J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, October 03, 2011

An Introduction to James Forten

James Forten: Liberty’s Black Champion is an unusual author-published book because the author, Prof. Julie Winch of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, has already published a respected scholarly study of the same subject.

Her A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten, from Oxford University Press, examined the life of a Revolutionary War veteran who went on to be one of Philadelphia’s leading sail-makers and civil-rights activists. Winch also studied that man’s larger community in Philadelphia’s Black Elite.

She wrote and published her second biography of James Forten (1766-1842) for folks who aren’t looking for a scholarly approach, though they still appreciate solid research: history readers outside academia, high-school students, book groups, and the like. It’s available exclusively through her website.

Forten enlisted on a privateer at the age of fifteen. The Royal Navy captured that ship, and for a while he was in danger of being sold into slavery. The story of how he survived has inspired a comics version, but that retelling offers a narrower view and takes more liberty with the history than Winch’s studies.

Winch’s latest book, The Clamorgans: One Family’s History of Race in America, was published this spring by Hill & Wang. I met her at an author talk last June, and she’ll share more from the rich vein of historical gossip about the Clamorgans of St. Louis on 19 October at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston.

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