|"In the matter of rights there is but one race, |
and that is the human race."
~ Robert Purvis
The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 revolutionized the production of the crop, and it quickly became South Carolina's major export commodity. Cotton plantations relied heavily on slave labor, and slaves were also the primary labor force within the city, working as domestics, artisans, market workers and laborers.
|Old Slave Market Building, Charleston|
At least three names of the many enslaved Africans who entered through the Lowcountry are known today. One was Denmark Vesey, who was brought from St. Thomas after he was purchased by Capt. Joseph Vesey in the late 18th century. Denmark Vesey is best remembered as the planner of the unsuccessful Charleston Slave Rebellion of 1822, which led to the establishment of a military garrison to contain future slave rebellions. This garrison later became a military college known as The Citadel. Omar Ibn Said, a Senegalese Muslim captured into slavery, was also noted to have arrived in Charleston in 1807. Ajar, who was also captured from West Africa, was sold in Charleston in 1815. Ajar's son Tony, who was purchased by a man named Allen Little, was the great-grandfather of Malcolm Little, who is better known today as the African-American freedom fighter Malcolm X.
According to Elaine Nichols of the South Carolina State Museum, Sullivan's Island, an island near Charleston, was a major port of entry for enslaved Africans. Her paper "Sullivan's Island Pest Houses: Beginning an Archaeological Investigation" (1989), detailed the phenomenon of "Pest Houses," that were used to quarantine Africans upon their arrival, for fear that the Africans would have contagious diseases. The Africans would often remain confined from 10 to 40 days and 200-300 at a time would sometimes remain in isolation in the "pest houses." By 1793, residents of Sullivan's Island demanded that the pest houses be removed from the vicinity. Three years later, the houses were sold and new ones were built on nearby James Island.
|Austin, Laurens, & Appleby Advertisement|
The Slaves from the River Gambia are preferr'd to all others with us [here in Carolina] save the Gold Coast.... next to Them the Windward Coast are preferr'd to Angolas.
Negroes, anckle and even mid-leg deep in water which floats an ouzy mud, and exposed all the while to a burning sun which makes the very air they breathe hotter than the human blood; these poor wretches are then in a furness of stinking putrid effluvia: a more horrible employment can hardly be imagined.
|Enslaved workers in rice fields|
The Pennsylvania Abolition Society had been founded in Philadelphia in 1775 as The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. It was the first American abolition society; Anthony Benezet and most of the other founders were Quakers, but there were others, including Thomas Paine. It was reorganized in 1784 as the Pennsylvania
At St. Thomas Church, they met James Forten and his family; James Forten was a
In 1826, before the family was able to move to Europe, William Purvis died of typhus fever in Philadelphia. He was 69 years old; Robert Purvis was 16 years old. He and his two brothers were to share an estate worth $250,000. But in 1828, just two years after their father's death, Robert's older brother William died of tuberculosis.
In settling William Purvis' estate, the lawyers discovered that he was owed about one thousand pounds sterling by John Purvis, the son of Burridge. Henry Grimké, a lawyer in Charleston (and the brother of Angelina and Charlotte Grimké) was retained to sue John for the return of the money.
Harriet married the Reverend William Miller, an African Methodist Episcopal minister
Robert and Joseph Purvis both attended secondary school classes in Amherst, Massachusetts, probably at the Amherst Academy. Alphonso Taft and Samuel Colt were among their classmates.
In 1824, Benjamin Lundy, the Quaker abolitionist, attended the American Convention for the Abolition of Slavery, held at Philadelphia. Robert Purvis heard a speech by Lundy, who inspired him to make his own antislavery speech. He considered Lundy a mentor and inspiration for the rest of his life.
In June 1831, Robert Purvis attended the First Annual Convention of Colored Americans in Philadelphia with William Whipper, a prominent black businessman and abolitionist. The convention urged delegates to oppose the American Colonization Society's efforts to limit the movements of free blacks, and promoted a drive for "Education, Temperance and Economy" among black people. William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan also attended the convention. Purvis and other Philadelphians founded the Philadelphia Library for Colored Persons, as people of color were not allowed to use the libraries and reading rooms for white persons.
Robert Purvis was 50 years when the Civil War began.
There were widespread tensions and fears among whites following the Nat Turner slave
We are sorry to hear of such scenes as that of the Southampton Tragedy: it proceeded from a natural cause; oppression, tyranny, and slavery always give birth to such events, and we can only say to Virginia, and other slaveholding states, that so long as they continue to raise of Gabriels and Nats, just so long may they expect to see those scenes acted over and over again. So long as slaveholders and their apologists continue to apply the same remedy to abstract and foreign causes, so long the real cause will sleep in safety.A few months later, in April 1832, the three men again co-authored another appeal, this time to the Pennsylvania Assembly to protest two pending laws: one written to protect Pennsylvania from the immigration of of free blacks, and the other to repeal the state's liberal fugitive slave law in order to revert to the harsher federal law of 1793.
At the same time that your memorialists entertain the most perfect respect for any expression of sentiment emanating from so high a source as one of the legislative bodies of Pennsylvania, they cannot but lament, that at a moment when all mankind seem to be struggling for freedom, and endeavoring to throw off the shackles of political oppression, the constituted authorities of this great state should entertain a resolution which has a tendency to abridge the liberties heretofore accorded to a race of men confessedly oppressed.
Our country asserts for itself the glory of being the freest upon the surface of the globe. She wrested that freedom, while yet in her infancy, by force of arms, at the expense of infinite blood and treasure, from a gigantic and most powerful adversary. She proclaimed freedom to all mankind -- and offered her soil as arefuge to the enslaved of all nations. . . . Where, in this declaration of the people of the commonwealth, assembled in convention, do we find a distinction drawn between the man whose skin is white, and him whose skin is dark? . . . On what page of our statute book does it appear? . . .
"It is not for us to inquire," says the beautiful preamble of the act of 1780, "it is not for us to inquire, why, in the creation of mankind, the inhabitants of the several parts of the earth were distinguished by a difference in feature or complexion -- it is sufficient for us to know that all are the work of an Almighty hand."
And from that day to the present, Pennsylvania has acted upon a principle, that among those whom the same Almighty hand has formed, the hand of man should not presume to make a difference.
Why, we respectfully ask, is this distinction now to be proclaimed for the first time in the code of Pennsylvania? Why are her borders to be surrounded by a wall of iron, against freemen, whose complexions fall below the wavering and uncertain shades of white? For this is the only criterion of admission or exclusion which the resolutions indicate. It is not to be asked, is he brave -- but is he black --is he just -- is he free from the stain of crime -- but is he black -- is he brown -- is he yellow -- is he other than white?
. . . We know that the most effectual method of refuting, and rendering harmless, false and exaggerated accounts of our degraded condition, is by our conduct; by living consistent, orderly and moral lives. . . . We ask only to be judged fairly and impartially. We claim no exemption from the frailties and imperfections of our common nature. We feel that we are men of like passions and feelings with others of a different color, liable to be drawn aside by temptation, from the paths of rectitude. But we think that in the aggregate we will not suffer by a comparison with our white neighbors whose opportunities of improvement have been no greater than ours.In 1832, Robert bought a home at Lombard Street in Philadelphia, where the family would live for the next 12 years. Their first child, a son, William, was born in the house in December. They would eventually have eight children.
The Purvises were proponents and practitioners of what was called the "free produce" movement, insisting that no food or other goods be served in their home if slaves had been involved in its cultivation or manufacture.
