James Forten: Sailmaker and abolitionist

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.

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