James Forten (1766-1842) represents one of the many great African-American pioneers. Incredibly, James Forten was one of America’s first Black millionaires!! You read that right…in the midst of a time when this nation enslaved Black people, a Black man rose above the evils of his day--and with the help of Almighty God—prospered unimaginably.
Who is James Forten? An abolitionist, philanthropist, businessman, War for Independence veteran, inventor, and family man, James was born to Thomas and Margret Forten on September 2, 1766. James first wife, Martha Beatty, died soon after they were married. Subsequently, he later married Charlotte Vandine (1786-1886); and from that second union were born Robert Bridges Forten, Margaretta, Harriet, Sarah Louisa, Charlotta, William Deas, Mary Theresa, Thomas Willing, Francis, and James Jr.
Incredibly, the grandfather of Thomas Forten—or the great-grandfather of James--worked to free himself from slavery! As a result of his efforts, both James and his father Thomas, were born free! James was educated at a Quaker school which Anthony Benezet built for Blacks.
Later James joined the Continental army at 14 years old and was one of many Blacks who fought with George Washington to secure American freedom from Britain. He became a sailor for the American forces, and served on the Royal Louis. He was later captured by the British who made him a prisoner of war on one of their infamous prison ships, where over 11,000 Americans died. By God’s grace, he was involved in a prisoner exchange on the condition he no longer fight in the war. Upon his release, young James walked 100 miles from Brooklyn to Philadelphia to return to his family.
After the war, with experience gained as a sailor in the Continental forces, he joined the crew of a ship which sailed for England. After a year of living and working in the London shipyard, in 1786 he returned to America and became an apprentice to a White sail-maker Robert Bridges. After twelve years of hard work, saving money, and self-sacrifice, James bought-out his boss, and became the first Black-owned sail-making business in Philadelphia; and more than likely all of America! He later invented and patented sails, and by 1832, employed 40 workers--both Black and White!!! Ultimately, James Forten’s financial worth surpassed $100,000 dollars!!!
On page 50 of their book ‘Doubting Thomas’ Mark Beliles and Jerry Newcomb wrote that in the day of Thomas Jefferson(1743-1826), $10 was worth $250 today, which is a difference of 25 times. Because James Forten was a contemporary of Jefferson, if we multiply Forten’s $100,000 by 25 we get 2,500,000! Therefore, in all probability, James Forten was America’s first Black multi-millionaire!
How was James Forten able to do the impossible? If we return to part one of this series and examine God’s purposes for a nation, we will find wealth creation as one of those purposes(Deut8). Because America has adopted God’s purposes--God has blessed this nation. Rabbi Daniel Lapin puts it succinctly:
“Only two governments in the world have been governed by a covenant constitution—ancient Israel and modern America.” -Rabbi Daniel Lapin
Rabbi Lapin’s quote does not mean that God’s favor rests only Israel and America. On the contrary, God will bless any nation which taps into God’s great purposes(Ps33:12). Therefore, even though Blacks were originally brought to America in chains, because God turns evil into good (Gen50:20; Rom8:28), the Sovereign God determined to turn Black slavery into Black prosperity---using America as His tool!
Two concluding magnificent truths that facilitated James Forten’s success:
1.He tapped into the anointing of God upon America for wealth
2.James Forten is but ‘one’ example that America is great because God
sovereignly created, called, and blessed her!
I repeat, God did not bless America only for America’s sake. On the contrary, any nation can follow America’s example—for God sovereignly determined America to be a prototype! And furthermore, any American can follow James Forten’s example—because God is no respecter of persons! Therefore, it is absolutely clear that God sovereignly determined America’s purposes to include African-Americans!
Nobody can contribute to the best of humanitywho does not make the best out of himself.
-JOHANN GOTTFRIED VON HERDER (1744–1803), Literary critic and philosopher