Born in Philadelphia in 1776, James Forten served at sea during the Revolutionary War and was captured by the British. Upon his release on parole, he began work on a merchant ship and by 1790 had a job as an apprentice under a sailmaker. Forten eventually bought the company from his employer and became one of the wealthiest residents in Philadelphia. By the 1830s, his worth was estimated at $100,000, or $2.5 million today—having invented a sail-making device key to his profitability. Forten later invested in the abolitionist cause and served as vice president of the American Anti-Slavery Society.