James Forten, abolitionist, inventor, entrepreneur and philanthropist, was born September 2, 1766 in Philadelphia to free parents. He was educated in a Quaker school for African American children, but at age 8 years began working with his father making sails for Robert Bridges. With the death of his father a year later, his workload increased to provide for his family.
At age 14, working as a powder boy on a ship during the Revolutionary War, he was captured by the British, who released him. He was able to return to his family and his previous employer, Robert Bridges, who soon promoted him to a foreman position over nearly 40 employees. By age 22, Bridges arranged for Forten to obtain a loan to buy the sail making business from him as he prepared to retire.
Forten had invented a sail that improved maneuvering and sailing speeds, which helped expand the business. With his financial successes, he continued to care for his mother and family and was able to contribute to abolitionist causes which included purchasing freedom for slaves, funding for William Garrison's "Libertarian" newspaper, and opening a school for African American children. He also used his Lombard Street home as an Underground Railroad stop. In 1833, he is known for using his home to organize the American Antislavery Society. He died in 1842 at age 76.
Compiled from: http://www.blackinventor.com/pages/jamesforten.html.