tv Free Black and Revolutionary War Privateer James Forten CSPAN May 21, 2022 1:01pm-2:02pm EDT
made it sound like three works but it is two. we have miles to go and doing it in the glow of the statue is perhaps the best way and most inspiring way to proceed. host: harold holzer, lincoln formed chair, author of the book and many books but in particular "monument man, the life and art of daniel chester french." thank you for joining us on such a warm morning this morning from really excited to welcome you to this evening performance and talkback of meet james for an exciting original play commissioned from playwright mercer kennedy by the museum khalil williams who i'm joined by is the founder of black history maven a longtime collaborate with the museum in our living history projects our diversify living history initiative and after the performance, i'm gonna vacate my seat give it up to mike idris, who is the museum's
african-american interpretive fellow lifelong, philadelphia, and who was really the the brains behind this incredible play. they're gonna see the historical advisor on this piece written by marissa kennedy, which you'll see performed by nathan alfred tate. we're really excited to be doing a lot with james horton story. not just right now when you can visit this cool painting daily here more about later, but also in the future we've got exciting programming and exhibitions about the fort and family coming up, but i don't want to steal any of that thunder. i'm gonna let you ask questions of kalala and and nathan later, so feel free to drop your questions into the chat either during the performance or afterwards when khalila will be moderating a conversation and selecting some of those questions for these guys to answer. so without further ado take your seats and meet james fortin.
william my dear brother-in-law so this is the commerce ready to take us to england. it's almost time to set sail. a new voyage a new opportunity i know this kind of journey is familiar to you, but this is a new adventure for me. this this is my home. dark lord the noise of the wharfs the mingling of different accents and languages irish german west indian west african british i've spent years watching the arrival and departures of ships filled with traded goods like this one. main loading cargo roadmakers at work i was in all of the ship's carpenters shaping the wood and
repairing damage from each ship's most recent voyage. i especially loved watching the sailor's hoist the sails that my father made. you know how much we all talk about my father. thomas my father taught me to read we would practice reading scripture or father would teach me the words of the hymns that we sing on sundays? as a boy i followed him to robert bridges sailoft where he worked alongside white and black men. the only free african there. my father was meticulous in his work. he gave clothes and careful attention to every sale he crafted. i would sit close to him watching as he laid out the canvas across the floor and cut out the shapes of the sails. the sales the sales were so big they had to be hoisted through the window.
i had to stay clear of the way. so now to get knocked down by their size and weight. when i got older my father began teaching me sale making i'd help out around the loft by sweeping the floor or picking over scrap canvas to preserve the usable pieces. i'd prepare beeswax for sewing thread. it's sweet, honey. you smell at my fingertips? my father gave me the sale making fit. it was his i learned how to use it. stretching the canvas for grommets i even learned how to feel so if you canvas pieces myself. and by the end of the day, my hands were stiff and feet apes from all the work. my devout anglican father reminded me that god would indeed bless us if we followed the work of the lord and not of many. eventually he ventured on his
own making a few sales here and there. i was proud to be following in his footsteps. hi imagine. that would be my work someday until he died when i was seven years old. after my father's death, my mother margaret felt that receiving an education was the next important step. she sought the help of anthony benezee. still admire her for that asking a white quaker teacher to take me as a student. okay, probably hope that beneze was always ready to point out the contradiction between slavery and the christian doctrine. he knew that we could achieve the same things as white people. i think most of society sees us as inherently flawed lazy a burden at least when we're not making a profit for them.