Robert Purvis and James Forten provided generous financial support to William Lloyd Garrison to start his newspaper, The Liberator, as well as to travel to make anti-slavery speeches and organized anti-slavery societies. Garrison was a guest at the Purvis home in the spring of 1833 before he traveled to England. Purvis commissioned a portrait of
|Portrait of William Lloyd Garrison |
painted by Nathaniel Jocelyn
When Garrison returned from England at the end of 1833, the American Anti-Slavery Society was founded in Philadelphia. More than 60 abolitionists gathered for the convention; its constitution stated:
Whereas, we believe that Slavery is contrary to the precepts of Christianity, dangerous to the liberties of the country, and ought immediately to be abolished; and whereas, we believe that the citizens of New England not only have the right to protest against it, but are under the highest obligation to seek its removal by a moral influence; and whereas, we believe that the free people of color are unrighteously oppressed, and stand in need of our sympathy and benevolent co-operation; therefore, recognizing the inspired declaration that God "hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth," and in obedience to our Savior's golden rule, "all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them;" we agree to form ourselves into a Society . . . The object of the Society shall be, to endeavor by all means sanctioned by law, humanity, and religion, to effect the abolition of Slavery in the United States; to improve the character and condition of the free people of color, to inform and correct public opinion in relation to their situation and rights, and obtain for them equal civil and political rights and privileges with the whites.At the first meeting in December, Robert Purvis was one of the founders who signed its "Declaration of Sentiments."
More than fifty-seven years have elapsed since a band of patriots convened in this place, to devise measures for the deliverance of this country from a foreign yoke. The cornerstone upon which they founded the Temple of Freedom was broadly this — "that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness.
. . . We have met together for the achievement of an enterprise, without which, that of our fathers is incomplete; and which, for its magnitude, solemnity, and probable results upon the destiny of the world, as far transcends theirs, as moral truth does physical force. . . Their principles led them to wage war against their oppressors, and to spill human blood like water, in order to be free. Ours forbid the doing of evil that good may come, and lead us to reject, and to entreat the oppressed to reject, the use of all carnal weapons for deliverance from bondage; relying solely upon those which are spiritual, and mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds.
Their measures were physical resistance — the marshalling in arms — the hostile array — the moral encounter. Ours shall be such only as the opposition of moral purity to moral corruption — the destruction of error by the potency of truth — the overthrow of prejudice by the power of love — and the abolition of slavery by the spirit of repentance.
Their grievances, great as they were, were trifling in comparison with the wrongs and sufferings of those for whom we plead. Our fathers were never slaves— never bought and sold like cattle — never shut out from the light of knowledge and religion — never subjected to the lash of brutal task masters. But those, for whose emancipation we are striving, — constituting at the present time at least one-sixth part of our countrymen, — are recognized by the laws, and treated by their fellow-beings, as marketable commodities — as goods and chattels — as brute beasts; are plundered daily of the fruits of their toil without redress; really enjoy no constitutional nor legal protection from licentious and murderous outrages upon their persons; and are ruthlessly torn asunder — the tender babe from the arms of its frantic mother — the heart-broken wife from her weeping husband — at the caprice or pleasure of irresponsible tyrants.
For the crime of having a dark complexion, they suffer the pangs of hunger, the infliction of stripes, and the ignominy of brutal servitude. They are kept in heathenish darkness by laws expressly enacted to make their instruction a criminal offence.
These are the prominent circumstances in the condition of more than two millions of our people, the proof of which may be found in thousands of indisputable facts, and in the laws of the slaveholding States.
Hence we maintain — That in view of the civil and religious privileges of this nation, the guilt of its oppression is unequalled by any other on the face of the earth; and, therefore, that it is bound to repent instantly, to undo the heavy burden, to break every yoke, and to let the oppressed go free.
We further maintain — That no man has a right to enslave or imbrute his brother — to hold or acknowledge him, for one moment, as a piece o[ merchandize— to keep back s his hire by fraud — or to brutalize his mind by denying him the means of intellectual, social, and moral improvement.
The right to enjoy liberty is inalienable. . . . Every man has a right to his own body — to the products of his own labor — to the protection of law — and to the common advantages of society.
. . . We believe and affirm— That there is no difference, in principle, between the African slave trade and American slavery — That every American citizen, who retains a human being in involuntary bondage, as his property, is, [according to Scripture,] a man-stealer —
. . . That all those laws which are now in force, admitting the right of slavery, are therefore before God utterly null and void; being an audacious usurpation of the Divine prerogative, a daring infringement on the law of Nature, a base overthrow of the very foundations of the social compact, a complete extinction of all the relations, endearments, and obligations of mankind, and a presumptuous transgression of all the holy commandments — and that therefore they ought to be instantly abrogated.
We further believe and affirm . . . that the paths of preferment, of wealth, and of intelligence, should be opened as widely to persons of color as to persons of a white complexion. We maintain that no compensation should be given to the planters emancipating their slaves — Because it would be a surrender of the great fundamental principle, that man cannot hold property in man — Because Slavery is a crime, AND THEREFORE IT IS NOT AN ARTICLE TO BE SOLD — Because the holders of slaves are not the just proprietors of what they claim; freeing the slaves is not depriving them of property, but restoring it to its right owners; it is not wronging the master, but righting the slave— restoring him to himself —
Because immediate and general emancipation would only destroy nominal, not real property: it would not amputate a limb or break a bone of the slaves, but by infusing motives into their breasts, would make them doubly valuable to the masters as free laborers: and, because, if compensation is to be given at all, it should be given to the outraged and guiltless slaves, and not to those who have plundered and abused them.
We regard, as delusive, cruel and dangerous, any scheme of expatriation which pretends to aid, either directly or indirectly, in the emancipation of the slaves, or to be a substitute for the immediate and total abolition of slavery.
We fully and unanimously recognize the sovereignty of each State, to legislate exclusively on the subject of slavery which is tolerated within its limits; we concede that Congress, under the present national compact, has no right to interfere with any of the slave States, in relation to this momentous subject.
But we maintain that Congress has a right, and is solemnly bound, to suppress the domestic slave trade between the several States, and to abolish slavery in those portions of our territory which the Constitution has placed under its exclusive jurisdiction.
We also maintain that there are, at the present time, the highest obligations resting upon the people of the free States, to remove slavery by moral and political action, as prescribed in the Constitution of the United States.
They are now living under a pledge of their tremendous physical force to fasten the galling letters of tyranny upon the limbs of millions in the Southern States; they are liable to be called at any moment to suppress a general insurrection of the slaves; they authorize the slave owner to vote for three-fifths of his slaves as property . . .
These are our views and principles — these, our designs and measures. With entire confidence in the over-ruling justice of God, we plant ourselves upon the Declaration of our Independence and the truths of Divine Revelation as upon the everlasting rock.
We shall organize Anti-Slavery Societies, if possible, in every city, town, and village in our land. We shall send forth Agents to lift up the voice of remonstrance, of warning, of entreaty, and of rebuke. We shall circulate, unsparingly and extensively, anti-slavery tracts and periodicals. We shall enlist the pulpit and the press in the cause of the suffering and the dumb. We shall aim at a purification of the churches from all participation in the guilt of slavery. We shall encourage the labor of freemen rather than that of the slaves, by giving a preference to their productions and We shall spare no exertions nor means to bring the whole nation to speedy repentance.
Our trust for victory is solely in GOD.
We may be personally defeated, but our principles never.
Truth, Justice, Reason, Humanity, must and will gloriously triumph. . .
