Marriage to Jane Vogelsang and Scandal

James Forten Jr. would eventually go on to marry Jane Vogelsang in 1839. Less than a year later, James Vogelsang Forten was born.  

Forten Jr. apparently made poor business decisions that would affect his family. He took out many loans and lent people money that never paid him back so his business was in serious financial trouble, and the national press made a huge deal out of this. One of these people was Robert Purvis (father of two other Central College students) who sued his brothers-in-law for the money that was owed to him, according to an article in the New York Daily on March 5, 1844. The Forten's lost and not only had to pay Purvis, but also had to pay for legal fees as well. Eventually, James Forten Jr. moved to New York where his life became less documented. He did enlist in the Navy in Baltimore in 1864, but was discharged three years later. After his discharge, he disappeared from the records and was not mentioned in any Forten letters in the biography A Gentleman of Color. He reportedly died sometime before his sister, Margaret, who passed away in 1875. 

James Forten, Jr.’s financial scandals may have also led to his separation from Jane. At one point, he seemingly abandoned the family, leading to Jane filing a legal action against him. 

In 1849, Jane became a teacher and was the head of the female department at the New York Colored School. A good family friend of the Vogelsang-Fortens was a man by the name of Charles Reason, who was the superintendent at the colored school. Reason eventually got a job at New York Central College and when he went to the school, Jane sent James Vogelsang Forten to go with him. This marriage was witnessed by Clarissa Esteve, who Jane lived with in 1850 according to the census. Esteve would actually go on to marry Charles Reason, another student at NYCC.

Jane passed away only three years later in 1852 at the age of 33. Her death records suggest she was living with Albany’s Topp family, another prestigious free African-American abolitionist family with whom her son may have also lived in 1855. 

The Topp Family

William Topp was born free in 1813 in Albany to Lewis and Phillis Topp. Lewis was active in the African-American community, but William took this to the next level by becoming a member of the Vigilance Committee of Albany’s Underground Railroad (UGRR). In 1841, William became a political leader in Albany’s abolitionist community. William married Eliza Vogelsang in 1842 at 28 years old. Eliza is the daughter of Peter Vogelsang and Maria Miller. His wife Eliza aided him in smuggling fugitive slaves to freedom, and similar to the Fortens, used their home as a safe house. Over time, William became the wealthiest African-American in Albany by opening his own business as a merchant tailor in 1845. He was also involved in the Albany Colored Citizens Committee and the African Baptist Church and served as president at several of New York’s anti-slavery conventions. In the 1840s, Eliza’s sister Jane Vogelsang and her husband James Forten came to live with them. Unfortunately, William Topp died at the age of 44 in 1857.

The Sons and Daughters of Freedom