In honor of Black History Month here are just a few notable Americans that you may be interested in learning more about.
James Forten (1766-1842) grew up attending the African School run by Quaker Anthony Benezet. During the Revolution, he sailed with Stephen Decatur, Sr., father of the War Hero of 1812. Forten was captured and imprisoned on a British starving ship. After the war, he made a fortune as a sailmaker in Philadelphia, employing both black and white workers;
Samuel T. Wilcox (c.1850) went from a boat steward on the Ohio River to building a high-quality wholesale and retail grocery business in Cincinnati, having commercial links and markets in New York, New Orleans, Boston and Baltimore. He also had a pickling and preserving business;
Stephen Smith (1795-1873), at age 21, borrowed $50 to purchase his freedom. He started a successful lumber and real estate business, which was vandalized and burned, but he didn’t give up, he restarted it. He became one of the wealthiest businessmen in Pennsylvania, was on the board of a bank, and helped lead the abolitionist movement.
William Alexander Leidesdorff, Jr. (1810-1848), of African Cuban and Jewish descent, established a shipyard, lumber yard, ship chandlery shop supplying equipment for steamboats and sailing ships. As one of the richest residents, he built San Francisco’s first hotel, first public school, and was proponent of California becoming a U.S. State.
Robert Gordon (c.1846) served in a coal yard so faithfully that he was given control of the enterprise. He made it so successful, he was able to buy his freedom. He bought land and built docks along the Ohio River where he bought and sold coal, employing mulattoes. By the time of his death in 1884, his estate was worth $200,000, equivalent to $5 million today.
These Americans came from an era that was difficult for them to follow their dreams. They not only beat the odds but became great role models for all Americans.