Episode 352: James Forten and the Making of the United States

People of African descent have made great contributions to the United States and its history. Think about all of the food, music, dance, medicine, farming and religious practices that people of African descent have contributed to American culture. Think about the sacrifices they’ve made to create and protect the United States as an independent nation.

Matthew Skic, a Curator of Exhibitions at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, joins us to investigate the life and deeds of the Forten Family, a family of African-descended people who worked in the revolutionary era and beyond to build a better world for their family, community, state, and nation.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Colonial Williamsburg Innovation Studios.

Episode Summary

Matthew Skic, a Curator of Exhibitions at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, joins us to explore the life and deeds of James Forten, with details from the museum’s new exhibit, Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia.

During our investigation, Matthew reveals information about the Museum of the American Revolution’s Black Founders exhibit and why this exhibit features the Forten Family of Philadelphia; Details about the life and deeds of James Forten, a veteran of the Revolutionary War and a savvy businessman who worked tirelessly to make the revolutionary ideals of freedom and equality a reality in his community, state, and nation; And the lives and deeds of James Forten’s children and grandchildren, all of whom shared Forten’s desire for the United States to live up to its founding principles.

What You’ll Discover

  • Overview of the Museum of the American Revolution’s Black Founders Exhibit
  • Three generations of the Forten Family of Philadelphia
  • The early life of James Forten in Revolutionary Philadelphia
  • James Forten’s role in the American Revolution
  • James Forten’s time served on the privateer ship the Royal Louis
  • The risks and rewards of serving on privateer ships for free Black men
  • James Forten’s imprisonment on the HMS Jersey
  • James Forten’s time in London and his return to Philadelphia
  • James Forten’s success as a sail-maker
  • James and Charlotte Forten’s marriage and children
  • James Forten as a leader and investor in Philadelphia’s Black communities
  • The Forten family’s activism and philanthropic work

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In your opinion, what might have happened if Forten had never heard the Declaration of Independence read out loud on July 8th, 1776? Do you think he still would've supported the American Revolution?

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