The Journal of Charlotte L. Forten: A Free Negro in the Slave Era


Charlotte L. Forten was a delicate young woman of sixteen when in 1854 she left her native Philadelphia to launch the educational and teaching career described in the following Journal. Her interests were those of other intelligent girls reared in that calm Quaker city during its antebellum days; she read widely and with a catholic taste that embraced everything from the classics to sentimental poetry, attended lectures avidly, listened rapturously to the musical recitals of wandering artists, gazed worshipfully on the steel engravings that passed for art among unsophisticated Americans, and took mild pleasure in the ailments that were the stock in trade of all well-bred females during the Victorian era. Yet one thing distinguished Charlotte Forten from other Philadelphia belles. She was a Negro, destined to endure the constant insults that were the lot of persons of color in pre-Civil-War America.

That no other influence was so strong in shaping Charlotte Forten's thoughts is amply revealed in the Journal that follows. When she began keeping that record, on a warm May morning in 1854, she had just arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, from Philadelphia. She was then, if we may believe her contemporaries, a handsome girl, delicate, slender, and with a finely chiseled countenance which revealed in the lightness of the skin a trace of white blood among her ancestors. All who knew her commented on the alert intelligence of her face and on the frailty of her graceful body. Indeed, as the pages of her Journal disclose, she was destined to long periods when "lung fever" forced her to forsake her studies and teaching. But on that May morning illness was furthest from her thoughts. Ahead lay the adventure of learning, and that was exciting enough to justify the diary she was beginning.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1953


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