James Forten, a Black Inventor and Shipping Businessman in the 1800s

James Forten

On August 2nd, 1776, America declared itself a new country through the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Founding fathers and congress members gathered together in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia in order to officiate their separation from Great Britain. Not many know, however, that exactly one month later, on September 2nd, an African-American abolitionist and entrepreneur was born in that same city. His name was James Forten. 
Although his grandparents were slaves, Forten was born free in the city of Philadelphia. He started his work young, at 8 years old, by assisting at a sail loft. As he grew, he became an avid member of the fight against slavery.

More doors were open for Forten than for most black men and women of his time, as he grew older and more experienced in the shipping industry. Eventually, he even bought the company from his former employer. During his work there, he made a name for himself by inventing a sail that harnessed wind more efficiently.

After the year 1800, Forten made sure to use his platform and his resources to petition Congress for the emancipation of slaves. Although this attention was not favorable to the eyes of many, including Thomas Jefferson, his message was made loud and clear after he publicly argued against the Pennsylvania bill that prohibited people of color from immigrating into the state.