A Gentleman of Color

A Gentleman of Color : The Life of James Forten

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Winch has written the first full-length biography of James Forten, a hero of African American history and one of the most remarkable men in 19th-century America. Born into a free black family in 1766, Forten served in the Revolutionary War as a teenager. By 1810 he had earned the distinction of being the leading sailmaker in Philadelphia. Soon after Forten emerged as a leader in Philadelphia's black community and was active in a wide range of reform activities. Especially prominent in national and international antislavery movements, he 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. His family 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. 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

  • 12-17
  • Paperback | 528 pages
  • 152.4 x 228.6 x 30.48mm | 725.74g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 16pp halftone plates
  • 0195163400
  • 9780195163407

Review quote

"The definitive biography of James Forten, his family, and his community. Julie Winch's impressive mastery of the historical sources allows her to paint an intimate and textured portrait, richly illuminating the political, social, and economic life of America's first generations. This impressive story of a distinguished African American will inform the scholarly debate on race and society in early America for years to come."-James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton,
co-authors of In Hope of Liberty and Hard Road to Freedom "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 "This book put me in the presence of Mr. James Forten, an African American, who in the time of slavery was, indeed, a gentleman. The freedom he enjoyed was the freedom he himself created. It was a great pleasure to have spent some time in his company."-Ossie Davis "Winch inventively used historical context to find her subject's place in 19th-century Philadelphia and goes deep inside Forten's social and intellectual world to explain his quest for respect as a citizen and a man.... This first biography of Forten does much to reveal a complexity and range of experience among 19-century blacks."-Library Journal "Winch has done a masterful job of researching and piecing together Forten's life...This new critical biography not only restores him to his rightful place in American history, but also presents readers with an invigorating and challenging new portrait of pre- and post-Revolutionary race relations and identities...[Winch's] scholarship is both outstanding and vital."-Publisher's Weekly "Rediscovering the life of the once-prominent Forten, largely unknown today, Winch has achieved something quite profound and affecting.... Indefatigable research and lucid prose combine to produce a book whose importance cannot be overstated."-Kirkus Review, starred "Winch's magnificent biography...sets the record straight, restoring Forten to the position he achieved for himself in life: a "gentleman of color" and an American patriot in the front rank of the fight for freedom."-Philadelphia Inquirer
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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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