some people like robert bridges and anthony benezee see us for who we are a people with the rich culture in history. but then again robert bridges is a slave holder himself. that's the corruption slavery. my mother and sister your dear abigail provided for the household and my education but were barely making ends meet. i was only at school for two years before i had to stop to find work. i had heard of other free african children being forced into indentured servitude if they or their parents were found to be a burden on society. boys younger than me being forced to work until they were 24 years old. but how how would that help them or their families? i did whatever i could just support my family. i picked up our jobs here and
there running up and down tuck ward sweeping floors stocking shelves. i worked at venezates grocery store and sometimes i ran errands for bridges. i might have stopped school, but i did not stop learning. a red my bible the newspaper and the pamphlets. i will come across in the street. news of the rebellion was everywhere. frightening and exciting at the same time. delegates held meetings people here in the city boycott british goods. and then reports from new england about lexington and concord bunker hill. the revolution had begun but what did this rebellion mean for africans? the enslaved africans at the sale loft did much of the same work as the white journeyman, but their only hope and aspiration was that one day they
would be free. maybe it's a cycle. first you work your life away trying to earn your freedom like my grandfather. then once you get it, you work your life away trying to keep it. i read a pamphlet by thomas, paine. thomas like my father's name. he was the one who showed us the error of our ways. how could americans say they were slave to british tyranny when there were actual slaves among us enslaved by the very same people who screamed the loudest about taxation and representation. how is nine but even i could see there were two wars over freedom being fought around. one was for the liberty and independence of america. one was for the liberty and independence of all americans. i was at the state house when
they read our declaration of independence. the bell was called me. i weaved in and out of the crowd trying to get as close as i possibly could. we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal that they're endowed by their their creator with certain unalienable rights. that among these are life. liberty and the pursuit of happiness that was how i know we are all equal. we deserve life liberty and happiness. anthony beenezaet talked africans how to read and write because of this truth thomas paine's pamphlet spread the word the declaration made it real.
but sometimes freedom wears a red coat. the british offered freedom to enslaved africans who abandoned their rebel masters so some of us found liberty that way. i can hardly judge the people who joined that cause. what else might the british give free africans in exchange for their loyalty? might it be better than what they would get in a newly forged nation. who held the greater promise? which side to choose? for me, there was no question the declaration rang in my ears. this was my fight for independence liberty and the future. at this time enslaved africans were granted gradual emancipation. maybe after this fight we can get more rights. opportunities maybe even citizenship. but i had to beg my mother to let me go and fight. i joined a private tier not the
navy mind you this was a better chance join a private ship and set sail to fight for the calls and in no small incentive a chance at prize money. we were commissioned to capture enemy ships and keep the profits as our own so i could risk my life for the revolution and also provide for my family. i chose the royal lewis captain stephen decatur and joined as a powder boy at the young age of 14. my job was to transport the gunpowder from the ship's hold to the cannons on deck amid battle. all i had with the clothes on my back and hope. we were a motley crue. i wasn't the only african aboard the royal lewis, but i was one of few people that could read and write his name. but really none of that mattered our lives were in each other's hands. who we were alone was not as
important as who we were together a crew. and our first cruise on the royal lewis was a success. we captured many enemy ships from new york down to charleston south carolina many of these ships surrendered without a single shot. and when i returned home, i was in good health with money in my pocket and the glory of victory in my heart. i turned 15 the day. i watched the continental army marched to the streets of philadelphia on their way to yorktown. the road island regiment now with two all african companies much proudly by as brave men as ever fought. they were determined
unstoppable. and i was too. we were doing our part to carve out our place in the new country. i was only home a few days before we were put to see again. i was ready to capture more british ships. but we were not as untouchable as i thought. we sailed over the horizons. and right into british hands i knew that death and battle could be a possibility but as a prisoner. for my white shipmates. i knew at best they would be exchanged for british prisoners. at worst they would be in prison for the extent of the war. but for me i had heard of other captured african sailors being shipped to the west indies. slavery death in the cane field i was terrified.
i kept the lessons of my parents and the church close to heart. when we board it the british ship the ambient i promised myself that i had been taking a prisoner for the liberties of my country and would never prove a traitor to her interest. that promise kept me alive. it guided me sometimes even away from the easy ways out. because the british captain offered me a new home. to go with his son to england where education and new opportunities awaited. it was a good offer as anyone in my position could only hope to achieve something more than sweeping floors are stacking crates. but i refused i had sailed too far to abandon the cause now. and the cost of that decision was the jersey even the single word is horrible to me now.
