The Forten Family
The Forten family were among the elite when it came to black families in the mid-1800s. This family consisted of war veterans, abolitionists, businessmen, and former slaves. The Fortens had their house act as a safe haven for runaway slaves. This family certainly left its mark on the world during this time period and helped a lot of people make their way towards freedom.
James Forten Sr. (James Vogelsang Forten’s grandfather) was a very famous man during the 1800s. He was a wealthy man who was also a very active abolitionist as well as a war veteran. Forten was so well known that he had a biography written about him called A Gentlemen of Color: The Life of James Forten, written by Julie Winch. Forten was born on September 2nd, 1766 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Forten grew up in a free African household and did not have to go through the horrible experience of slavery like many African children did. Despite being African and not given many opportunities for education, Forten was still a well educated child as he read numerous books in his spare time. In his later years, Forten would have numerous business acquisitions that allowed him to gain his wealth. Forten's first wife, Martha Beatte, passed away seven months after they got married on May 31st, 1804; the cause of death was unknown. His next wife, Charlotte, outlived him and together they had nine children. One of his daughters was Harriett Davy Forten who was an abolitionist herself along with her sisters and went on to marry Robert Purvis Sr., who is another famous abolitionist.
Charlotte and James Forten, Sr.’s first son and heir to his fortune was James Forten Jr, who was born on May 13th, 1813. Forten Jr. was also active in the anti-slavery movement. Due to his father's success, Forten Jr. was educated and so well spoken to the point that in his early twenties, he was in high demand as an anti-slavery speaker. James Jr. gave speeches about the right to freedom and used the fact that slavery in Britain was abolished as a way of telling people that the time for it to be abolished in America was soon to come. Forten Jr. was also under constant threat by anti-abolition movements as many black citizens were being attacked by mobs. Forten did realize that his wealth did give him advantages over others, but he used his privileges to help those who were less fortunate than him by housing runaway/freed slaves.