Mary Virginia Wood Forten: From North Carolina to Philadelphia

Abolitionist Mary Virginia Wood Forten (1815-1840), the mother of Charlotte Forten Grimké (1837-1914), created one of the five extant antebellum African American friendship albums. Born enslaved in North Carolina and emancipated at 17 by her wealthy planter father, she, her mother, and her three siblings relocated to Philadelphia in 1833. There, she became a charter member of the interracial Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society and the Female Vigilance Association. She married Robert B. Forten, son of antislavery activist James Forten, in 1836, and their daughter Charlotte Louise Forten was born the following year. She died of consumption in 1840 at the age of 25. (See Mary Maillard,

Wood Forten belonged to the same elite African American circles in Philadelphia as Amy Matilda Cassey. Like Cassey’s, Wood Forten’s album was the collaborative production of a close-knit community. Her husband Robert B. Forten came from one of Philadelphia’s prominent African American families, and his siblings Mary Isabella and James Forten, Jr. contributed to the album. It contains verses and inscriptions that display the refinement and respectability of elite African American men and women, and in some cases speak directly to the abolitionist cause.

Ready to explore? Check out our exhibit for more on African American friendship albums, and view Wood Forten's album here.