James Forten by James Flowers: Black American History Book Report

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James Forten: 1766-1842

A page In the Life of James Forten

A number of African Americans of the period attained significant wealth, especially James Forten. Born free in Philadelphia in 1766, he stood in the crowd outside Philadelphia Hall to hear the first reading of the Declaration of Independence. After service in the Revolution, Forten became a master sail-maker and eventually bought the business of Robert Bridges, his White employer.  He was close friends with Paul Cuffee and initially supported Cuffee’s plans for the emigration of free Blacks to Liberia. He proved as accomplished a businessman as a sail-maker and acquired great wealth, investing his profits in real estate, banks, and a canal, and later in railroad stock. His marriage to Charlotte Vandine produced produced eight children. They were the cream of the Black elite and active abolitionists. James Forten became one of the central figures in the anti-slavery movement; his financial support in the early 1830’s made it possible for the publication of William Lloyed Garrison to be created. (Liberator)

James Forten Quote

It seems almost incredible that the advocates of liberty should conceive of the idea of selling a fellow creature to slavery.

“Has the God who made the white man and the black left any record declaring us a different species? Are we not sustained by the same power, supported by the same food. . . . And should we not then enjoy the same liberty. . .?”

“Whilst so much is being done in the world, to ameliorate the condition of mankind, and the spirit of Freedom is marching with rapid strides and causing tyrants to tremble, may America awake from the apathy in which she has long slumbered.”

Our country asserts for itself the glory of being the freest upon the surface of the globe… but one dark spot still dimmed its lustre. Domestic slavery existed among a people who had themselves disdained to submit to a master.

 What did the person learn as he was growing up?

James Forten learned how to make sail boats, sails that were of great quality, and learned how to speak out against wrongs done to others. His childhood affected him, because he wasn’t a slave. It allowed him to be free to defend other people’s rights, while working on his craft. It allowed him to part-take in aerodynamics, and delve into the sciences. It gave him a lot of courage and excellent public speaking skills. 

 What was the person’s main accomplishment?

His main accomplishment was advancing sailboats, which helped them in the Revolutionary War. He helped established free Black communities, and was one of the leading forces that were trying to chip away at ending slavery. His contribution to fighting against slavery was important. He was a leading abolitionist that funded the Liberator newspaper. 

His accomplishments were achieved by hard-work and sacrifice. The reason why this was so risky, was due to the fact that he himself could become enslaved. In addition to slavery becoming abolished eventually by other Black Americans who followed in his footsteps and followed his economic philosophy.

 What would the world be like without him?

The world may have still had slavery, and the Liberator newspaper wouldn’t have been funded. Many upgrades within the country wouldn’t have been created. There wouldn’t be a Black president if there were still slavery, because it would mean the absence of the Black voters. Certain battles might have been loss within The Revolutionary war. The abolitionist wouldn’t have had one of its’ biggest allies.

African American James Forten invented a sail hoist, a device that made it easier to maneuver the large sails of mast sailing ships. James Forten had worked in a Philadelphia sail-making shop from the age of eight and thirty years later bought the same shop.

 The sail hoist wouldn’t have been invented, which would have lead to the Revolutionaries not having superior boats.

He often purchased slaves freedom, helped to finance and bring in funding for William Garrison’s newspaper, the Libertarian, opened his home on Lombard Street as an Underground Railroad depot and opened a school for Black children.

Those slaves would never have found freedom absent James Forten. He bought fellow Black Americans, so they can escape a unconstitutional institution. He was one of the beginning founders of the Libertarian movement.


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