Was born in Charleston, S.C. on the 4th day of August, 1810. His father, William Purvis, was a native of Ross county, in Northumberland, England. His mother was a free-born woman, of Charleston. His maternal grandmother was a Moor; and her father was an Israelite, named Baron Judah. Robert Purvis and his two brothers were brought to the North by their parents in 1819. In Pennsylvania and New England he received his scholastic education, finishing it at Amherst College. Since that time his home has been in Philadelphia, or in the vicinity of that city.
His interest in the Anti-slavery cause began in his childhood, inspired by such books as “Sandford and Merton,” and Dr. Toney’s “Portraiture of Slavery,” which his father put into his hands. His father, though resident in a slave state, was never a slaveholder; but was heartily an Abolitionist in principle. It was Robert Purvis’ good fortune, before he attained his majority, to make the acquaintance of that earnest and self-sacrificing pioneer of freedom, Benjamin Lundy; and in conjunction with him, was an early laborer in the anti-slavery field. He was a member of the Convention held in Philadelphia in 1833, which formed the American Anti-slavery Society; and among the signatures to its Declaration of Sentiments, the name of Robert Purvis is to be seen; a record of which his posterity to the latest generation may be justly proud. During the whole period of that Society’s existence he was a member of it; and was also an active member and officer of The Pennsylvania Anti-slavery Society. To the cause of the slave’s freedom he gave with all his heart his money, his time, his talents. Fervent in soul, eloquent in speech, most gracious in manner, he was a favorite on the platform of Anti-slavery meetings. High-toned in moral nature, keenly sensitive in all matters pertaining to justice and integrity, he was a most valuable coadjutor with the leaders of an unpopular reform; and throughout the Anti-slavery conflict, he always received, as he always deserved, the highest confidence and warm personal regard of his fellow-laborers.
His faithful labors in aiding fugitive slaves cannot be recorded within the limits of this sketch. Throughout that long period of peril to all who dared to “remember those in bonds as bound with them,” his house was a well-known station on the Underground Rail Road; his horses and carriages, and his personal attendance, were ever at the service of the travelers upon that road. In those perilous duties his family heartily sympathized with him, and cheerfully performed their share.
He has lived to witness the triumph of the great cause to which he devoted his youth and his manhood; to join in the jubilee song of the American slave; and the thanksgiving of the Abolitionists; and to testify that the work of his life has been one “whose reward is in itself.”