjoy a room or some liquor at Vann's Tavern (now preserved at New Echota State Park). From here it would be some 20 miles to the next tavern, Blackburn's, also in Forsyth County. The building has been moved to downtown Cumming, where it too is preserved. Blackburn also ran the ferry across the Etowah River. The next stop on the Federal Road was Harnage, 15 miles northwest of Blackburn's on the site of the present-day Tate House.
In 1834 the citizens of Forsyth began constructing the county seat of Cumming. For the first two years of existence the county had not really needed a seat of government and they were still unsure of the outcome of Georgia's land grab known as the Sixth Georgia Land Lottery and the later Gold Lottery (under which part of Forsyth was distributed). By 1834, however, work was completed on a jail and a log cabin courthouse typical of counties in north Georgia at the time. It was built on a lot won by John Dyson and sold to the county by Jacob Scudder. The courthouse cabin lasted until 1839, when a frame house was built to replace the earlier structure. This lasted until 1854 when it was replaced by a brick courthouse, which burned in 1900. In 1905 the county replaced it with a new brick courthouse, which burned in 1973.
An early destination in the county was Sawnee Mountain, one of the places in Forsyth County where gold was mined as early as 1833 (officially, at least). Named for a Cherokee Chief who according to legend lived in a cave in the mountain after the removal of his tribe, Sawnee's gold legacy has been maintained through the present day. It is one of the first parks developed by the fledgling Forsyth County Parks Department. A trail system opened on the mountain in 2005 and a visitor's center opened in 2008.
According to the 1850 census 7,283 free people and 1,027 slaves lived in Forsyth County. With three major rivers (the Chattahoochee, Chestatee and Etowah) within its borders the county had a fair share of ferries, fords and later, bridges. Minor Brown first ran a ford on his property across the Chattahoochee River. In 1839 he built Brown's Bridge, one of the first bridges to span the river. After other owners, Brown's Bridge was sold to Forsyth County and Hall County in 1899 and become one of the first "free bridge" over the river, connecting Forsyth to the growing industrial center of Gainesville. Civil War veteran Andy Keith built Keith's Ferry and later replaced it with Keith's Bridge over the Chestatee River. Terry's Ferry became Settle's Ferry, also across the Chattahoochee, later becoming Settle's Bridge.
In 1912 race riots broke out in both Forsyth County and Dawson County after a young black male was accused of sexual assault against a white female. When riots erupted Blacks fled Forsyth County for the perceived safety of Gainesville. For nearly 70 years it would be commonly stated that no African-Americans lived in Forsyth, however, Census records tell a different story.
Originally mining had played an important role in the economic development of Forsyth County. This ended around the start of the 20th century. After The Civil War cotton made its way into the farms of Forsyth. By 1880 most of the farms counted on cotton for income until the boll weevil struck in 1924. This led to a flight of farmhands to industrial centers like Gainesville and Atlanta.
In 1950 ground was broken on Lake Lanier, a project that would immensely change the shape of Forsyth, both physically and politically.
Georgia 400 opened to Georgia State Road 60 in 1981, although sections in Forsyth were open in the late 1970's.
On January 17, 1987, a racially-mixed group of protesters (estimated at between 75 and 90 people), organized by Rev. Hosea Williams and local resident Dean Carter, marched near Cumming, Georgia. It was widely believed at the time that Forsyth County had no African-Americans living within its borders. Militant racists attacked the peaceful march and disbursed the group. On January 24, 1987, Rev. Williams and Dean Carter returned with another racially-mixed group, this time numbering 20,000 to complete the march the previous group had be unable to finish. Among those marching were Gary Hart, John Lewis, Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, Sam Nunn, and Coretta Scott King. Early estimates had called for a crowd of 2,000 to 5,000 people.
In February, 1987 Oprah Winfrey came to Forsyth County to talk to residents about the racial hostility in the area. While Winfrey was interviewing residents in a local restaurant, Hosea Williams began protesting outside. Williams was arrested.