A Gentleman of Color

A Gentleman of Color : The Life of James Forten

3.91 (24 ratings by Goodreads)
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In A Gentleman of Color, Julie Winch provides a vividly written, full-length biography of James Forten, one of the most remarkable men in 19th-century America. Forten was born in 1766 into a free black family. As a teenager he served in the Revolution and was captured by the British. Rejecting an attractive offer to change sides, he insisted he was a loyal American. By 1810 he was the leading sailmaker in Philadelphia, where he became well known as an innovative craftsman, a successful manager of black and white employees, and a shrewd businessman. He emerged as a leader in Philadelphia's black community and was active in a wide range of reform activities. He was especially prominent in national and international antislavery movements, served as vice-president of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and became close friends with William Lloyd Garrison, to whom he lent money to start up the Liberator. Forten was also the founder of a remarkable dynasty. His children and his son-in-law were all active abolitionists and a granddaughter, Charlotte Forten, published a famous diary of her experiences teaching ex-slaves in South Carolina's Sea Islands during the Civil War.
When James Forten died in 1842, five thousand mourners, black and white, turned out to honor a man who had earned the respect of society across the racial divide. This is the first serious biography of Forten, who stands beside Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the pantheon of African-Americans who fundamentally shaped American history.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 512 pages
  • 163.1 x 242.3 x 40.4mm | 925.34g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 16pp halftone plates
  • 0195086910
  • 9780195086911

Review quote

A comprehensive biography of James Forten is long overdue ... His is a life well worth remembering. The Journal of American History [Winch] retrieves Forten from obscurity. In doing so, Winch has also contributed to the discussion about the meaning and substance of being an American. History ... meticulously researched ... Winch, a social historian, applies the concepts of occupational and social mobility, economic opportunity and political equality to develop this sympathetic portrait of Forten. History Julie Winch has written the best biography of an antebellum African American I have read in many years. Exhaustively researched and stunningly argued, her biography of Philadelphia's James Forten belongs on the shelf of every American historian. Our understanding of race relations in one of the centers of African American life is immeasurably advanced by this rich study. Gary B. Nash, University of California, Los Angeles, and author of First City: Philadelphia and the Forging of Public Memory At long last we have a deeply researched, well-written biography of James Forten, a black veteran of the American Revolution who, in Horatio Alger style, became a wealthy sailmaker, an employer in Philadelphia of many whites as well as blacks, and one of the first black abolitionists. As a result of Julie Winch's exhaustive research, she must know almost as much about sailmaking and black Philadelphia as James Forten did. David Brion Davis, Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, Yale University
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About Julie Winch

Julie Winch is Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She is the author of three books on African American history.
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Rating details

24 ratings
3.91 out of 5 stars
5 29% (7)
4 38% (9)
3 29% (7)
2 4% (1)
1 0% (0)
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