a ship with the mask cut off anchored in new york harbor a floating prison filled with men and boys younger than i i met daniel bruton a white -- only 13 years old. but it didn't matter whether we were black or white. free or enslaved we were literally in this together. short rations in either hard work cleaning the shipper unending boredom in the airless lower deck there was sickness and death everywhere. the whole field with prisoners held tightly together. the stench was unbearable and unforgettable. sometimes i wonder if this is what it felt like to be held on a slave ship.
escape seemed impossible men who tried to swim ashore risked two miles of open water if they were lucky enough to get over the mud flats undetected. they still had to get along island, which was under the control of the british. we skimed of course and once i came very close and in prison officer was to be exchanged. he would take his sea chest with him. i was just small enough to fit inside covered by his clothing. but so was daniel bruton. and he was two years younger and in far worse shape than me. so i switch places to let my white brother in arms to part. i helped him in. and wished him well.
i thought i could wait it out and be exchanged. months passed slowly my name moved up the ledger. each month. i knew i was getting closer and closer to freedom. i was on the jersey for seven months. the war ended before my name ever came up. that that was just a year ago. so i walked shoeless from brooklyn to trenton where i received aid before arriving in philadelphia. the warhead ended but i had had missed most of the celebrated. my reward was reuniting with a healthy, daniel, bruton. and i certainly didn't think i'd be ready to return to the sea again. so soon william, but when the wind shifts we must trim our
sails to suit. who knows what london might hold our revolution as only just begun and the horizons have opened wide. i can't let my parents down. i have a good foundation and the lord said in the gospels to whom much is given much is required. the problem is is i'm not sure what i'm required to do. i know i can do more than what i've done already. i've risked my life for our nations independence my family and our people. philadelphia will be here when we get back. and who knows but we might just learn a thing or two in london from the british after all. become william enough of this talk. it's high time. we put to see and find out what kind of voyage we're in for. so in this in this painting you actually get to see 15 year old
james fortin on his birthday. james fort was born on september 2nd 1766. so on his 15th birthday fortin is seeing troops from the rhode island regiment as they linked with washington's troops on their way to yorktown. so it's just an awesome scene to see james fort and given that that moment of reflection with his hat in the middle there. you can see as these members of the rhode island regiment predominantly african american members of this particular group moving through so just an awesome scene, so we are just getting ready for our actor nathan all for tate as we begin this discussion that coleila will be moderating. so good to see nathan. and then as we get ready to get started appreciate it. hello everyone. thank you so much for coming. thank you.
so gosh, so many questions somebody so many questions to ask i'm going to start with the idea of why we're all here tonight. why are we here? what does james horton story has to have to tell us today. well for me james fortin story, what's so critical is is as a person of african descent who has a nine year old witnessed the words of the declaration of independence being read by sheriff. john nixon for the very first time places him in a very integral point in american history and then to see a free person of african descent making decision is to decide how in my life am i going to choose to? serve this burgeoning country and he is seeing events as a young man in this in the city
where the first continental congress the second continental congress to taking place. so all this is happening within the backdrop of young james fortin's life. and so and to think that he will serve as a privateer and then go on to do incredible work as a sale maker, but connecting that work to other pursuits is something that's really important and something that we need to center and to think about thank you. i'm going to actually before we go to you nathan. it's going to quickly ask that question again, because i know that there is a little bit of a glitch with my sound. so the question is what does james horton's story have to tell us today? all right. it for me, it tells such a great story of hope and tenacity the fact that he did all of that in his, you know, very short 18 years of life. you know, he did more afterwards but to do so much in so little time. i think that it's just very
inspiring and not only to think about what america is but imagine what america could be, you know, we see that in his actions and when he lets daniel bruton onto the sea chest to go in place of himself, you know, that's just the equal that something that that rain true for him that equality. thank you. thank you that that was such a that was such an just a really compelling part of this piece. it's it's really great how there's new talent brought in and then of course south rhine got who directed the piece is someone who the museum has worked with many times marisa kennedy who wrote the the play is someone who the museum has worked with so michael this question is for you. can you you talk about the conception of this from the ground up and creating this program from the ground up. it's like you to understand like
