Monday, May 16, 2016

"I Shall Never Prove a Traitor to My Country!"


Fifteen year-old James Forten was a student at Quaker School in Philadelphia. But this was no time for school; his bustling port city, the largest in America, was at war--with the world's only super-power.

James had seen the Founding Fathers as they came and went on their revolutionary business. He'd heard the words of the Declaration and took them to heart. He became a drummer in the Continental Army. Now older, he sought more adventurous service, signing up as a powder boy on the privateer 'Royal Louis'; a dangerous job in the best of circumstances.

On his very first voyage, the 'Royal Louis' was victorious, taking a British Navy brig after a pitched battle. Bringing her back to Philadelphia, the crew received their shares and were hailed as heroes by their fellow citizens. Then, it was back to sea again under Captain Stephen Decatur, Sr.

The Fates of War were not twice kind ; Forten and his fellow crewmen were overwhelmed by the British frigate 'Amphylon' and two other vessels. They found themselves captives of the British, who often regarded American privateers worse than pirates, being rebels as well.

But Forten was befriended aboard by the son of the ship's captain. They played marbles together, and although Forten won, the captain's son had found a friend. He begged his father to bring young James back to England with them, away from all danger. The father agreed. On one condition:

...that James Forten renounce his loyalty to America.

"I shall never prove a traitor to my country," said James--and the Philadelphian boy was now an American man.

Remarkable, yes. But made more so by one fact: James Forten was black. As were 20 of the 200 other crewmen.

Although undoubtedly regarded by many in Philadelphia as a second-class citizen, he had been a free man there. The British routinely transported black prisoners-of-war to the West Indies to become slaves. The captain gave him the same choice as white prisoners: join the British Navy or languish in the prison boats.

As James had already ruled out treason, the captain transfered him to the 'HMS Jersey', with a letter asking for Forten's humane treatment. About 11,000 POW's lost their lives in these brutal prison ships floating in New York harbor. Their corpses were often dumped overboard into the bay where the Brooklyn Naval Yard stands today.

When an officer was being released in a prisoner exchange, Forten had his chance to escape by hiding in the luggage; but he gave his place to a younger white boy, even helping to carry the contraband luggage down the gang-plank.

Eventually, he was exchanged and released, walking home from New York to Philadelphia.

He became an apprentice sail-maker. Then foreman. Then an owner; he was a success, a multi-millionaire by today's standards, and employed a large, mixed-race work-force.

He became active in politics, petitioning Congress on behalf of escaped slaves, founding 'The Liberator' with fellow abolitionist Wm. Lloyd Garrison, supporting temperance & women's rights, and was a pillar in his African Methodist Church. The American Anti-Slavery Society was founded in his home.

When he passed in 1842, 5000 people, both black and white, attended his funeral to honor the man.  James Forten: American patriot, civil rights advocate, valued businessman and Christian gentleman.

Perhaps history wouldn't have judged him too harshly had he taken up the offer of the British captain, but his patriotism and integrity forbade it.

Ours is a time when "a real and generous love of our country" is fashionably mocked or at the least, held suspect. America's interests have been sold out for money or ideology at even the highest levels. The very idea of citizenship is constantly being demeaned, degraded and defined downward. Allegedly sane people think nothing of giving over our defense policy to the tender mercies of trans-national Ghanian technocrats, Syrian Ba'ath Party stooges and French diplo-whores.

One can't help but compare Mr. Forten's demeanor to those of certain other personnel, who, like Mr. Forten, volunteered for service in a very different America. Unlike Forten, they actually hoped to be sent to the West Indies, specifically Guantanamo. Not as POWs--but to conspire with the enemy held there. As spies for a medieval death-cult, these 'translators'...even a so-called 'chaplain', betrayed the country to which their lying tongues swore a meaningless oath.

Mr. Forten's American life stands as a four-square, tri-cornered, two-fisted, first-person-singular rebuke to all damned traitors and two and a half centuries later, still shines like a Pole Star, a guide for us all.

Stand up and shine with him, you patriot, you.

(Written in 2003, this article references an incident of espionage at Guantanamo. Eric Holder was still in private practice, his law firm representing detainees and Obama was still an unknown crypto-Communist back-bencher, and helping terrorists to escape was not yet policy.)

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