September 2


September 2, 1766 James Forten, abolitionist and businessman, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the age of 15, Forten served on a ship during the Revolutionary War and invented a device to handle ship sails. In 1786, he started a very successful sailmaking company and became one of the wealthiest blacks in post-colonial America. Forten, with the help of Rev. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, enlisted 2,500 African Americans to defend Philadelphia during the War of 1812. They also worked together to establish the Convention of Color in 1817. By the 1830s, Forten was one of the most powerful voices for people of color throughout the North. In 1833, he helped William Lloyd Garrison and Robert Purvis form the American Anti-Slavery Society and provided generous financial support to the organization over the years. When Forten died on March 4, 1842, he left behind an exemplary family, a sizable fortune, and a legacy of philanthropy and activism that inspired generations of black Philadelphians. In 1990, a historical marker was dedicated in his honor in Philadelphia and his biography, “A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten,” was published in 2002.


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