Robert Purvis


Robert Purvis

Robert Purvis (August 4, 1810April 15, 1898) was an antebellum African-American abolitionist in the United States. He was born in Charleston, educated at Amherst, and lived most of his life in Philadelphia. Since Purvis and his brothers were three-quarters white, they were light-skinned and could have lived as whites. They both chose instead to identify with the black community and use their education and wealth to support abolition and anti-slavery activities, as well as projects in education to help African Americans advance.

Early life

Purvis was born in Charleston, South Carolina. His mother Harriet Judah was a free woman of color, the daughter of former slave Dido Badaraka. In his late age, Purvis told a reporter that his grandmother Badaraka had been kidnapped at age 12 from Morocco 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 owner's will. [Margaret Hope Bacon, "But One Race: The Life of Robert Purvis", Albany: State University of New York, 2007, pp.7-8] [Bob Bankard, "The Passage to Freedom: The Underground Railroad", 3 March 2008 [http://www.phillyburbs.com/undergroundrailroad/purvis.shtml] , accessed 3 May 2008] Harriet's father was Baron Judah. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9B02EEDF1139E433A25755C1A9629C94699ED7CF] "ROBERT PURVIS DEAD.; Anti-Slavery Leader Expires in Philadelphia, Aged 87 --His Work for the Black Race", New York Times, 16 April 1898, accessed 3 May 2008] He was the third of ten children of Hillel Judah, a German Jewish immigrant, and his Sephardic Jewish wife Abigail Seixas from Charleston. Although Purvis told a reporter that Badaraka and Judah had married, his biographer thought that unlikely given the prominence of the Judah family in Charleston. She also discovered that the Judah family owned slaves. Badaraka and Judah did have Harriet and a son together. (In 1790 Judah broke off the relationship with Badaraka when he moved from Charleston to Savannah, and then in 1791 to Richmond. He married in Richmond and had four children with his wife.) [Margaret Hope Bacon, "But One Race: The Life of Robert Purvis", Albany: State University of New York, 2007, pp.7-9]

Purvis' father was English native William Purvis from Northumberland, who became a naturalized US citizen and a wealthy cotton broker in Charleston. He and some of his brothers had come to South Carolina to make their fortunes. Their father died when they were young but their mother had moved the family to Edinburgh for education. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9B02EEDF1139E433A25755C1A9629C94699ED7CF] "ROBERT PURVIS DEAD.; Anti-Slavery Leader Expires in Philadelphia, Aged 87 --His Work for the Black Race", New York Times, 16 April 1898, accessed 3 May 2008] [Margaret Hope Bacon, "But One Race: The Life of Robert Purvis", Albany: State University of New York, 2007, p. 11]

William Purvis, who was substantially older, and Harriet Judah had three sons: William born in 1806, Robert born in 1810, and Joseph born in 1812. [Margaret Hope Bacon, "But One Race: The Life of Robert Purvis", Albany: State University of New York, 2007, p.11] In 1819 the Purvis family moved to Philadelphia, where the boys attended the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society's Clarkson School. William Purvis was planning to consolidate his business affairs and move the family to England, but did not succeed in completing the move before his death.

Robert and Joseph Purvis both studied at Amherst College in Massachusetts, as their father wanted them to be educated as gentlemen. They returned to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where their family was among the black elite. After their father died in 1826, Purvis and his brothers were to share an estate worth $250,000. In 1828 Purvis' older brother William died of tuberculosis, increasing Robert's and Joseph's shares of the estate. [Margaret Hope Bacon, "But One Race: The Life of Robert Purvis", Albany: State University of New York, 2007, pp.21 and 23]

Political life

In 1833, Purvis helped William Lloyd Garrison establish the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia and signed its "Declaration of Sentiments". Purvis was the last surviving member of the society. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9B02EEDF1139E433A25755C1A9629C94699ED7CF] "ROBERT PURVIS DEAD.; Anti-Slavery Leader Expires in Philadelphia, Aged 87 --His Work for the Black Race", New York Times, 16 April 1898, accessed 3 May 2008]

Also in 1833, Purvis helped establish the Library Company of Colored People, modeled after the Library Company of Philadelphia, a subscription library. With Garrison's support, Purvis traveled to England to meet leading abolitionists.

In 1838, he drafted the "Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens Threatened with Disfranchisement"', which urged the repeal of a new state constitutional amendment disfranchising free African Americans. Because of increased tensions among whites following the Nat Turner rebellion of 1831, Purvis was not successful in dissuading state legislators from restricting African Americans' political rights.

From 1845-1850, Purvis served as president of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. As a supporter of the Underground Railroad, Purvis served as chairman of the General Vigilance Committee from 1852-1857. According to his records, Purvis estimated that from 1831 until 1861, he helped one slave per day achieve freedom, a total of more than 9,000 slaves who escaped to freedom.

He supported many progressive causes beyond abolition. He served as the first vice-president of the Woman's Suffrage Society, when Lucretia Mott served as president. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9B02EEDF1139E433A25755C1A9629C94699ED7CF] "ROBERT PURVIS DEAD.; Anti-Slavery Leader Expires in Philadelphia, Aged 87 --His Work for the Black Race", New York Times, 16 April 1898, accessed 3 May 2008] He also supported temperance and similar issues. He believed in integrated groups working for greater progress for all. After the end of the Civil War and emancipation of slaves was achieved, Purvis became less active in political affairs.

Marriage and family

In 1832, Purvis married Harriet Forten, daughter of wealthy African-American sailmaker and prominent abolitionists James and Charlotte Forten of Philadelphia. Like her parents, brothers and sisters, Harriet Forten Purvis was active in anti-slavery groups in Philadelphia. [ [http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part3/3p477.html Africans in America/Part 3/The Forten Women, WGBH Educational Foundation, 1998] , accessed 4 May 2008]

The Purvises had five children, including son Charles B. Purvis, who became a surgeon and professor for 30 years in the medical school at Howard University. In addition, they raised Harriet's niece Charlotte Forten Grimké after her mother died. In her later life, Harriet Forten Purvis lectured against segregation and for expanded suffrage for all citizens. [ [http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part3/3p477.html Africans in America/Part 3/The Forten Women, WGBH Educational Foundation, 1998] , accessed 4 May 2008]

After Harriet died, Purvis married Tacy Townsend. [ [http://www.phillyburbs.com/undergroundrailroad/purvis.shtml Bob Bankard, The Passage to Freedom: The Underground Railroad, 3 March 2008] , accessed 3 May 2008]

References

Persondata
NAME = Purvis, Robert
ALTERNATIVE NAMES =
SHORT DESCRIPTION = Abolitionist
DATE OF BIRTH = August 4, 1810
PLACE OF BIRTH = Charleston, South Carolina
DATE OF DEATH = April 15, 1898
PLACE OF DEATH = al


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