Historic Forten Family Bible Donated to Museum of the American Revolution by Descendants of James FortenAugust 15, 2023
The Bible is Currently on View in the Museum’s Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia Special Exhibition
The “Living Artifact” Has Been Continually Updated through Six Generations
An historic Bible, which is connected to one of the most significant African American families in Philadelphia’s history, has been donated to the Museum of the American Revolution by Atwood “Kip” Forten Jacobs and his daughter Taylor Jacqueline Rodriguez Jacobs, direct descendants of Black Revolutionary War veteran and abolitionist James Forten. The Bible is currently on display – for the first time in public – in the Museum’s special exhibition Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia. It will remain on permanent display at the Museum after the exhibit closes on Nov. 26, 2023.
“The Forten family Bible is a tangible link to the past and a powerful reminder that we still have much work to build a more inclusive story of our nation’s history that recognizes all of the people who have served, sacrificed, and strived to form a ‘more perfect union,’” said Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, Museum President and CEO. “It is an incredible honor to be entrusted with the care and preservation of this irreplaceable national treasure.”
The family heirloom has now been in the possession of six generations of the Forten family and has been described as a “living artifact” because it has been continually updated with the family’s births, deaths, and marriages. The Bible’s family records pages provide a wealth of genealogical information and offer the only known written evidence for some of the Forten family’s important life events over the past two centuries.
“Even though I was born and raised in Philadelphia, I knew very little about James Forten and the Forten family. But thanks to Professor Julie Winch and her wonderful book A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten all of that changed,” said Atwood "Kip" Forten Jacobs. “Consequently, it is an honor, and indeed a great pleasure, for me to donate my Forten family Bible to the Museum of the American Revolution. I believe it is the ideal venue to showcase such an important article of African American history. It is my hope that everyone who visits the Museum will appreciate it, along with the many other priceless artifacts on display at the Black Founders exhibition.”
This Forten family treasure first belonged to Jane Vogelsang Forten, the wife of James Forten, Jr., and daughter-in-law of James Forten. It was presented to her in 1839, the year of her wedding to James Forten, Jr., by the congregation at St. Philip’s African Church, the first Black Episcopal parish in New York City. Jane and James were residents of New York at the time.
Over the generations, this Forten family heirloom has become a genealogical record book, linking generations together. Multiple descendants of Jane Vogelsang Forten have added birth dates, marriage dates, and death dates for their family members. Atwood “Kip” Forten Jacobs (Jane Vogelsang Forten’s great-great-great-grandson) added himself and his daughter Taylor (born in 1995) to the family record pages. As part of the terms of the donation, future generations of the Forten family will have the opportunity to visit the Museum to update the Bible’s family records pages.
Jacobs first announced the donation during a Read the Revolution Speakers Series event at the Museum where he spoke alongside Dr. Julie Winch, author of A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten, the first scholarly biography of James Forten. Jacobs reflected on what discovering her book – and his own family heritage – has meant to him throughout the years.
The Museum’s groundbreaking special exhibition, Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia, brings together – for the first time – more than 100 historical artifacts to tell the inspiring story of free Black Philadelphian James Forten and his remarkable family, from the Revolutionary era through the Civil War and Reconstruction. The Forten Bible is one of several family artifacts that descendants loaned to the exhibition, which also includes a table that was once owned by James Forten and used in the Forten home on Lombard Street, and two samplers stitched by James Forten’s daughters. A virtual version of the exhibit is now available for free to people across the globe.
Black Founders explores the Forten family’s roles in the Revolutionary War, business in Philadelphia, and the abolitionist movement from 1776 to 1876, including their roles in helping to start both the American Anti-Slavery Society and the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. The exhibition runs until Nov. 26, 2023, and is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Black Founders is included with regular Museum admission.
About Museum of the American Revolution
The Museum of the American Revolution uncovers and shares compelling stories about the diverse people and complex events that sparked America’s ongoing experiment in liberty, equality, and self-government. Through the Museum’s unmatched collection, immersive galleries, powerful theater experiences, and interactive elements, visitors gain a deeper appreciation for how this nation came to be and feel inspired to consider their role in ensuring that the promise of the American Revolution endures. Located just steps away from Independence Hall, the Museum serves as a portal to the region’s many Revolutionary sites, sparking interest, providing context, and encouraging exploration. The Museum, which opened on April 19, 2017, is a private, non-profit, and non-partisan organization. For more information, visit www.AmRevMusem.org or call 877.740.1776.