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Tue, 09.02.1766

James Forten, Abolitionist, and Businessman born

James Forten

*James Forten’s birth is marked on this date in 1766. He was a Black businessman and abolitionist.

From Philadelphia of free black parents, Forten served in the Continental Army as a powder boy at the age of fifteen. After being part of a crew captured by the British and spending seven months in prison, he returned to America, working as a sailmaker for a man named Robert Bridges.  Upon the death of his employer, Forten bought the company and built a highly successful business as an inventor-entrepreneur of a sail-handling device. He was among those in Brotherly Love who formed the independent Bethel AME Church.

Forten married twice: his first wife, Martha Beatte (or Beatty) of Darby Township, Delaware County, died after only a few months of marriage (1804). In 1806, he married Charlotte Vandine. James and Charlotte Forten had nine children: Robert Bridges Forten, Margaretta, Harriet, Sarah Louisa, Charlotta, William Deas, Mary Theresa, Thomas Willing Francis, and James Jr. Robert and James Jr. succeeded their father in the family sail-making business.

Forten was an influential figure in the fight against slavery.  He convinced William Lloyd Garrison of the ill of European colonization.  He was equally forceful in leading the resistance to the state of Pennsylvania’s attempt to restrict the immigration of blacks from the South. Forten used his wealth and influence to assist in shaping the black abolitionist movement. In 1817, he spoke at Bethel AME Church, protesting the American Colonization Society’s attempt to send blacks back to Africa. James Forten died in March 1842.

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Africana The Encyclopedia of the African and
African American Experience
Editors: Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Copyright 1999
ISBN 0-465-0071-1

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