Forten the Sailmaker Essay - Critical Essays

Esther M. Douty


Douty’s perception of Forten as an individual who was never able to hate unifies the events that she has chosen to emphasize in Forten the Sailmaker. From his earliest job as a chimney sweep to his anguish at watching the burning of Pennsylvania Hall, the building dedicated to free discussion, by a mob, he remained true to his principles of understanding and compassion.

While the author’s admiration for her subject is apparent, she does not attempt to create a larger-than-life portrait. Instead, she includes small details such as his proficiency at marbles and his apparent delight at teasing his children by making them wait until after church to open their gifts on Christmas Day. These lighter moments of life contrast sharply with the first anticolonization gathering, when he chaired the meeting and helped to write the document protesting the resettlement of freed slaves in an African colony. The writer shows both the child who participated in rock-throwing games against British drummer boys and the man who allied himself with the cause of abolition and openly supported the antislavery newspaper The Liberator.

Under the biographer’s competent hand, Forten’s life unfolds as a success story, from the tattered rags that he wore as a released prisoner at the end of the revolu-tionary war to the spacious home on Lombard Street in Philadelphia that became a haven for those in need. Douty uses key events from Forten’s life to shape the story. At one point in the narrative, she uses an incident that...

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