Done in Philadelphia, this sixth day of December, A.D, 1833
|John Greenleaf Whittier|
Robert Purvis met James and Lucretia Mott for the first time at this convention. He later said, "Her beautiful face was all aglow." The Quaker poet and abolitionist John
Four days later, Lucretia Mott, along with Harriet Purvis, and her mother and sisters, met with a group of women in a Quaker schoolroom to form the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society (PFASS), the country's first biracial organization of women's abolitionists. The PFASS was formed as a result of the inability of women to become members of the male abolitionist organization. Another member was Angelina Grimké, a female abolitionist who was also the sister of the Purvis attorney in Charleston, Henry Grimké. Margaretta Forten was one of 14 women who drafted the Society's constitution and was an officer throughout the organization's history. Sarah Forten served on the organization's governing board. Harriet Forten Purvis frequently co-chaired the Society's antislavery fairs. The Fortens also represented the Society as delegates to state and national conventions.
|1834 Letter from Garrison|
The Slavery Abolition Act was an 1833 Act of parliament abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire. The act passed parliament on August 1, 1833, three days after William Wilberforce died, and it was to abolish slavery a year later on August 1, 1834. In practical terms, only slaves below the age of six were freed in the colonies. Former slaves over the age of six were redesignated as "apprentices", and their servitude was abolished in two stages; the first set of apprenticeships came to an end on August 1, 1838, while the final apprenticeships were scheduled to cease on August 1, 1840. The Act provided for compensation for slave-owners who would be losing their property.
He booked passage on a packet on the Cope Line, a shipping firm owned by the
Cope brothers, Philadelphia Quakers; they sailed their ships from Philadelphia to Liverpool during this time. A prominent Virginian, Bernard Carter, was planning to sail on the same ship. When Carter heard the story of the passport, and realized that he would be sailing with a colored man, he complained to the Cope brothers. Fearing they would lose much of their profitable Southern trade, the Copes attempted to appease Carter; meanwhile they begged Robert Purvis to give up his ticket. . . . Outraged . .. Purvis believed this was shameful behavior for a Quaker firm. However, he discovered that he could reach England sooner if he took a ship from New York; he decided to sail on a vessel which landed in Liverpool several days in advance of the Cope packet.
Purvis booked passage on a boat that sailed from Portsmouth. To his surprise, he discovered that Bernard Carter was also awaiting the same boat. . . . Carter spoke to him, and . . . invited him to dine. . . . The acquaintance progressed, and Carter invited Purvis to join him at dinner with other Southerners, and to dance with their ladies. On the last evening of the voyage . . . Purvis asked the steward to tell the captain's wife of his colored blood. According to Purvis the news shot around the ship like a fireball. . . . The news was received with consternation by the Southerners, one of whom had said on the voyage that he considered the black man little removed from an animal.Purvis returned to Philadelphia to find his newborn son, Robert Purvis, Jr., and a city in turmoil. In August, there had been race riots in Philadelphia, and one of James Forten's sons had been attacked by a gang of white boys. Lucretia Mott wrote to a friend:
J & self have been down among our poor sufferers by the late riots and found much injury done to their property . . . Jas. is one of a committee of a town mg. called to investigate the subject & report the amot. of damages . . . it is hoped something will be raised for their relief.Race riots and fires broke out again in the summer of 1835. Alarmed by the violence, white
In the summer of 1836, four enslaved brothers escaped from Maryland and arrived at the Purvis home in Philadelphia. Their master, Sabrick Sollers, was also their father; he had promised to free them in his will, but after his death in 1834, their white half-brother, Thomas Sollers, refused to obey his father's will. Purvis took three of the bothers to his Bucks County farm. He employed one of the men, Basil, and found jobs for the other two, William and Charles, with farmers in the area. All of the brothers, including Thomas, changed their last name to Dorsey.
Basil had been married to a free black woman, and the couple had two free children. Purvis arranged to have his family brought to Philadelphia. Then her brother, during a visit to the family in Pennsylvania, quarrelled with Basil. Vindictively, he wrote to Thomas Sollers and offered to help him recapture the four Dorsey brothers. Sollers hired slave catchers and travelled to Philadelphia, where they captured Thomas Dorsey and took him to Baltimore with the intention of shipping him to the New Orleans slave markets. Friends raised $1,000 and bought freedom for Thomas.
|David Paul Brown|
Sollers tried to settle the case by offering to sell Dorsey for $1,000. The money could have been raised, but Basil Dorsey refused the offer, saying, “No more offers, if the decision goes against me, I will cut my throat in the Court House, I will not go back into slavery.” The case proceeded, and the court ruled against the master.
Purvis escorted Basil Dorsey from the courthouse just as the slave catchers appeared with a magistrate's warrant to return him to slavery. Subsequently one hundred and fifty dollars were paid to Sollers to prevent future trouble. Dorsey passed the remainder of his life in Massachusetts and prospered. William and Charles escaped with help from Joseph Purvis, who took them to New Jersey; they later emigrated to Canada.
In February 1837, Harriet gave birth to their third son, who they named Joseph after Robert's brother.
The Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, affiliated with the American Anti-Slavery Society, was formed by black and white abolitionists in 1837. Its office was on North Fifth Street in Philadelphia. Among the members were James and Lucretia Mott, James Miller McKim, Robert Purvis, James Forten and William Whipper. These abolitionists, along with others across the country, engaged in what Daniel Webster contemptuously referred to as “rub-a-dub agitation by hysterical women and illogical sentimentalists, fit only for little minds and fatuous disturbers.”
Food and transportation were essential costs, coupled with additional expenses such as clothing, shelter, and medicine. Some of the expenses were met through membership dues. Members were to pay $0.25 upon joining, with the intention of contributing a minimum of $0.75 annually. Additional funds were sought from outside of the organization. To serve this purpose, in a meeting in 1839, Jacob C. White, who was then secretary, was given the role as the Committee's sole agent responsible for collecting revenue from non-members. While the work was secret, its fund-raising was public. Jacob White Sr., was one of Philadelphia's most prominent black businessmen. The owner of Mount Lebanon Cemetery, he invested in Philadelphia real estate, and started his son, Jacob White, Jr., working at an early age. While still in school, Jake became Philadelphia agent for two African-American weeklies and helped his father run the cemetery.
At the same meeting during which White received his appointment, Purvis was elected president of the Vigilant Committee of Philadelphia. Records were kept of the committee's work and the fugitives they aided, but most records were destroyed by Purvis when the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was passed, in order to protect both the escaped slaves and the people who had assisted them.
Those who worked on the Underground Railroad (UGRR) were wary of keeping records of their activities and their passengers. Such evidence, if found, made them not only liable for court suits, which could result in their losing large sums of money and property, but could also lead to the recapture of runaways, and to the incrimination of others. . . . "But William Still kept his records," says Benjamin Quarles. "He guarded them carefully, and during one stretch he concealed them in a cemetery building."
Although their purpose was to work for the emancipation of slaves in the South, the black Pennsylvanians faced a new assault on their rights: the Pennsylvania Constitution guaranteed: "In elections of the citizens, every freeman . . . shall enjoy the rights of an elector." African Americans and white abolitionists believed that free black males had been given the right to vote; most whites, on the other hand, interpreted the term "freemen" to mean only free white males. Due to the ambiguity in the law, African Americans voted in some rural districts where they had little influence on the results, but did not vote in urban areas such as Philadelphia, fearing violence from their white neighbors. However, some African Americans chose to resist the de facto restriction and brought their cases to court when they were turned away from the polls. On at least two occasions, the courts ruled that "freemen" only included white males. The publicity of these cases alerted the majority of white Pennsylvanians to the fact that African Americans were voting in isolated districts, driving them to take political action.
|Appeal of Forty Thousand Citizens|
Threatened with Disenfranchisement,
To the People of Pennsylvania
When you have taken from an individual his right to vote, you have made the government, in regard to him, a mere despotism; and you have taken a step towards making it a despotism for all.Despite the massive effort put into the appeal, the white voters of Pennsylvania ratified the new state constitution on October 9, 1838. African Americans would not regain the right to vote in Pennsylvania until the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870, following the Civil War.
