Charlotte Forten, born into a prominent Free Black family in Philadelphia, came to Port Royal, SC in 1862. An ardent abolitionist, poet, and early civil rights activist, Forten taught the newly freed people in the Sea Islands for a couple of years before returning North due to declining health. Many contemporary accounts mention her beauty and charm while resident during the Port Royal Experiment and teaching at Penn School with Laura Towne and Ellen Murray. In 1878 she married a man thirteen years her junior, Rev. Francis Grimké, nephew of abolitionists Sarah Grimké and Angelina Grimké Weld. Their only child did not survive infancy. Often in poor health throughout her life, Charlotte died at age 78 of a stroke on July 23, 1915 in Washington, DC. Her husband lived another 22 years and died without ever remarrying. The couple is buried in the National Harmony Memorial Park Cemetery in Hyattsville, Maryland. Their home at 1608 R Street, NW in Washington, DC was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 in commemoration of her formative role in the early civil rights movement.
Materials and links selected by Grace Morris Cordial, MLS, SL, CA, Manager of the Beaufort District Collection in the Beaufort County Library (SC). Latest update: 13 October 2020. Created 9 February 2012.
“Only a Teacher: Schoolhouse Pioneers” Only a Teacher documentary series originally broadcast on the Public Broadcasting System in 1992. No date on the website.
Charlotte Forten Enters Salem Normal School March 13, 1855 in Mass Moments. Forten was the first black student admitted to the private school.
“Charlotte Forten Grimké: Abolitionist, Poet, Essayist and Teacher” by Jone Johnson Lewis, updated 11 February 2020, Thought Co. website
Journal of Charlotte Forten, edited by Ray Allen Billington, 1953.
“Charlotte Forten Grimké: American Abolitionist and Educator,” by Jennifer Wallach, Encyclopedia Britannica Public website
“Charlotte Forten Grimké (1837 – 1914)” by Shirley Yee, January 17, 2007, Black Past website
“Charlotte Forten Grimké,” National Parks Service includes a brief outline of her life and career as an early civil rights activist. Latest update: 19 March 2019
“Charlotte Forten Grimké House“, National Parks Service includes a short biography of her and a link to the National Historic Landmark Nomination of the site in 1976. Last update: 19 March 2019
“Biography of Charlotte Forten: Abolitionist, Teacher, Nurse“, Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries website of the National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health, 2010. Last update: 15 July 2013
“Charlotte Grimké , abolitionist and educator,” African-American Registry website
“Nine Poems by Charlotte Forten Grimké,” Beltway Poetry Quarterly, includes a brief sketch of the poet with texts of her poems “Charles Sumner,” “Wordsworth,” “The Angel’s Visit,” and “In Florida” among others.
After her beloved aunt’s death Angeline Weld Grimké wrote an elegiac poem entitled “To Keep the Memory of Charlotte Forten Grimké. Angelina lived with her aunt and uncle while her father, Archibald, was serving as U.S. Consul to the Dominican Republic, 1894 – 1898.
“Charlotte Forten Grimke,” Wikipedia, latest update 16 January 2020.
“Watching for Jubilee” by Grace Cordial, 27 December 2018, Connections blog, Beaufort County Library, includes Forten’s description of Emancipation Day activities at Camp Saxton.
Beaufort SC and Surrounding Sea Islands Women’s History Sites by Peggy Thompson includes links to original documents and short essays about Charlotte Forten, Laura Towne, Ellen Murray, and other missionary teachers and nurses during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras.
A search in the “Discus” databases provided for schools and public libraries in South Carolina through the State Library resulted in 600 hits on 2 May 2019. Contact your public library for information on how to access this subscription database.
Check out these materials from a SCLENDS Library:
Beaufort, South Carolina: Pages from the Past by Gerhard Spieler, 2008.
Charlotte Forten’s Mission [VHS, DVD], 1985, 1996, 2005, 2009.
A Free Black Girl Before the Civil War: The Diary of Charlotte Forten, 1854 edited by Christy Steele and Kerry A. Graves, 2000 records Forten’s schooling and participation in the antislavery movement for young readers. A Fact Finders informational book for grades 4 – 7 was published in 2014 as Diary of Charlotte Forten: A Free Black Girl Before the Civil War.
I, Charlotte Forten, Black and Free edited by Polly Longsworth, 1970 is a biography based on Forten’s journal edited by Ray Allen Billington in 1953.
I dare not fail: notable African American women educators by Mary Wilds, 2004.
The Journal of Charlotte L. Forten by Charlotte Forten, edited by Ray Allen Billington, 1953.
The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimké by Charlotte L. Forten, edited by Brenda E. Stevenson, 1988.
Notable Black American Women edited by Jessie Carney Smith, 1992.
Penn Center: A History Preserved by Orville Vernon Burton with Wilbur Cross; Foreword by Emory S. Campbell, 2014.
Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861 – 1893, volume 2 of The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina by Stephen R. Wise, Lawrence S. Rowland with Gerhard Spieler, 2015, particularly in Chapter 7 “Emancipation” which includes her teaching responsibilities and Chapter 10 “The Attack on Charleston, 1863” which discusses her nursing activities in the aftermath of the assault on Fort Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, United States Colored Troops.
Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment by Wille Lee Rose, 1964 remains the classic treatment of the local circumstances in which Forten participated as a teacher to the former enslaved.
A Sea Island Diary: A History of St. Helena Island by Edith M. Dabbs, 1983.
Words for the Hour: A New Anthology of American Civil War Poetry edited by Faith Barrett, 2005, contains Forten’s poem, “The Two Voices,” on pp. 41 -44.
Come to the Beaufort District Collection to see these items:
SC B FORTEN A Tribute to Charlotte Forten, 1837 – 1914 by Roberta Hughes Wright, 1993.
SC B FORTEN I, Charlotte Forten, Black and Free edited by Polly Longsworth, 1970.
370.9757 BUR Penn Center: A History Preserved by Orville Vernon Burton with Wilbur Cross; Foreword by Emory S. Campbell, 2014.
SC 371.1 JOU The Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimké edited by Brenda Stevenson, 1988.
SC 371.1. JOU Journal of Charlotte Forten, edited by Ray Allen Billington, 1953.
SC 975.704 ROS Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment by Wille Lee Rose, 1964.
SC 975.799 DAB 1983 A Sea Island Diary: A History of St. Helena Island by Edith M. Dabbs, 1983 describes some of personal attributes while living at Oaklands Plantation and working at the Penn School with Laura Towne.
SC 975.799 ROW V. 2 Rebellion, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1861 – 1893, volume 2 of The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina by Stephen R. Wise, Lawrence S. Rowland with Gerhard Spieler, 2015.
Grimké, Charlotte Lottie Forten (1837-1914) [BDC Vertical File]
Grimké Family [BCD Vertical File]
Note: The Beaufort District Collection (BDC) exists to acquire, preserve, maintain and make accessible a research collection of permanent value which records the history, culture, and environment of the South Carolina lowcountry wedged between the Combahee (pronounced “kum-bee”) and Savannah Rivers.
Contact the Beaufort District Collection at 843-255-6468 or e-mail email@example.com for additional information about local history and archives relating to the people, places, and themes of the history, culture, and natural environment of Beaufort County, Jasper County and Hampton County, South Carolina.
Please check the Beaufort County Library (SC) system’s homepage for current hours of operation and locations.