Forten, Robert Bridges

Robert Bridges Forten grew up in Philadelphia and followed his father, James, into the sail-making business and abolitionist career. While financial problems eventually forced Robert to close his business, he remained involved in the antislavery movement throughout his entire life. Forten gave his first public address to the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery society in November 1834 and, two years year, he married Mary Virginia Woods. His first wife, however, died in July 1840. Five years later Forten married Mary Hanscome and they moved to a farm in western Pennsylvania. In 1854, the couple sold their property and decided to move to western Canada. As they traveled north, they stopped in Boston as controversy erupted over the arrest of fugitive slave Anthony Burns. Several years later Forten moved his family to London, where he joined the London Emancipation Committee. After President Abraham Lincoln authorized the enlistment of African Americans, Forten left his family in England and returned to Philadelphia. Forten was almost fifty one when he joined the USCT in March 1864 and he almost immediately received a promotion to sergeant major. Forten, however, died about a month later. He was the first African American to receive full military honors during his funeral in Philadelphia. Abolitionists James Miller McKim and Lucretia Mott spoke at the funeral. (By Don Sailer)
Life Span
Dickinson Connection
Abolitionist James Miller McKim (Class of 1828) spoke at his funeral in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    Full name
    Robert Bridges Forten
    Place of Birth
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Sectional choice
    Free State
    No. of Spouses
    James Forten (father), Charlotte Vandine (mother), Mary Virginia Woods (first wife), Mary Hanscome (second wife), Robert Purvis (brother-in-law), Charlotte Forten Grimké (daughter)
    Farmer or Planter
    Relation to Slavery
    Free black
    Other Affiliations
    Abolitionists (Anti-Slavery Society)
    Union Army
    How to Cite This Page: "Forten, Robert Bridges," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,