Harriet Purvis represented the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society as a delegate to meetings of other groups. In 1838 and 1839, she was one of the society's delegates to the Antislavery Convention of American Women. Also in 1839, she and nine others attended the
Free Produce Convention on behalf of their society. The antislavery convention delegates pledged to secure the products of free labor, especially cotton goods, for the Philadelphia area. During May 1841, Harriet and her husband attended the Pennsylvania State Anti-Slavery Society convention where Harriet represented the Female Society during the proceedings.
In March 1838, Benjamin Lundy resigned from the staff of the National Enquirer, which was being published by the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. He was succeeded by John G. Whittier, and the name of the paper was changed to The Pennsylvania Free Man. Lundy, in his last issue, wrote that it was his intention to move west and publish the Genius of Universal Emancipation. Lundy's possessions were temporarily stored in the new Pennsylvania Hall, which was still under construction.
I learnt with great satisfaction. . . that the Pennsylvania Hall Association have erected a large building in your city, wherein liberty and equality of civil rights can be freely discussed, and the evils of slavery fearlessly portrayed. . . . I rejoice that , in the city of Philadelphia, the friends of free discussion have erected a Hall for its unrestrained exercise.Free speech was not allowed by supporters of slavery and racism: on Tuesday morning
|William Lloyd Garrison|
Is it curiosity merely, or a deep sympathy with the perishing slave, that has
brought this large audience together? [A yell from the mob without the building.] Those voices without ought to awaken and call out our warmest sympathies. Deluded beings! "they know not what they do." They know not that they are undermining their own rights and their own happiness, temporal and eternal.
Do you ask, "what has the North to do with slavery?" Hear it -- hear it. Those voices without tell us that the spirit of slavery is here, and has been roused to wrath by our abolition speeches and conventions: for surely liberty would not foam and tear herself with rage, because her friends are multiplied daily, and meetings are held in quick succession to set forth her virtues and extend her peaceful kingdom. This opposition shows that slavery has done its deadliest work in the hearts of our citizens. Do you ask, then, "what has the North to do?" I answer, cast out first the spirit of slavery from your own hearts, and then lend your aid to convert the South. Each one present has a work to do, be his or her situation what it may, however limited their means, or insignificant their supposed influence. The great men of this country will not do this work; the church will never do it. A desire to please the world, to keep the favor of all parties and of all conditions, makes them dumb on this and every other unpopular subject. They have become worldly-wise, and therefore God, in his wisdom, employs them not to carry on his plans of reformation and salvation. He hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak to overcome the mighty.
As a Southerner I feel that it is my duty to stand up here to-night and bear testimony against slavery. I have seen it -- I have seen it. I know it has horrors that can never be described. I was brought up under its wing: I witnessed for many years its demoralizing influences, and its destructiveness to human happiness. It is admitted by some that the slave is not happy under the worst forms of slavery. But I have never seen a happy slave. I have seen him dance in his chains, it is true; but he was not happy. There is a wide difference between happiness and mirth. Man cannot enjoy the former while his manhood is destroyed, and that part of the being which is necessary to the making, and to the enjoyment of happiness, is completely blotted out. The slaves, however, may be, and sometimes are, mirthful. When hope is extinguished, they say, "let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."
[Just then stones were thrown at the windows, -- a great noise without, and commotion within.]
What is a mob? What would the breaking of every window be? What would the levelling of this Hall be? Any evidence that we are wrong, or that slavery is a good and wholesome institution? What if the mob should now burst in upon us, break up our meeting and commit violence upon our persons -- would this be any thing compared with what the slaves endure? No, no: and we do not remember them "as bound with them," if we shrink in the time of peril, or feel unwilling to sacrifice ourselves, if need be, for their sake. [Great noise.] I thank the Lord that there is yet life left enough to feel the truth, even though it rages at it -- that conscience is not so completely seared as to be unmoved by the truth of the living God. . . .
[Another outbreak of mobocratic spirit, and some confusion in the house.]. . . I feel that all this disturbance is but an evidence that our efforts are the best that could have been adopted, or else the friends of slavery would not care for what we say and do. . . . We may talk of occupying neutral ground, but on this subject, in its present attitude, there is no such thing as neutral ground. . . . If you are on what you suppose to be neutral ground, the South look upon you as on the side of the oppressor. . . . [Shoutings, stones thrown against the windows, &c.] . . . A few years ago, and the South felt secure, and with a contemptuous sneer asked, "Who are the abolitionists? The abolitionists are nothing?" -- Aye, in one sense they were nothing, and they are nothing still. But in this we rejoice, that "God has chosen things that are not to bring to nought things that are." [Mob again disturbed the meeting.]
The mob returned on the following day, Thursday. More meetings were scheduled for the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women,; they refused to comply with the Mayor's request to restrict the meeting to white women only. The building's managers, fearing that the mob posed a threat, handed the keys over to the mayor. After locking the doors, the mayor announced to the crowd that the remaining meetings had been cancelled. The crowd cheered as he walked away. The crowd broke into the building, destroyed the interior and set fires inside. The mayor returned with the police, but by now the mob was out of control, and attacked the police. By nine o'clock that night the fires had spread, engulfing the building in flames. Firefighters arrived at the scene but sprayed only the structures that surrounded Pennsylvania Hall. When one unit tried spraying the new building, its men became the target of the other units' hoses. With no one working to save Pennsylvania Hall, it was soon completely destroyed.
|Pennsylvania Hall in flames|
My dear Edward, — We have had a season of much excitement, since thou left,
in the burning of Penn Hall, and the breaking up of our Convention by the mob; accounts of which have been sent to thee, in much detail. Our proceedings, though not yet published, have greatly roused our pseudo-abolitionists, as well as alarmed such timid ones as our good Dr. Farrish. He has left no means untried to induce us to expunge from our minutes a resolution relating to social intercourse with our colored brethren. In vain I urged the great departure from order and propriety in such a proceeding after the Convention had separated. He and Charles Townsend were "willing to take the responsibility," if the publishing committee would consent to have it withdrawn, and when he failed in this effort, he called some of the respectable portion of the colored people together at Robert Douglas', arid advised them not to accept such intercourse as was proffered them, and to Issue a disclaimer of any such wish. This they have not yet done; but it has caused not a little excitement among us. The bone of contention has been the admission of another proscribed class — women — to equal participation in the doings of the Convention.
Well! my papers, books, clothes — everything of value (except my journal in Mexico etc.) are all, all gone — a total sacrifice on the altar of Universal Emancipation.
They have not yet got my conscience, they have not taken my heart, and until they rob me of these, they cannot prevent me from pleading the cause of the suffering slave.
The tyrant may even hold the body bound — But knows not what a range the spirit takes. I am not disheartened, though everything of earthly value (in the shape of property) is lost. Let us persevere in the good cause. We shall assuredly triumph yet.An official report blamed the abolitionists for the riots, claiming that they incited violence by upsetting the citizens of Philadelphia with their views and for encouraging "race mixing." Robert Purvis, who was very light-skinned, had escorted his much darker wife to the meetings. A few years later, Joseph Sturge, the English abolitionist, published a quote from a letter that Purvis has written him.
As an illustration, I quote the following scene from a letter addressed to me by Robert Purvis, an intelligent and educated man of color, and the son-in-law of James Forten, a wealthy and venerable colored citizen of Philadelphia, recently deceased.
