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Black Inventors and Innovators - James Forten

Updated on February 21, 2011


James Forten was born September 2, 1766 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and died March 4, 1842. When James Forten died his legacy would live on through his family, fortune, philanthropy and activism for generations to come. Forten was the grandson of slaves raised in Philadelphia and educated in a Quaker school for colored children.  By the age of eight Forten worked for a sailing company alongside his father. A year later his father died in a boating accident and Forten would take on additional work to help provide for his family in the absence of his father.

By the age of 14 Forten was a powder boy on a sailing ship during the Revolutionary war. During the war Forten was captured and released by the British. When Forten returned home he continued to work at the same sailing company and would quickly move up in position.  When the owner decided to retire he made it possible for Forten to purchase the company.  Forten owned the business and employed about 40 people.

During this time Forten invented a sail for ships that was more suitable for maneuvering and maintaining greater speeds after experimenting for some time with different types of sails. Although Forten did not patent his invention Forten’s company benefitted financially because his sail-making business was the most successful in Philadelphia.

From his business Forten became an extremely wealthy man amassing a fortune that was sizeable for any man Black or White in fact he was one of the wealthiest Blacks in Post-Colonial America. Although Forten lived a luxurious life he was also a very giving man.  Forten gave a considerable amount of money to abolitionist causes; purchasing freedom for slaves, opening his home as an Underground Railroad depot and running a school for Black children.

Forten was an amazing man with a large fortune but an even bigger heart. When he was younger Forten took care of his mother after his father death and in his later years after he amassed his fortune he took care of his family (he had nine children) and those that he didn’t even know. Forten was more than an inventor he was a humanitarian.



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    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      8 years ago from West Coast

      Thank you Hello! I agree its wonderful how he gave back!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      Again another wonderful and yet never was talked about. The most important point was he never forgot where he came from and that I respect most.

    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      8 years ago from West Coast

      Thank yu ftclick!

    • ftclick profile image


      8 years ago

      Great story that shows positive persistence prevails. Thanks

    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      8 years ago from West Coast

      Thank you Bk! I am just putting their work together, they did the amazing part. I am still being amazed every single day by these accomplishments!

    • BkCreative profile image


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Brilliant! You make my job as an educator so much easier - I can direct my students to your hubs.

      Another winner here! Thanks a million!

      Rated up!


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