it's so much to of james ford's life that you really wanted to unpack. and the hardest part was sort of just boiling it down. so to look at just his service in as a privateer was really important because like nathan just said he managed to do so much in a short period of time his connection into the sale making trade from his father up until the age of seven where he has to make a shift into pursuing his education, but then also taking up odd jobs to support the family, but then again seeing the backdrop of all the things that are taking place not just in philadelphia, but up and down the colonies at that time then deciding he wanted to serve but all of the you put it all together and it becomes something that's incredibly compelling something that can incredibly rich and i think that's really where this begins to take shape. so we started by learning
objectives one of the things i want to do is how where how do we want individuals to meet james fortin? we don't want to necessarily make him out to be just this incredible untouchable hero, but we wanted to give him some scope and space so that you could feel who he is from the neighborhood that he's in here and doc ward and just giving some some lift to who he is and just kind of understanding some of the spaces and people that he would encounter in his young life. so to start from there really kind of focusing on ways to to bring that space out, but then to understand his skillcraft utilizing the fade, so we wanted to put that all together and to sort of a real educational component. that was very entertaining as well. it was i loved the physicality of this and and nathan actually, my next question is for you and that is you've been you've been doing this role for quite a bit. what was it like becoming james
wharton as a young man. what was it like stepping into this role? and what is it? like now that you've done it for a little bit of time. what is it like inhabiting this role now? hmm. absolutely. it's a big shoes to feel you know in the beginning there was you know, i had to really focus on getting all the lines down and you know things of that nature, but once i got began to get comfortable with the text, and i was really able to play and think about you know, what could james be thinking in these moments? what does it mean to hear these words the declaration of the independent of independence for the first time and what does it mean to be in these different settings? and i'm just so grateful and really honored to be able to do this in multiple times. i think that it's such a pleasure to be able to share this information with so many people and i try my best to
treat each performance as the first performance. it really does. the performance really does just it just embodies the space and my next question. you mentioned don triani's painting which is right behind us. well, we're actually in a whole gallery full of his paintings, but as brave men as ever fought is right behind us, and how did this inform both the production of this the creation of this as well as the the of this piece. it really comes down to visuals and giving it's always great to have a multi-sensory experience and to to know of the moment to read it a reflection of it and julie winch's book a gentleman of color. it's it's incredible, but then to actually see it come to life and to see the dirt roads to understand the different faces. so also really just think of
james fortune just being a 15 year old and what that means and then of course the iconic space that's in this painting isn't independence hall quite yet. it is the state house but being able to also center, you know this iconic image of america and to have a young man of african descent be right at the center of this and how it shapes his life and his reflections of looking at other men of african descent, march through philadelphia in their rhode island regiment uniform with their hunting shirts. just again that threat of connection. it's an intergenerational connection some of these men are are older than james might be some could even been around potentially the age of his father. so it's just being able to see yourself reflected. in other people, which i think is very powerful and it's a great scene. that often is not something that one can close their eyes and imagine you don't have to do that. any longer there's an actual
visual to it. absolutely, absolutely and something that that i think about like some that i focus in on is like the dust rising and seeing all the different hats, you know, seeing all the people marching along imagining what that how loud that must be and exhilarating. you know, i think that there must have been so much excitement and and vigoration from these words being read and and seeing the road island regiment cross. yeah, i love how the paintings really speak to the museum itself because that's that the idea of noise and sound and you know when you walk through the exhibitions in the museum, you can hear voices. you can hear people whispering. you can hear people shouting. so my next question nathan is also for you and that is um student groups. can you talk about how student