“In regard to my examination before the jury in the Pennsylvania Hall case, I have to say, that it was both a painful and ludicrous affair. At one time the fullness of an almost bursting heart was ready to pour forth in bitter denunciation—then the miserable absurdity of the thing, rushing into my mind, would excite my risible propensities. You know the county endeavored to defend itself against the award of damages, by proving that the abolitionists were the cause of the destruction of the building, in promoting promiscuous intermingling, in doors and out, of blacks and whites, thereby exciting public feeling, &c. A witness, whose name I now forget, in proof of this point, stated, that upon a certain day, hour, &c., a ‘negress’ approached the Hall, in a carriage, when a white man assisted her in getting out, offered his arm, which was instantly accepted, and he escorted her to the saloon of the building! In this statement he was collected, careful, and solemn—minutely describing the dress, appearance of the parties, as well as the carriage, the exact time, &c.—the clerks appointed for the purpose taking down every word, and the venerable jurors looking credulous and horror-stricken. Upon being called to rebut the testimony I, in truth and simplicity, confirmed his testimony in every particular!! The attorney, on our behalf, David Paul Brown, Esq., a gentleman, scholar, and philanthropist, in a tone of irony peculiarly severe, demanded, ’whether I had the unblushing impudence, in broad day-light, to offer my arm to my wife?’ I replied, in deep affectation of the criminality involved, that the only palliation I could offer, for conduct so outrageous was, that it was unwittingly done, it seemed so natural. This, as you might well suppose, produced some merriment at the expense of the witness for the county, and of all others, whose gullibility and prejudice had given credit to what would have been considered, had I been what is called a white man, an awful story.”
We were entertained handsomely . . . Robert has 3 pretty children.The Purvis family welcomed their fourth child and first daughter, Harriet, called "Hattie," in 1839.
The American Anti-Slavery Society was split in 1839 when members who objected to the participation of women withdrew, and formed the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.
In the summer of 1839, a group of African captives being transported on a slave ship, the "Amistad," seized control of the vessel. They were led by a young Mendi chief called Joseph Cinque. Although the men were re-captured, the case reached the Supreme Court in 1841, where former president John Quincy Adams won their freedom. Robert Purvis commissioned a portrait of Joseph Cinque by Nathaniel Jocelyn, who had painted the picture of William Garrison. Prints of the portrait were sold for one dollar to benefit the defense funds for the Amistad men. The original hung in the Purvis home.
|Portrait of Joseph Cinque|
by Nathaniel Jocelyn
|Reward advertisement for Harriet Jacobs|
She was a beautiful creature, quadroon in blood, just enough of Negro admixture to preserve her beauty from the premature ugliness of whites in this country . . . She went to her Mother's - an old emancipated slave - who lives in the suburbs of the town (Newbern, North Carolina) . . . In the loft of her Mother's hut, a place of a few feet in dimensions, this poor creature was confined for seven years.
. . . Finally at the end of seven years . . . she was brought in a vessel to Philadelphia.Harriet Jacobs later wrote a book about her life, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself. It was published in 1861.
In the fall of 1841, when the state of Pennsylvania levied an extra tax in order to meet payments on its debt, Purvis protested with a letter to the Philadelphia Public Ledger. As a wealthy man with holdings in real estate, he was required to pay taxes while prohibited from voting:
The fundamental principle of the government of the United States is taxation and representation . . . How infamously tyrannical to extort payment for that we are not allowed to possess!The night of the letter's publication, the Purvis house was surrounded by an angry mob. They were saved by a rumor which spread among the mob, saying that there were many armed men in the Purvis house. the mob turned its anger on a nearby black church in the neighborhood, burning it to the ground.
We reached the city [of Philadelphia], late that night. Looking out of my chamber-window, before going to bed, I saw, on the opposite side of the way, a handsome building of white marble, which had a mournful ghost-like aspect, dreary to behold. I attributed this to the sombre influence of the night, and on rising in the morning looked out again, expecting to see its steps and portico thronged with groups of people passing in and out. The door was still tight shut, however; the same cold cheerless air prevailed: and the building looked as if the marble statue of Don Guzman could alone have any business to transact within its gloomy walls. I hastened to inquire its name and purpose, and then my surprise vanished. It was the Tomb of many fortunes; the Great Catacomb of investment; the memorable United States Bank.
The stoppage of this bank, with all its ruinous consequences, had cast (as I was told on every side) a gloom on Philadelphia, under the depressing effect of which it yet laboured. It certainly did seem rather dull and out of spirits.
It is a handsome city, but distractingly regular. After walking about it for an hour or two, I felt that I would have given the world for a crooked street.
The collar of my coat appeared to stiffen, and the brim of my bat to expand, beneath its Quakerly influence. My hair shrunk into a sleek short crop, my hands folded themselves upon my breast of their own calm accord, and thoughts of taking lodgings in Mark Lane over against the Market Place, and of making a large fortune by speculations in corn, came over me involuntarily.
Philadelphia is most bountifully provided with fresh water, which is showered and jerked about, and turned on, and poured off, everywhere. The Waterworks, which are on a height near the city, are no less ornamental than useful, being tastefully laid out as a public garden, and kept in the best and neatest order. The river is dammed at this point, and forced by its own power into certain high tanks or reservoirs, whence the whole city, to the top stories of the houses, is supplied at a very trifling expense.
There are various public institutions. Among them a most excellent Hospital — a Quaker establishment, but not sectarian in the great benefits it confers; a quiet, quaint old Library, named after [Benjamin] Franklin; a handsome Exchange and Post Office; and so forth. In connection with the Quaker Hospital, there is a picture by West, which is exhibited for the benefit of the funds of the institution. The subject is, our Saviour healing the sick, and it is, perhaps, as favourable a specimen of the master as can be seen anywhere. Whether this be high or low praise, depends upon the reader's taste.
My stay in Philadelphia was very short, but what I saw of its society, I greatly liked. Treating of its general characteristics, I should be disposed to say that it is more provincial than Boston or New York, and that there is afloat in the fair city, an assumption of taste and criticism, savouring rather of those genteel discussions upon the same themes, in connection with Shakespeare and the Musical Glasses, of which we read in the Vicar of Wakefield.
|James and Lucretia Mott|
Phila., 2nd mo. 25th day, 1842. My dear Richard and Hannah Webb, and our other dear friends in Dublin, — For when writing to any one of your precious circle, I feel as if I were addressing all, C. Corkran, inclusive, in the yearnings of undiminished affection. As the result of our travel abroad, nothing affords more unmingled pleasure, than the reception of some three or four sheets of Richard's " illegible writing." The very difficulty we have in deciphering seems to heighten the gratification, for we know that when we have puzzled it out, we shall be paid for the effort. . . . Elizabeth Cady Stanton is at her father's.
She writes to her friend, Eliza J. Neall, that she has lately made her debut in public in a temperance speech, and was so eloquent in her appeals as to affect not only her audience, but herself to tears. About one hundred men were present. She infused into her speech a homeopathic dose of Woman's Rights, and does the same in many private conversations. In a letter to me, some time ago, she says, "The more I think on the present condition of women, the more am I oppressed with the reality of her degradation. The laws of our country, how unjust are they! our customs, how vicious! What God has made sinful, both in man and woman, custom has made sinful in woman alone. In talking with many people, I have been struck with this fact." . . .
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and sons
I began this long letter as dated. It is now Third mo. . . . I can only write a little each day, having many interruptions. Another lion has just arrived in the city — Charles Dickens. Our children have a strong desire to see him. I, too, have liked the benevolence of his writings, though I have read very little in them. I did not expect to seek an interview, or to invite him here, as he was not quite one of our sort. But just now, there was left at our door, his and his wife's card, with a kind letter from our dear friend, E. J. Keid, London, introducing them, and expressing a strong desire that we would make their acquaintance. There is not a woman in London, whose draft I would more gladly honor, So now we shall call on them, and our daughters are in high glee. I regret that in Boston and New York tho people have been so extravagant in their reception of the man.
