Robert Bridges Forten (1813-1864)

Robert Bridges Forten, born in Philadelphia in 1813, was the son of James Forten. Robert was named after the man his grandfather and father were employed by as sail-makers, the Philadelphia business owner Robert Bridges.

As a prominent member of the Forten family, Robert “was considered by family, friends, and acquaintances as the most talented of his clan. As a young man, he was known locally as a mathematician, poet, and orator. It was during his youth that he constructed a nine-foot telescope that was exhibited at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute.” (Stevenson, Brenda, The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimke, pg 13).

Robert Bridges Forten was an avid abolitionist; he was on the Board of Managers of the Young Men’s Anti-Slavery Society of Philadelphia, and a member of both the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee and the New England Anti-Slavery Society.

Robert also fought for African American voting rights, and was a member of the committee of “free” African Americans “who addressed the state legislature regarding the rights of free blacks in a protest document entitled the ‘Memorial of 30,000 Disfranchised Citizens of Philadelphia to the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives.” (Stevenson, Brenda, The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimke, pg 13).

Robert Forten married Mary Woods and had one daughter, Charlotte Bridges Forten. His first wife died while still a young woman; and Robert remarried, having 2 son’s Edmund and Wendell by his second wife Mary Hanscome.

Robert Forten lived abroad for several years, staying in Canada from 1855 to 1858; then moving to England until 1862, when he returned to the U.S. to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War.

During the Civil War, Robert earned the rank of sergeant-major assigned to Company A of the 43rd U.S. Colored Infantry. Tragically, Robert contracted typhoid fever while serving in the military and succumbed to the illness in 1864.

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