groups how is how is speaking with student groups different from speaking with general is there a difference? there is a bit of a difference in the sense that you know for the for the time being a lot of the educational performances are over zoom. so it's very similar to the performance tonight where i'm performing by myself in a room and all the other school groups are over zoom and they'll ask questions things of that nature and i've really just been very excited by their questions. they've asked some very challenging ones whether you know me as an artist, but also, you know, how do i relate to james horton? why do you know i think one question that they might have asked you today was why do you think that he allowed daniel bruton to go into the sea chest instead of going himself? and you know, i think very thought-provoking questions and i'm just so excited that um
students at this young age at the young age that they're at are able to receive this rich information. thank you, and and actually just sort of going back to the beginning of this again the idea of how this performance how the creation of this was informed by primary sources. can you tell us what first of all what our primary sources and how they informed this piece layla one of the things that's most challenging about this work, especially when you're assembling is giving the actual of the person. especially when you're talking about descendants of african descent, there is not always a large body of letters that the individual themselves were able to to write that we have record that we can actually disseminate information from we're very fortunate with james fortin to be able to have a good collection of letters to family
to friends to politicians to intermediaries other people in business and and his scope that he's working with so with james and also of corresponds with his family as well so that rich hit that rich resource helps us to be able to find words and phrases in his life that speaks to nathan's performance one of the things that i love is when he talks about never a giving up his allegiance to his country. like he says that those are actually james fortins words to hear him voice. that i'm not going to take the easy way out and i just think that's an incredible reflection of his character and of just who he was as a person. so i think it's really important that to note that important words were very much integral into this performance into this piece.
do you have any do you have any thoughts about any words that you read that might have especially i mean, obviously you're reading a script but anything that especially sort of enhanced the way that you perform this. a similar to not wanting to be a trader for you know, his country's interests something that i that i really love one of the lines. i really love is i sail too far to abandon the cause now and you know to say that in to think that like i'm in it now and we're just gonna have to see this through. thank you. so i i have a question about youth and about because it's it's incredible that this is a story of fortin's boyhood. this is a story of fortin from the age of 14 through the age of 18. he was a young man and so my question is did your experiences as a teenager as a young man did that inspire in any way were you able to draw from any
experiences? i'm sure that you didn't spend it on a prisonship, but were you able to draw from any experiences or any just insights from your your younger self any way that you could pull from that to take you to this performance? hmm question i think what something that. in my you you know, i really loved. what i imagine james to be is someone that is very i don't know if a social butterfly is appropriate word. but i think that that's what i kind of see him as in the sense of he's moving in all of these settings. you know, i think when i first read the script and he was at his father's sale law and doing work and things of that nature, but when i seen i was like, oh he was seven, you know as a seven year old, you know, that's a much different. so you have to be as a as a
child, you know, you could only have been so talkative and but also very focused and you know, i think that was something that i really related to in, you know, also being a bit of a social butterfly not as focused. i'll admit it might you but it's definitely something that i appreciate. it's always humbling when you read about children the revolutionary era you see sometimes their handwriting their calligraphy and you're just like what it. oh mike. you have any do you have any? any way to weigh in do you do you feel like there was some experiences as you were creating this as you were sort of envisioning this that that you could draw from i just think take him in the sights and sounds again being that there was no other generation that saul. what was unfolding unfold the way it did like? you know, you might have seen the seven years' war you might have something but it wasn't as i don't see it doesn't seem as encompassing as the road to the
revolution and to kind of think of what james is seeing in other school kids it age what they're doing a potentially as well adding that to the mix and just the other young men that he's coming in contact with captain baisley's children two sons daniel bruton the individuals that he might have gone to school with that anthony been as a school. so it just really does give you insight into the lives of young people and what i think is really important is that's transferable to when young people actually see the play itself and you can think wow he was doing all this. he was working with a feed he is, you know, taking up the scrap pieces working with wax doing all these different, you know, some pretty tough work, but it doesn't sound like he's like doing that because that's the time in which he lived and i think it's important for young people to not always place the demands the context of today
