Robert Purvis

Robert Purvis

Robert Purvis, the son of a wealthy cotton broker, was born on 4th August, 1810, in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1833 Purvis helped establish the Library Company of Colored People and the Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia.

In 1834 he embarked on a tour of England where he made speeches and raised funds for the Anti-Slavery cause. On his return to Philadelphia he was active in the campaign to repeal the new state law that barred African-Americans from voting. This included drafting the document, Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens Threatened with Disfranchisement (1838).

Purvis was involved in the Underground Railroad and served as chairman of the General Vigilance Committee (1852-57) that helped assist fugitive slaves. He was also elected president of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society (1845-50). Purvis also campaigned in favour of women's rights, prison reform and prohibition.

Robert Purvis, who presided over the 50th anniversary meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1883, died in Philadelphia on 15th April, 1898.

Primary Sources

(1) Robert Purvis, speech at the Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia in 1860.

What is the attitude of your boasting, braggart republic toward the 600,000 free people of colour who swell its population and add to its wealth? I have already alluded to the dictum of Judge Taney in the notorious Dred Scott decision. The dictum reveals the animus of the whole government; it is a fair example of the cowardly and malignant spirit that pervades the entire policy of the country. The end of the policy is, undoubtedly, to destroy the coloured man, as a man. With this view. it says a coloured man shall not sue and recover his lawful property; he shall not bear arms and train in the militia; he shall not be a commander of a vessel, not even of the meanest craft that creeps along the creeks and bays of your Southern coast; he shall not carry a mailbag, or serve as a porter in a post-office.