World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Robert Purvis

Article Id: WHEBN0000368608
Reproduction Date:

Title: Robert Purvis  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Abolitionism in the United States, James Forten, History of Protestantism in the United States, William Cooper Nell, History of Christianity in the United States
Collection: 1810 Births, 1898 Deaths, 19Th-Century African-American Activists, African-American Abolitionists, American People of English Descent, American People of German-Jewish Descent, American People of Moroccan Descent, American People of Moroccan-Jewish Descent, American Sephardic Jews, American Tax Resisters, American Temperance Activists, Amherst College Alumni, Burials in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Place, Colored Conventions People, People from Charleston, South Carolina, Underground Railroad People
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Robert Purvis

Robert Purvis circa 1840-1849

Robert Purvis (August 4, 1810 – April 15, 1898) was an American abolitionist in the United States. He was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and was educated at Amherst College in Massachusetts, but lived most of his life in Philadelphia,Pennsylvania. In 1833 he helped found the American Anti-Slavery Society and the Library Company of Colored People. From 1845-1850 he served as president of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society and also traveled to England to gain support for the movement.

Of mixed race, Purvis and his brothers were three-quarters European by ancestry and inherited considerable wealth from their native English father after his death in 1826. Purvis's parents had lived in common law marriage, preventing them from marrying because their mother was a free woman of color, of Moroccan and Jewish descent. The sons chose to identify with the black community and used their education and wealth to support abolition of slavery and anti-slavery activities, as well as projects in education to help the advance of African Americans.


  • Early life 1
  • Political life 2
  • Marriage and family 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Early life

Purvis was born in 1810 in Charleston, South Carolina. His mother, Harriet Judah, was a free woman of color, the daughter of former slave Dido Badaraka and Baron Judah, a Jewish American a native of Charleston. Robert's father was , an English immigrant. As an adult, Purvis told a reporter about his family: he said that his maternal grandmother Badaraka had been kidnapped at age 12 from Morocco, transported to the colonies on a slave ship, and sold as a slave in Charleston. He described her as a full-blooded Moor: dark-skinned with tightly curled hair. She was freed at age 19 by her master's will.[1][2] Harriet's father was Baron Judah, of European-Jewish descent.[3] Also born in Charleston, Baron was the third of ten children of Hillel Judah, a German-Jewish immigrant, and Abigail Seixas, his Sephardic Jewish wife, who was simillary born in Charleston.

Purvis told the reporter that his grandparents Badaraka and Judah had married. His 21st-century biographer thought that unlikely, given the social prominence of the Judah family in Charleston. She learned that Judah's parents had owned slaves. Badaraka and Judah had a relationship for several years, and Harriet and a son were their children together. In 1790 Judah broke off his relationship with Badaraka when he moved with his parents from Charleston to Richmond, Virginia. There he married a Jewish woman and had four children with her.[4]

William Purvis was from Northumberland; he had immigrated to the United States as a young man with some of his brothers to make their fortunes. He became a wealthy cotton salesman in Charleston and became a naturalized US citizen. After William's father died when they were children, their mother had moved the family to Edinburgh, Scotland for her sons' education.[3][5]

William Purvis and the younger Harriet Judah lived together as husband and wife, but racial law prevented their marriage. The couple had three sons: William born in 1806, Robert born in 1810, and Joseph born in 1812.[5] In 1819 Purvis moved all the family north to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the boys attended the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society's Clarkson School. Purvis intended to consolidate his business affairs and return with his family to England, where he thought his sons would have better opportunities. He died in 1826 before they could move.

Purvis had intended his sons to be educated as gentlemen, and Robert and Joseph Purvis both graduated from Amherst College in Massachusetts. They returned to Philadelphia, where their family was among the black elite. After their father died, Purvis and his two brothers were to share an estate worth $250,000. In 1828 the oldest brother William died of tuberculosis. Robert and Joseph inherited increased shares of the estate; they used their wealth to support their political activism and public service.[6]

Political life

In 1833, Purvis helped abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison establish the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia and signed its "Declaration of Sentiments". Living for nearly the rest of the 19th century, Purvis was the last surviving member of the society.[3]

Also in 1833, Purvis helped establish the [7] which urged the repeal of a new state constitutional amendment disfranchising free African Americans. There were widespread tensions and fears among whites following Nat Turner's slave rebellion of 1831 in Virginia. Although Pennsylvania was a free state that had abolished slavery, state legislators persisted in passing this amendment to restrict free blacks' political rights. They did not regain suffrage until after the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, following the Civil War.

From 1845-1850, Purvis served as president of the Underground Railroad, Purvis served as chairman of the General Vigilance Committee from 1852-1857, which gave direct aid to fugitive slaves. According to his records, Purvis estimated that from 1831 until 1861, he helped one slave per day achieve freedom, aiding a total of more than 9,000 slaves to escape to the North. He used his own house, located outside the city, as a station on the Underground Railroad.[3]

Purvis supported many progressive causes in addition to abolition. With his good friend Lucretia Mott, he supported women's rights and suffrage. When Mott was president, he was a member of the American Equal Rights Association. Purvis also attended the founding meeting of the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association.[3] He also supported temperance and similar social issues. He believed in integrated groups working for greater progress for all. By the end of the Civil War, which gained the emancipation of slaves and suffrage for black men, Purvis had reached his late 50s and became less active in political affairs.

Marriage and family

Harriet Forten Purvis (1810-1875), taken about 1874

In 1832, Purvis married [8]

The Purvises had eight children, including son [8]

After Harriet died, Purvis married Tacy Townsend, who was of European descent.[2] As a public figure, he received some criticism for this marriage, from both whites and blacks who cared about the color line.


  1. ^ Margaret Hope Bacon, But One Race: The Life of Robert Purvis, Albany: State University of New York, 2007, pp.7-8
  2. ^ a b Bankard, Bob (March 3, 2008). "The Passage to Freedom: The Underground Railroad". Archived from the original on July 5, 2008. Retrieved May 3, 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "ROBERT PURVIS DEAD.; Anti-Slavery Leader Expires in Philadelphia, Aged 87 --His Work for the Black Race". The New York Times. April 16, 1898. Retrieved April 26, 2014. 
  4. ^ Bacon (2007), But One Race, pp.7-9
  5. ^ a b Bacon (2007), But One Race, p. 11
  6. ^ Bacon (2007), But One Race, pp. 21 and 23
  7. ^ Purvis, Robert (1833). DECLARATION OF SENTIMENTS OF THE AMERICAN ANTI-SLAVERY CONVENTION. Philadelphia: R.F Walcutt. pp. 69–70. 
  8. ^ a b /Part 3/"The Forten Women", WGBH Educational Foundation, 1998Africans in America, accessed May 4, 2008

External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.