Celebrate Black History Month and explore the stories of unsung Revolutionaries this February. Plan Your Visit

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Meet James Forten cover image featuring actor Nathan Alford-Tate.
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 accompanied 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 took place on select weekends at the Museum in the Alan B. Miller Theater on the second floor.

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Actor Nathan Alford-Tate depicts a sailor in a blue coat holding a sailmaking fid in our Meet James Forten first-person theatrical performance.
 

First-Person Theatrical Performances

The Museum's original first-person theatrical performances bring to life the diverse lives, perspectives, and experiences of people from the Revolutionary era.
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A father holds his child as they look at the Forten family tree in the Museum's Black Founders exhibit.
 

Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia

February 11 - November 26, 2023
Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia explored the story of James Forten and his descendants as they navigated the American Revolution and cross-racial relationships in Philadelphia to later become leaders in the abolition movement in the lead-up to the Civil War.
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A Gentleman of Color by Julie Winch
 

A Gentleman of Color

Read an excerpt from Julie Winch's groundbreaking book, A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten.
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