James Forten was born in Philadelphia in 1766. Apprenticed as a sailmaker he became a foreman in 1786 and by 1798 he owned his own company in 1798. A successful businessman he amassed a fortune of over $100,000.
Forten took an active interest in politics and campaigned for temperance, women's suffrage and equal rights for African-Americans. In 1800 he organised a petition calling for Congress to emancipate all slaves. He also wrote and published a pamphlet attacking the Pennsylvania legislature for prohibiting the immigration of freed black slaves from other states.
In 1817 Forden joined with Richard Allen to form the Convention of Color. The organization argued for the settlement of escaped black slaves in Canada but was strongly opposed to any plans for repatriation to Africa. Other leading figures that became involved in the movement was William Wells Brown, Samuel Eli Cornish and Henry Highland Garnet.
In 1833 Forten helped to form the American Anti-Slavery Society. A close friend of William Lloyd Garrison, Forten contributed to his anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator. James Forten died on 24th February, 1842.
The misery which the slaves endure in consequence of too close a stowage is not easy to describe. I have heard them frequently complaining of heat, and have seen them fainting, almost dying for want of water. Their situation is worse in rainy weather. We do everything for them in our power. In all the vessels in which I have sailed in the slave trade, we never covered the gratings with a tarpawling, but made a tarpawling awning over the booms, but some were still panting for breath.