. . . We yesterday attended the funeral of James Forten. You will see an account of his death in the "A. S. Standard," and an obituary written by Mary Grew. It was a real amalgamation funeral; hundreds of white people, and thousands of colored. . . . But I must close this very long letter. With kindest remembrances to all the loved circle, I am yours most truly, Lucretia Mott.
In the month of May, 1834, while one evening strolling up Broadway, New York, I saw a crowd making its way into the Minerva Rooms, and, having no pressing engagement, I followed, and was soon in a splendid hall, where some twelve or fifteen hundred persons were seated, and listening to rather a strange-looking man.
The speaker was tall and slim, with long arms, long legs, and a profusion of auburn or reddish hair hanging in ringlets down his shoulders; while a huge beard of the same colour fell upon his breast. His person was not at all improved by his dress. The legs of his trousers were shorter than those worn by smaller men: the sleeves of his coat were small and short, the shirt collar turned down in Byronic style, beard and hair hid his countenance, so that no redeeming feature could be found there . . .
Yet there was one redeeming quality about the man—that was the stream of fervid eloquence which escaped from his lips. I inquired his name, and was informed that it was Charles C. Burleigh. Nature has been profuse in showering her gifts upon Mr. Burleigh, but all has been bestowed upon his head and heart. There is a kind of eloquence which weaves its thread around the hearer, and gradually draws him into its web, fascinating him with its gaze, entangling him as the spider does the fly, until he is fast: such is the eloquence of C. C. Burleigh. As a debater he is unquestionably the first on the Anti-slavery platform. If he did not speak so fast, he would equal Wendell Phillips; if he did not reason his subject out of existence, he would surpass him. However, one would have to travel over many miles, and look in the faces of many men, before he would find one who has made more personal sacrifices, or done more to bring about the Emancipation of the American Slaves, than Mr. Charles C. Burleigh.
When the rioting began, Robert Purvis had been out of town on an antislavery speaking engagement. He returned home and sent his wife, children and servants upstairs, while he waited on the stairs with a rifle. For Purvis, it was the end of his adherence to the Garrisonian theory of nonresistance. On the third day of violence, local militia were finally called to subdue the riots. When his friend and fellow abolitionist, Henry Wright, wrote to Purvis for details of the riot, intending to publish them, Purvis wrote back that he was too discouraged to describe the events:
I am even now, in every way disqualified for making proper answers to your interrogations in reference to one of the most ferocious and bloody spirited mobs that ever cursed a Christian (?) community. I know not where I should begin, nor how . . . the wantonness, brutality and murderous spirit . . . nor of the apathy and inhumanity of the whole community - in regard to the mater - Press, Church, Magistrate, Clergymen and Devils are against us . . . I am convinced of our utter and complete nothingness in pubic estimation . . . Weighed down and cursed by a despotism whose sway makes Hell on Earth . . . I am sick - miserably sick - everything around me is as dark as the grave . . . Nothing is redeeming, nothing hopeful, despair black as the face of Death hangs over us - And the bloody will is in the heart of the community to destroy us.
|1843 Anmerica Anti-Slavery Almanac|
Although he had moved his family away from Philadelphia to escape the violence, they still encountered prejudice. In 1846, members of the local livestock breeders made an effort to have him expelled.
Because even the local Quakers resisted having abolitionist meetings on their property,
to be dedicated to free discussion, to be independent of, and untrammeled by, any sect or party, to subserve the interest or caprice of no bigot, dogmatist, or tyrant, but in the fullest and freest sense to give ample scope and a fair field for the utterance of free speech.
|Byberry Friends Meeting House|
I was informed by a pious Quaker director, with sanctifying grace, imparting, doubtless, an unctuous glow to his saintly prejudices, that a school in the village of Mechanicsville was appropriated for "thine." the miserable shanty to which this benighted follower of George Fox alluded is the most flimsy and ridiculous sham which any tool of a skin-hating aristocracy have resorted to . . .
I look upon the proscription and exclusion of my children from the Public School as illegal, and unjustifiable usurpation of my right. . . . At considerable expense, I have been obliged to obtain the services of private teachers to instruct my children, while my school tax is greater, with a single exception, than that of any other citizen of the township.Purvis's letter had its effect: the school board voted to no longer exclude black children from the public schools. But in addition to schools and voting, the Purvises and other people of color were often excluded from stores, museums libraries, churches and other institutions.
The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in September 1850 infuriated all abolitionists, but people of color were especially discouraged that the nation seemed more intent on protecting the rights of slaveowners rather than those of free people of color. Martha Coffin Wright, visiting her sister Lucretia Coffin Mott in Philadelphia, wrote to her husband that Purvis
felt the insult keenly . . . and in consequence of these repeated insults has serious thoughts of selling out and going to England.Ordinary citizens could now be deputized to assist in the recovery of fugitives or face severe penalties, regardless of state laws or their personal beliefs about slavery. In an article in the Pennsylvania Freeman, Purvis reported on an October meeting at Byberry Hall at which a declaration was drafted regarding the Fugitive Slave Law. The declaration was signed by 38 people, mostly Byberry-area residents, including Robert Purvis and his wife Harriet Purvis:
Resolved, that we utterly disregard the monstrous and inhuman requirements of said bill, viewing them as subversive of the principles of Christianity - the Laws of God and our common humanity - and will not be deterred, come what my, to our "reputation, property or lives," by its unrighteous penalties, from the exercise of that higher law which commands "That whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even unto them"; and we will as heretofore open our doors for the reception and protection of every flying bond man, who may make his escape from the prison-house of bondage.Purvis decided to destroy all the records of the Vigilant Committee, in case his home was raided; he was concerned that resettled slaves would be in danger of being recaptured. He did not intend to submit quietly, however, or non-violently. At the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society in October 1850, Purvis protested the Fugitive Slave Law in a speech, saying:
Should any wretch enter my dwelling, any pale-face spectre among ye, to execute this law on men or mine, I'll seek his life, I'll shed his blood.Purvis and a group of blacks at the Brick Wesley African Methodist Episcopal Church denounced the act and publicized their intention to disobey it:
Resolved, that while we have heretofore yielded obedience to the laws of our country, however hard some of them have borne upon us, we deemed this law so wicked, so atrocious, so utterly at variance with the principles of the Constitution; so subversive of the objects of all law, the protection of the lives, liberty and prosperity of the governed . . . and so horribly cruel . . . that we deem it our sacred duty . . . to resist this law at any cost . . . and we hereby pledge ourselves, our fortunes and our sacred honor to do so.The Purvises continued their close friendship with James and Lucretia Mott. In 1850, Harriet Forten accompanied Lucretia Mott on a trip to Central College in New York, Mott to give a speech, Harriet to visit her sons Robert and Joseph.
Early in 1850, Joseph, a brilliant student who was nearly 15 years old, contracted meningitis. He died on May 18, 1851. He was buried at the college, as the quarantine prohibited his body being brought home. Lucretia Mott spoke at his memorial service. A neighbor in Byberry, Tacie Townsend, who was a graduate of Central College, wrote a poem, The Martyr Student, dedicated to Joseph.
|Home of William Parker|
Rumors were rampant, and local newspapers acerbated the situation; the Philadelphia Bulletin wrote:
The melancholy tragedy of Christiana in this state by which two citizens of Maryland lost their lives has established in blood the dangerous character of the modern abolitionists.
|Magazine Illustration of the Christiana attack|
|Castner Hanway and his wife|
The guilt of this foul murder rests not alone on the deluded individuals who were its immediate perpetrators, but the blood stains with an even deeper dye the skirts of those who promulgated doctrines subversive of all morality and all government.