into the lives of individuals who lived in the past so that we can give you know, james that that space and others that lived in that space as well, you know, some attentionality and some understanding connection with the world in which he lived. and i want to go back to this idea of the items and and what we know and how we know what we know and that is how do we know what james horton looked like and also how how is that used in terms of in terms of done triani creating this this image of him? well was really cool about this image too. is it because this is in between is two privates here excursions? we get a look at james fortin maybe with some money in his pocket, you know, nathan says i got money in my pocket that that's awesome because it's explaining what it means to be a privateer. maybe getting a nice cut of the of the bounty of some of the things that you were able to procure from other ships and how
there's some pride there's some swagger in his step. we know what it feels like when you get that, you know that fresh set and you go get your haircut and you go out and hit the town. i'm not you know for james there's pride and and your posture and to feel that so that's a real connective symbolism that i think young people can appreciate and it just gives you a clear again another clear window into his life and we do have an image of james wharton that's survives as an older person, but we do it's at the historical society of pennsylvania, but we have that we have a replica of it here. we have an image of him here. so we actually do have a portrait of him. so it's really cool. is you know nathan's costume is what a sailor someone who's working at sea would have been wearing the way he wears his handkerchief. there's some stylized ways of doing that. there's a way of kind of dangling the tassel to your shoe
and a sort of a dandy swagger way for those that work at sea. so we wanted to give some individuality to it as well so that you can really appreciate you know, the fullness of his of his costume and just as persona. and that actually goes to my next question which has to do with what we wear. so you as an actor you're used to costumes, but are you used to wearing hand sewn? absolutely historical accurate to the best of our knowledge garments like what you're wearing today because what you're wearing somebody actually sewed this by hand the way that it would have been done by perhaps wharton's mom or perhaps a sister back when he was when he was this age. how does this feel to embody? this is such a great help to really figure out. oh, wow. this is a, you know, just in terms of how you're able to move in regards to the shoes. you know, i'm these shoes. they don't have a lot of grip
you know, and so i'm on the tile floor. i have to really walk like i'm all right in regards to even the pants, you know the pain there. typically they're from like the scraps that weren't used for sales and things like that and i am really really warm and it is just getting used to various aspects of this outfit, but it helped inform. of how james could have moved what were the things that were possible in terms like range of motion and different things like that? i do want to add really fast. just the one thing that is so interesting to me is the the string instead of while i do have buttons on my pants. there's a sort of shoestring on the back that's used as a belt and if you could think of sweatpants but backwards in order to tighten them. it's a different health say it is always interesting this idea of someone who's done in
historical interpretation myself. and yeah, it is interesting this idea of these underpinnings for for women. of course, you have stays and it's just sort of like you drop something and you're like, oh no, it's seriously i was at the museum once and in costume and i dropped something and i asked because to pick it up for me because i'm just like hey, this is awkward. so do you have any insides? as far as your working in costume working in these these accurate historically accurate garments, especially yes, because one of the individuals that i take on a persona is would have been an elder to james borden cyrus bustle of philadelphia baker being able to tell his story someone that would have worked with james later in his life. someone james is excuse me. cyrus's daughter would have worked with new young james borton as well. so, you know in that particular costume, you know, there's a nice little apron that goes with it and it's just something rich
about being in costume and if something that you can transfer and to change someone's you know concept of what a person especially people of african descent what that looks like there's sort of limiting limited thoughts of based on a person standing if he was enslaved or if they were free of what their work was like and these individuals contributed in so many days from their skill set training prep from their contributions and just engagement in with their community. so all of that can be encompassed by just being in in costume and just giving life and image to something that is not something that is given a visual very often. this interesting this idea of community because in our historical personas, we would have all known each other. i portrayed a school teacher helena harris also known as eleanor harris and so it's just this very interesting we would
