ACT English Passage 05: James Forten, Revolutionary Sailmaker

[1] "I have been taken prisoner for the liberties of my country, and never will prove a traitor to her interests." [A] Before entering a British-run prison during the American Revolution prisoner of war, James Forten, (61) said these words as a patriotic rejection of his British captor's offer to free him and educate him in England.

[2] [62] He knew his chance of surviving (63) imprisonment were slim. Forten also knew that if released at the war's end or as part of an exchange, he, (64) a free black man, might be captured and sold into slavery as he journeyed home to Philadelphia. Forten not only survived but became one of the most successful businessmen and ardent abolitionists in the United States. [65]

[3] Forten's rise to prosperity began upon his return home when a sailmaker hired him to design, mend, and sew sails. Forten’s knowledge of ships, gained from his experiences as a sailor during the war, paid off. He rose (66) to the position of foreman, and in 1798, Forten bought the sailmaker’s business. [B]

[4] Employing thirty-eight workers, (67) white and black, Forten held his employees to a high standard. Viewed as a professional academy, his business produced skilled apprentices who constructed sails for dozens of vessels. The bulk of Forten’s business records was probably lost after the business was sold. [68] Soon, many regarded Forten as the city’s premier sailmaker in Philadelphia (69).

[5] A savvy businessman, Forten supported abolitionist causes (70). When the War of 1812 closed the port of Philadelphia, Forten used his profits in real estate and lending to support his sailmaking enterprise. When the need for smaller, (71) quicker vessels changed sail design, he adapted. One thing Forten refused to do, however, was fit a slave ship with sails.

[6] In fact, historians estimate that the sailmaker invested over greater than half his (72) fortune in work to abolish slavery. [C] One of the wealthiest men in Philadelphia, Forten helped finance the Liberator, a powerful abolitionist newspaper. [D] The Revolutionary War veteran, who served in this war, (73) believed that the United States owed all residents the right to freedom.



B. Revolution, prisoner of war James Forten,
C. Revolution, prisoner of war James Forten
D. Revolution prisoner of war, James Forten

62. Which of the following sentences, if added here, would provide the most logical transition from the preceding paragraph to this paragraph?

F. Forten was one of many to serve in the American Revolution.
G. Forten’s rejection was risky.
H. Such an offer must have been unusual.
J. Many would later admire Forten’s skills as an innovator.


B. chances to surviving
C. chances of surviving
D. chance to survive


G. exchange; he as
H. exchange-he
J. exchange. He

65. If the writer were to delete the preceding sentence, the paragraph would primarily lose:

A. a description of the tactics Forten used to survive imprisonment and become a successful businessman and abolitionist.
B. a transition from a discussion of the ramifications of Forten’s decision to a discussion of his success as a sailmaker and abolitionist.
C. a comparison between Forten’s work as a businessman and his role as an abolitionist.
D. an analysis of how Forten transitioned from a prisoner to a businessman and abolitionist.


G. had arose
H. had rose
J. raised


B. workers, whom were
C. workers:
D. workers

68. The writer is considering deleting the preceding sentence. Should the sentence be kept or deleted?

F. Kept, because it establishes a correlation between Forten’s business records and the early success of Forten’s business.
G. Kept, because it provides evidence to support the claim that Forten employed thirty-eight workers.
H. Deleted, because it blurs the paragraph’s focus on the success of Forten’s business.
J. Deleted, because it contradicts the idea that Forten had high expectations for his business.


B. foremost leading sailmaker in his native
C. premier sailmaker in the city of Philadelphia.
D. premier sailmaker.

70. Given that all the following choices are accurate, which one most effectively provides a transition into the next sentence of the essay?

G. had fought for his country in the Revolutionary War.
H. donated to such places as schools and hospitals.
J. maintained his business during difficult times.


B. smaller, and more
C. smaller, more
D. smaller


G. over more than half of his own
H. more than over half of his
J. over half of his


B. veteran, cultivating the sails of freedom,
C. veteran, nurturing the road to reform,
D. veteran

Questions 74 and 75 ask about the preceding passage as a whole.

74. The writer is considering adding the following true statement to the essay: Writing under a pen name, Forten himself submitted numerous articles and letters, calling for the end of slavery. If the writer were to add this sentence to the essay, it would most logically be placed at:

F. Point A in Paragraph 1.
G. Point B in Paragraph 3.
H. Point C in Paragraph 6.
J. Point D in Paragraph 6.

75. Suppose the writer’s primary purpose had been to describe in detail the daily operations of a successful business in the newly formed United States. Would this essay accomplish that purpose?

A. Yes, because it describes how Forten became a successful businessman and how his business survived numerous challenges.
B. Yes, because it describes the historical significance of Forten’s business and how the business evolved.
C. No, because it focuses more on Forten as a patriot, businessman, and abolitionist than on the daily workings of his business.
D. No, because it focuses primarily on contrasting Forten’s work as an abolitionist with his work as a sailmaker.


61. The best answer is C because the comma following the introductory adverb clause ("Before entering a British-run prison during the American Revolution”) is appropriate. Both the phrase “prisoner of war” and the name “James Forten” are restrictive in the sentence, so neither should be set off or interrupted by commas.

62. The best answer is G because this choice best introduces the focus of the paragraph, which is on the risks Forten faced by rejecting the British captor’s offer and choosing to stay in the United States.

63. The best answer is C because the plural noun chances agrees in number with the plural verb were, and the choice correctly uses the preposition of in the idiomatic phrase “chances of surviving.”

64. The best answer is F because a comma is required both following the dependent adverbial clause “if released at the war’s end or as part of an exchange” and following the noun he (to separate the noun from its appositive “a free black man”).

65. The best answer is B because the sentence demonstrates that Forten did make the right choice, despite the risks, and became successful as a result. Without this sentence, the essay lacks a clear transition to paragraph 3.

66. The best answer is F because the simple past tense rose is consistent with the verb tense in the rest of the paragraph.

67. The best answer is A because the appositive phrase “white and black” further describes the workers. Because it is nonrestrictive, this phrase needs to be set off with commas.

68. The best answer is H because the focus of the paragraph is on how Forten’s sailmaking business became a success; the information about his lost business records is unrelated to this focus.

69. The best answer is D because it is the most concise, least redundant choice. The phrase “premier sailmaker” by itself is sufficient to express the high regard people had for Forten’s sailmaking business.

70. The best answer is J because the paragraph provides two examples of Forten overcoming hardships in his business: the closing of the port of Philadelphia during the War of 1812 and changing demands in sail design, both of which he adapted to. Therefore, this choice most logically introduces the focus of this paragraph.

71. The best answer is A because the coordinate adjectives smaller and quicker both modify the noun vessels, and therefore a comma is needed to separate the two adjectives. The order of the adjectives could be swapped to say “quicker, smaller vessels,” and it would not change the meaning of the sentence. Likewise, the sentence could say “smaller and quicker” or “quicker and smaller.”

72. The best answer is J because the phrase “over half of his” is the clearest and most concise choice to express how much money Forten invested in abolitionist causes.

73. The best answer is D because it is the most logical and concise choice to conclude the essay.

74. The best answer is J because the information about the articles Forten submitted under a pen name makes logical sense only if placed after the sentence that introduces his financing of the newspaper Liberator.

75. The best answer is C because the focus of the essay is on Forten and the significant roles he played (patriot, businessman, abolitionist) and not on the more specific daily operations of his successful business.