What happened at Christiana intensified the debate among abolitionists about the use of force and violence: most had been committed to "nonresistance" (nonviolence). Now, there was more questioning whether blacks could be free without the use of force in their own defense. Robert Purvis and Lucretia Mott, a strong supporter of nonresistance, argued the subject. Purvis called Mott "the most belligerent nonresistant he had ever known."
One of the Mott's many guests was Cassius Marcellus Clay, an antislavery advocate from
Lucretia Mott deserves signal mention for her long and efficient services in the cause of the slave. She was born in 1793, of Friend's (Quaker) parentage; and early took ground against slavery, in common with the general tenets of those Christians. She was the organizer of the American Anti-Slavery branch of that Society in Philadelphia; opposed the use of slave-grown products; and, as a preacher of the Society of Friends, denounced slavery in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. She was ever the friend of the slave in all her various relations in life. On a visit to Mrs. Mott, after I began the anti-slavery war, I was handsomely entertained at a dinner at her home, where the leading anti-slavery men and women of Philadelphia were present. The Friends, of Philadelphia, in a genial climate, and by the purity of their lives, were noted for their beauty of body and soul. At this dinner, also, Edward Purvis, a half-breed white and African, was present. His father was a ship-carpenter, and accumulated a large property. His son was well educated at home and abroad, and would have been regarded as a refined gentleman in any country. He sat opposite me at dinner, and by the side of one of the most lovely girls present.
This was the first time in my life that I had ever sat at table with a mulatto on terms of equality. Notwithstanding my advanced ideas in the direction of liberalism, I felt the greatest shock at this new relation of the races and the sexes; so that I imagine it must have been observed by all. After dinner, Purvis, with the address which comes of intercourse in many countries, sought me, and commenced a very agreeable conversation, till my prejudices were well nigh conquered. He said, on his return from Europe once, on the same vessel was a South Carolina family, including wife and daughters. They denounced negro-equality; but, taking Purvis for a Spaniard, or Italian, they danced with him — never suspecting his lineage. Such is the force of habit and prejudice.
. . . The prejudice of slavery will last in this country for centuries.
During a tour of the United States in November 1852, abolitionist Sarah "Sallie" Holley visited the Byberry home of Harriet and Robert Purvis and recorded her impressions. Holley wrote that
Mr. Purvis is a coloured man, but so light that no stranger would suspect it. His wife is very lady-like in manners and conversation; something of the ease and blandness of a southern lady. The style of living here is quite uncommonly rich and elegant. Upon my arrival I was ushered into a beautiful room where there was a large wood fire blazing most delightfully in an open fireplace.
|Sarah "Sallie" Holley|
During the poultry exhibition . . . a gentleman came near Mr. Purvis's exhibit, and as he was admiring them and remarking on their rare beauty, he said to Mr. Purvis (not knowing him), "And These belong to that black nigger down in Byberry." Mr. Pl. replied, "Why friend, you put it in rather strong language, but you can judge for yourself - I am that man." The other man turned and went away.
|William Wells Brown|
There is no colored man in this country to whom the Anti-slavery cause is more indebted than to Mr. Purvis. Endowed with a capacious and reflective mind, he is ever in search after truth; and, consequently, all reforms find in him an able and devoted advocate. Inheriting a large fortune, he has had the means, as well as the will, to do good. Few men in this country, either colored or white, possess the rare accomplishments of Robert Purvis.
In no city in the Free States does the Anti-slavery movement have more bitter opponents than in Philadelphia. Close to two of our Southern States, and connected as it is in a commercial point of view, it could scarcely be otherwise. Colorphobia is more rampant there than in the pro-slavery, negro-hating city of New York. I was not destined to escape this unnatural and anti-christian prejudice. While walking through Chestnut-street, in company with two of my fellow-passengers, we hailed an omnibus going in the direction which we wished to go. It immediately stopped, and the white men were furnished with seats, but I was told that "We don't allow niggers to ride in here." It so happened that these two persons had rode in the same car with me from London to Liverpool. We had put up at the same hotel at the latter place, and had crossed the Atlantic in the same steamer. But as soon as we touch the soil of America we can no longer ride in the same conveyance, no longer eat at the same table, or be regarded with equal justice, by our thin-skinned democracy.
During five years' residence in monarchical Europe I had enjoyed the rights allowed to all foreigners in the countries through which I passed; but on returning to my NATIVE LAND the influence of slavery meets me the first day that I am in the country. Had I been an escaped felon, like John Mitchell, no one would have questioned my right to a seat in a Philadelphia omnibus. Neither of the foreigners who were allowed to ride in this carriage had ever visited our country before. The constitution of these United States was as a blank to them: the Declaration of Independence, in all probability, they had never seen,--much less, read. But what mattered it? They were white, and that was enough.
The fact of my being an American by birth could not be denied; that I had read and understood the constitution and laws, the most pro-slavery, negro-hating professor of Christianity would admit; but I was colored, and that was enough.
. . . I had eaten at the same table with Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, Charles Dickens, Eliza Cook, Alfred Tennyson, and the son-in-law of Sir Walter Scott; the omnibuses of Paris, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Liverpool, had stopped to take me up . . .but what mattered that? My face was not white, my hair was not straight; and, therefore, I must be excluded from a seat in a third-rate American omnibus. . .
I charge this prejudice to the pro-slavery pulpits of our land, which first set the example of proscription by erecting in their churches the "negro pew." I charge it to that hypocritical profession of democracy which will welcome fugitives from other countries, and drive its own into exile. I charge it to the recreant sons of the men who carried on the American revolutionary war, and who come together every fourth of July to boast of what their fathers did, while they, their sons, have become associated with bloodhounds, to be put at any moment on the track of the fugitive slave.
But I had returned to the country for the express purpose of joining in the glorious battle against slavery, of which this Negrophobia is a legitimate offspring.
|Members of the Vigilance Committee|
|John H. Wheeler|
Of all the parties to the act of violence, he was the only white man, the only citizen, the only individual having recognized political rights, the only person whose social training could certainly interpret either his own duties or the rights of others under the constitution of the land."
|John Kintzing Kane|
|Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia|
A tyrannical judge is one of the vilest and most dangerous of despots. We refer to Judge Kane of Philadelphia. Fellow citizens of the North, let us unite to free our country from this degrading bondage of the Slave Power.
No man who carries his Negroes into a Free State is deserving of any sympathy in his loss. He invites it, with an assurance that the invitation will be accepted.The Pennsylvanian, a Democratic and pro-slavery newspaper, was rabid in its denunciation of Williamson and in support of Wheeler and Judge Kane. "Highway Robbery of an Ambassador" was the headline of their July 20th story, with a lurid account of Williamson leading a "gang of some dozen Negroes" -- inflated to 20 in later accounts. "It is said that one of the gang threatened to cut Mr. Wheeler’s throat if he interfered." Williamson was
one of those fiery zealots in the cause, who would make a saint of a runaway Negro no matter how worthless and degraded. His whole nature seems perverted, and the channel of sympathy to his heart clogged for everything else but a black skin and a woolly head.
|Passmore Williamson in his prison cell|
During the trial, Mrs. Mott was in attendance to give sympathy or help as occasion might offer; and when the poor woman was hastily taken from tho room, and placed in a carriage to be driven rapidly away, under an armed guard, she sat by her side. To that sanctuary of refuge, Mr. and Mrs. Mott's house in Arch Street, they hastened. Entering at the front door, and quickly passing through the house, Jane Johnson reentered the carriage at the rear, and was taken to a place of safety. In that moment of intense excitement, when every one else was wholly absorbed in the one thought of escaping pursuit, it occurred to Mrs. Mott that Jane might be hungry, as she had had no dinner. Seizing apples and crackers from her storeroom, and potatoes from the kitchen fire, she ran with them to the carriage.