know each other. that's just a weird thing went through my head of. oh, wow. it's almost like stepping back in time. so my next question is an audience question and this is a really oh just a really compelling question and that is can you comment on portraying james fortin as a free person, but who's living with the trauma knowing that his that that his people are enslaved and and that fear of also being captured and sold into slavery as well. yeah, absolutely. it's a very interesting vantage point that james had in the sense of there. there was a lot of there was a bit of privilege that not many were afforded during that time, of course, but to know that you know sort of any in any moment, that could be really taken away similar to when they were captured and you know, put upon the amphien and he says, you
know possibly going into the cane fields and you know different things like that there were you know there were instances in his life where he was very getting very close to that line. so yeah. and it's it's so interesting when you're when during the performance when you are in the ship and you think this must be what it's like this must have been or i wonder if this was what it was like that that way that the experiences are speaking to that lived experience is speaking to an ancestral experience. yeah. absolutely. i think you know him just giving pause to take that into account what the possibilities were being sent off the differences the juxtaposition between white officers, you know potentially just being imprisoned for the entirety of the war wherever that might have been at that time versus never seen your family again. it could be as a potential
consequence for you or again, you know doing labor in a space so far away disconnected from your family what the end result possibilities were so he's 15 remember? so who do you discuss this with? how do you build community within no space and one of the things that i love about julie winch's book is she talks about that? he does build community owning amphien. um, and i think it's really important to know as a sailor that that strong connection of men of african descent, you know, talk that motley crew. james is probably more educated than many of those men that he's and that conditions with there are potentially, you know relationships as far as building trust on the royal lewis that people know who james is and what his responsibilities were so it's really important to kind of think of to think about how he sort of ingratiates himself there, but then coming out of that, you know as a free person
of african descent understanding how many people he sees and philadelphia is the largest city of free people of african descent you during james is early years, so but he is also very much seeing people enslaved in philadelphia and the juxtaposition of that as well. so this will again undergird the rest of his life and the works that he will do. we actually have a message from a fortin descendant who's saying. thank you nate for that heartfelt for for performance. it makes them extremely proud to be a direct descendant of james wharton. very cool. this is just amazing and can you can you talk about the the importance of the power of genealogy in your work and and for a living history? i mean, it's the constellation. it's what we use it. it gives us you know, that map that's it's so much more as of, you know, some of the family trees you're talking about that you can.
put certain dates up against what else is going on in and locally statewide nationally to put things into context also, just seeing where people decide to break off where people so there's just so many important components to it, but then to take everything. you know take that sky view of this family tree and to remember james wasn't the first descendant who was a free person of african descent. so that's another you know, really remarkable story and of itself and how long their family has been here in philadelphia, you know going back to you know, the the this potentially 1680s, you know, william penn and and and and the founding of the city as far the founding of the city. i mean, this was a space that of course was inhabited about the lineabe, but so we need to talk about going all the way back, but it's important to kind of keep everything in context of where the family originated and where it is today.
are here? yeah, absolutely and and it's such an amazing thing to be able to what it is such a honor to be able to perform for the standard of james ford and i think that's amazing. just that ability to be able to track your lineage in such a way. you know, i from my family, you know, personally, we i'm able to track a few generations beyond, you know for me, i new my great-grandmother and and i think just that passing on the baton and you know in the fact that james's children really continue the work, you know abolition and abolitionist work and really helped continue his leg. keep his legacy going. yeah, it's it really is heavy. i imagine that this is encouraged you to maybe study more about your about your family history. absolutely. i'm someone who doesn't know a lot about my my mother's side of her family going back so far.
