Black Founders: The Forten Family of PhiladelphiaNow Open Daily, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
- Now Open Daily, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Museum of the American Revolution
Included in regular Museum admission.
The Music of Francis Johnson
Learn more about Black composer and musician Francis Johnson, whose music was popular in the Revolutionary and Antebellum eras, and listen to historically informed performances of his music.
"Meet James Forten" Performance
Watch the Museum's first-person theatrical performance about James Forten’s teenaged years, written by local playwright Marissa Kennedy and performed by actor Nathan Alford-Tate.
… an essential American storyThe Philadelphia Inquirer
When James Forten walked the streets of 1770s Philadelphia as a young man, he was surrounded by the sights and sounds of transformation. He heard the words of the Declaration of Independence read aloud for the first time in 1776 before setting sail to fight for independence in 1781. Born a free person of African descent, Forten built upon his coming-of-age in a revolutionary city and his wartime experience to forge himself into a changemaker in Philadelphia and the young United States, becoming a successful businessman, philanthropist, and stalwart abolitionist.
In our new special exhibition Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia, the Museum introduces visitors to Forten and his descendants as they navigated the American Revolution and cross-racial relationships in Philadelphia to become leaders in the abolition movement in the lead-up to the Civil War and the women's suffrage movement. Using objects, documents, and immersive environments, Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia explores the Forten family’s roles in the Revolutionary War, business in Philadelphia, and abolition and voting rights from 1776 to 1876.
The unique journey and exceptional story of this family of Revolutionaries explores the legacy of the American Revolution, the history of the American experiment of liberty, equality, and self-government, and the ongoing work to improve the nation’s dedication to the principle that “all men are created equal.”
Artifacts & Immersive Experiences
The exhibit features more than 100 historical artifacts, works of art, and documents from 38 different lenders, including both institutions and private collectors, as well as the Museum’s own collection. Rare historical objects on loan from descendants of the Forten family are on view for the very first time in a public exhibit.
The exhibit features videos, audio experiences, and tactile interactives, including a partial recreation of James Forten’s sailmaking workshop. Visitors of all ages are able to try on recreations of sailors clothing, similar to what James Forten wore as a teenaged sailor during the Revolutionary War.
Depicting James Forten's Life Through Theater
Accompanying the exhibition, an original first-person theatrical performances written by playwright Marissa Kennedy dramatize the experience of a teenaged James Forten (portrayed by actor Nathan Alford-Tate), who joined a privateer ship to serve during the Revolutionary War and later became a prominent businessperson and abolitionist. A filmed version of the performance is now available to watch online any time.
Live virtual versions of the performances, which include a question-and-answer session with the actor and a Museum educator, are available to be booked by school groups. To book, contact [email protected] or 267.579.3623.
Additional Educational & Special Offerings
- 360-Degree Virtual Tour: Black Founders will be made available to virtual visitors from around the world through a 360-degree virtual tour, which is scheduled to launch in Spring 2023 and will remain permanently available online.
- Audio Tour: An audio tour, along with transcriptions, are available on sanitized hand-held devices for $5 for general admission visitors and $3 for Museum Members.
- Exhibition Catalog: A richly illustrated exhibition catalog is available for purchase in the Museum Shop and online.
- Guided & Walking Tours: For adults, 60-minute guided tours of the exhibition are available for private bookings and 45-minute guided tours are available for student and youth groups. A guided virtual tour of the special exhibit will also be available. To book, contact [email protected] or 267.579.3623. A James Forten-themed neighborhood walking tour, beginning March 18, will introduce visitors to sites that were important to Forten’s life and legacy, including the site of his family’s home near Fourth and Lombard Streets.
- Educator Resources: For students and teachers, virtual distance learning programs and virtual and onsite teacher professional development opportunities based on Black Founders will be available in 2023. An educator resource guide, along with modular activities, high-quality images, ready-made worksheets, and a map of Forten’s Philadelphia will be available for free on the Museum’s website. Limited printed copies will also be available.
- Group Visits: Group tickets are available at a discounted price. To book, contact [email protected] or 267.579.3623.
- For Kids & Families: Families can enjoy the special exhibition with a printed family guide full of activities, along with a scavenger hunt for younger visitors. Hands-on activities for visitors to the exhibition include try-on clothing carts, pop-up talks, and a discovery cart with replica objects related to Forten’s story.
This exhibit is dedicated to our beloved colleague, Denise Valentine (1959-2020), a passionate educator and exceptional storyteller.
Black Founders Exhibit Catalog is now available to purchase in the Museum Shop and online.