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Carolyn Williams

educator, diarist, and essayist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Mary Virginia Wood and Robert Bridges Forten, who were free blacks. Her father, a mathematician, orator, and reformer, was the son of the wealthy sailmaker James Forten Sr., a leading African American activist in Philadelphia. Her mother, grandmother, and aunts had been among the founding members of the interracial Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society (PFASS). Prominent figures such as the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and the Quaker poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier were friends of the Fortens. Whittier wrote a poem, “To the Daughters of James Forten.”

Both privilege and misfortune marked the early life of Charlotte Forten Although a very talented and well educated man Robert Forten never achieved financial stability By the time he joined the family business the sailmaking industry had been undermined by new steam propelled vessels Charlotte ...