so this definitely it always piqued my interest. it's something before this, but even more so now and but also, you know understanding the challenge is as an african-american and being able to really go back into your families. there's so many people whose families have been scattered and it's very challenging to do this work, but it's so wonderful that we have a lot of friends of the museum who have done that work and do workshops to help others begin to stitch their family legacies together. so what's really important work and we're so thankful that we have such great friends to continue to help us and inspire us to continue on to you know, find our our backgrounds in our past. so it is absolutely amazing that james wharton survived all of these experiences. i i it's it's a fortune for us. can you talk about his adult life and his adult work and he's
working abolition his work is an activist. man, i can't i would be remiss if i didn't start with the ford women and talk about his wife charlotte and then you go from there to especially his daughter sarah louise harriet margaret and how they work together establishing schools becoming pillars of the community linking up with the you know, philadelphia female anti-slavery society helping to establish, pennsylvania all so that scope of work coming out of james ford is incredible, but then to think about what james did and taking over robert bridges' business like to think he starts just doing a jobs bridges is so taken aback by him that he continually brings him up and gives him more positions within the sale loft and when bridges is ready to retire he passes the baton to james fortune to to start that to take over the business where he becomes a thriving thousand
air and you know really becomes a pillar of his i like to think of him in a lot of respects as like to what benjamin franklin was and sort of mid-century 1700s philadelphia for in a lot of ways especially in the black community. is that in and more and allow the responsibilities that he's taking on as well. it really is a steward and a pillar of the philadelphia a black philadelphia community. and i'm glad that you mentioned before for fortin women because that was i mean even into the era even into the far 19th century where we have charlotte horton his granddaughter. so a lot of a lot of important people who did amazing things. so going forward. there's what else are we hoping to discover about james fortin about black revolutionary war soldiers about how what else do we looking to discover and how will that be brought to life here at the museum? um going forward we are working
diligently on an upcoming something that we're working on an exhibition on the fortin family it it's just kind it's just amazing how much i've been scaffold in the past few years since i've been here from discovery cards from fortin's work in the galleries to virtual programming. you know gives insight to fortin story. there's just so much to build upon and i'm very excited to incorporate nathan's work. we have other pieces to this play as well that you know, we'll see life one day. so it's just it's just a constant building of of the the connective threads at fort has laid right down the street from where the museum is today where we're right down the street from where james fort grew up so as a philadelphia you should walk around and feel the connection to the spaces and places that james fortune and his family and
really all of those that that worked around him from the richard allans to the absalom jones to the you know, the the sarah bass islands. it's just incredible to see all this constellation of people put together. so we've got a few minutes left. i've got a couple of questions. i want to ask and one is an audience question. it's a great question. and that is nathan. what's the best question you've gotten from a kid about your performance? yeah, i think it would it would probably be. how how do i most relate with james fortin some similar to what i had spoke about earlier? and i think some other you know, just really nice questions were they were saying like, how do you work one of the questions something to the effect of? what was your like funniest mess up? it was so honest that i actually
oh, yeah actually have to think about it. so i love that honesty. yeah, awesome. so the question that i want to wrap up with is we've got an anniversary coming up 2026 is going to be important to anniversary of hearing the declaration of independence and our anniversary of the declaration of independence as a nation. how do you want fortin to be remembered across the nation and this is an audience question and a good one from whoever asked it. i want james fortune. i want elizabeth freeman. i want all of these, you know, these really these stories that often have been not shared nationally. to be in the same echelon as what we consider the founders. they are the founders. they're the founding blocks and so many different ways. we think about fortin's work as a as a sale maker forens. where as a privateer his
connections to the declaration. same thing for someone like elizabeth freeman how she worked with early founding documents that get her to her story of freedom. so all of that should be in that pot when we talk about stories that talk about the inception of this country absolutely. i think that really got it got right to the point. yeah, and really just understanding the different seeing the new seeing the different perspectives that were there when the declaration was being great and in who was affected by it and and what ways i think that that's such a important part to learn, you know for me, i think. growing up. i didn't really know you know, i think there's a sort of understanding that. you know was equal but not really equal and you know, it was for everyone but not really everyone and so to hear that.
a person of african descent heard these words and was charged in such a way to live out his life as how we've read and seen i think it's just remarkable. thank you so much. i think that's what's really special about. this museum is the way for me. it's the way that i can see myself. back during the revolution the revolution belongs to all of us and i think that's really really special. so i want to thank everyone for tuning in. thank you so much mike idris. thank you so much nathan alfred tate again. thank you all so much for tuning in and please catch us at the next program and also, come to the museum come visit.
tonight's conversation will be about the 1960 presidential election. the effects of which continue to reverberate across today's political landscape we all think we know that that history is well written and well-spoken for but now irwin gelman has become america's contemporary leading authority on the 1