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Alfreda S. James

a Philadelphia abolitionist, was the daughter of James Forten, a sailmaker and landlord, and Charlotte Forten, a homemaker. The senior Fortens had a total of nine children, and they used each birth to honor personal or financial benefactors. Harriet Davy, their third daughter, was no exception; her first and middle names came from two of her father's sail-making contacts. Weaving family matters with outside interests such as abolition and social reform became a recurring theme in Forten's life. She was directly involved in the abolition movement, created women's antislavery groups, and helped finance the vigilance committees—the informal organizations that provided food, shelter, and safe transport to slaves escaping southern masters and northern deputies.

However to define Forten s activities simply in terms of abolition overlooks a key part of her personal history and that of the antebellum community of free northern blacks Forten her sisters and ...