"Meet James Forten" Performance
I well remember that when the New England Regiment marched through this city on their way to attack the English Army under the command of Lord Cornwallis, there was several Companies of Coloured People, as brave Men as ever fought.James Forten to William Lloyd Garrison, Feb. 23, 1831
On Sept. 2, 1781, James Forten witnessed the Continental Army march west through Philadelphia on its way to eventual victory at Yorktown, Virginia. Among them were the Black and Native American troops of the Rhode Island Regiments. Later in life, Forten shared his memory of the event, including the quote above, with his friend and fellow abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. He remembered the troops kicked up clouds of dust as they marched “in slow and solemn step” past the brick façade of the Pennsylvania State House — now Independence Hall.
Forten's early years featured a number of memorable events that left an impression. He heard the words of the Declaration of Independence read aloud as a young boy in 1776. Forten, who was born free, helped his father at his sailmaking business, which would eventually make Forten one of the wealthiest men in Philadelphia at the time. He also served as a privateer aboard the Royal Louis before he was captured and held prisoner aboard the Jersey. These experiences of his young life have been captured in the Museum's first-person theatrical performance, Meet James Forten.
Watch the Performance
The first-person theatrical performance about James Forten’s early life was written by local playwright Marissa Kennedy and performed by actor Nathan Alford-Tate. The performance video was produced by the Museum of the American Revolution.
Meet James Forten currently accompanies the Museum's special exhibition, Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia, to engage school groups and Museum guests. The performance debuted in 2021 as part of our Liberty: Don Troiani's Paintings of the Revolutionary War special exhibit. Performances take place on select weekends at the Museum in the Alan B. Miller Theater on the second floor.