Pennsylvania law clearly did not recognize slavery and Judge Kane’s actions seemed a clear violation of states’ rights and a usurpation of federal authority in defense of slavery in a free state. The federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 did not apply in this case as Jane Johnson was not a runaway fugitive slave: she had been transported to Philadelphia by her legal owner. To many it seemed there was no federal issue of any sort in this case, yet a federal district judge supported by a cadre of federal marshals seemed determined to make pro-slavery law where there was none. Williamson’s legal team initiated appeals, affidavits and statements regularly featured in the press, emphasizing Kane’s use of the federal bench to bend state law to the whim of a passing slaveholder rather than advancing antislavery arguments. It proved an effective strategy, generating a steady flow of articles denouncing Kane’s action.
Kane finally relented and, on November 2, accepted from Williamson testimony he had denounced in August as false, cleared him of contempt, and set him free. Wheeler withdrew his complaint on November 3, 1855.
|Harriet "Hattie" Purvis|
Byberry. Jan. 16th, 1856
My Lovely Ellen, I must not defer any longer writing to you. It has not been so very long since your letter came to me, has it? for indeed I cannot tell how the days come and go. I think of you and lots of others often but of you the most, I know you will say you don't much believe it, just what you said when I said your letters did me good.
. . . Yesterday was my birth-day, I was seventeen, I am getting old. Did you get any Christmas presents? I did, my brother Bob gave me a very pretty ring, George Barker gave me a beautiful bottle, did you like the Barkers much? Wasn't George bashful. . .
Oh! This is such a busy world. I find so many things to do, I am almost discouraged some times: how the days do steal on us, and steal from us, I cannot see any chance for ever getting my work accomplished. Nel! I have been teaching my little brothers and sister this winter, for there is no school here for them to go, except a Public School, and there they are made to sit by their selves, because their faces are not as white as the rest of the scholars. Oh! Ellie how it makes my blood boil when I think of it. Dame Fortune has not been very good to us.
. . . When you write tell me ever so much about your self; . . . Now--good-by dear, as ever your friend Hattie Purvis.
|David Bustill Bowser|
Another blow occurred in March 1857, when Chief Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney ruled in the Dred Scott decision that a black man had no rights which white men were bound to respect. Speaking at a meeting in April, Robert Purvis offered a resolution:
Resolved, that this atrocious decision furnishes final confirmation of the already well-known fact that under the Constitution and Government of the United States, the colored people are nothing, and can be nothing but an alien, disenfranchised and degraded people.He joined with a group of Pennyslvania abolitionists calling for a national Disunion convention "to consider the practicability, probability, and expediency of a Separation between the Free and Slave States." He later said
I am free to declare, without any fears of contradiction that the Government of the United States, in its formation and essential structure as well as in its practice, is one of the basest, meanest, and most atrocious despotisms that ever saw the face of the sun.
|The Motts' Home, "Roadside"|
In looking back now, I can recall no other room so attractive in its homely air of comfort as the old-fashioned parlor at Roadside. It was neither artistic nor elegant, but it was lived in, every day, and bore that indefinable mark. . . . In the south end was the library, a small square room, lighted by two windows, and a glass door opening out to the piazza. This little library was the sanctum, the gathering place of the family in the morning, the quiet retreat in the evening from the lively groups in the parlor. Two book-cases held the well-worn volumes, and from the walls looked down the faces of William Lloyd Garrison, William Ashurat, George Thompson, Elias Hicks, Miller McKim, Robert Purvis, and some members of the family.In the summer of 1857, Charlotte Forten, a niece of Harriet Forten Purvis, came to
Philadelphia. Sunday, June 14. Yes, it is pleasant to be home, but how very, very different it is from my dear New England. The air is almost suffocating here. . . . Think grandmother looks rather thin . . .
Wednedsay, June 17. Went to Byberry. . . . We spent the day very pleasantly at Byberry. William looks very poorly. Hattie has greatly improved in agreeableness at least. . . . Tacie Townsend was there. She is a gentle lovely girl. We had a long conversation together about our favorite books. I hope I shall meet her again. . . . We came down in the afternoon with Miss Griffiths and Mrs. D.C. Our conversation was almost entirely about prejudice. The ladies expressed themselves very warmly against it. On reaching the city, Mrs. Putnam and I were refused at two ice cream saloons, successively. Oh, how terribly I felt! Could say but few words. Mrs. Putnam told one of the people some wholesome truths, which cannot be soon forgotten. It is dreadful! dreadful! I cannot stay in such a place. I long for New England.
Saturday, June 20. Went to Byberry with Mrs. Putnam and Aunt Harriet. Had a delightful sail up the river. The country looks beautifully now. It is so very pleasant to be on a farm.
Sunday, June 21. This morning drove out in the pony wagon with Hattie and Mrs. Putnam. The roads are so dreadfully bad, that before we had gone far we stuck fast in the mud and were obliged to turn back. Walked around admiring the beautiful flowers . . . then slept until it was time to go to Tacie Townsend's. Had very pleasant ride and visit. Mrs. Townsend is a handsome Quaker lady . . . Tacie was, as usual, very lovely. She has an excellent library - a choice selection of the best poets. We looked over some fine pictures together, and found that our tastes agreed perfectly. While we were there a terrible storm came up. the size and sound of the hail stones were really terrific. The streams we had to cross were much swollen, and seemed dangerous, but we got safely through and reached home about nine o'clock.
Monday, June 22. A delightful day. Jumped into the hay wagon drawn by two really handsome grey mules, and took a pleasant ride with Charley. . . . Mr. Purvis is most entertaining. We had a long talk with him today . . . Another terrible thunderstorm. Aunt Harriet and Mrs. Putnam went to bed while Hattie and I read.
Tuesday, June 23. Came to town this morning. Refused again in a salon. "this place is totally hateful to me. . .
Thursday, June 25. This morning Mrs. Putnam left. Her attempt at departure was a fitting finale to our pleasant adventures in this delectable city. She was refused admission to the car in which she wished to go, on the C. and O. Railroad, and was ordered to go in the "colored car," which she of course indignantly refused to do, and was obliged to return home and wait for the ten o'clock "Way Line," in which she met with no difficulty. . . .
Tuesday, September 1. Sad news to-day. Cousin William is dead - died last Friday. Though we have expected so long, it still seems sudden to us. The coming of the Angel of Death is every unexpected to us. It is some consolation to know that one we love has left a world of sorrow and sin and strife to enter into perfect peace.The Purvis's oldest son, William, had been ill for some time; he died on August 28, almost 25 years old. He was buried at the Byberry Meeting cemetery. Lucretia Mott wrote to her sister:
James and self went up last 5th day to tea. They feel the loss much. Harriet and her daughter fretted.Harriet Purvis invited Charlotte Forten to live with them at Harmony Hall and teach the younger children, Georgianna and Granville. Charlotte wrote in her journal:
Sunday, April 25. Wrote some letters. While writing the bell rang . . . Came in and found lovely Mrs. Lucretia Mott and some friends, among whom was an English lady; a most delightful and interesting person. . . . She has written a book on the Unity of the Races. . . . She resides in Algeria . . .
Wednesday, June 16. . . . This eve. was beautiful. Had a glorious sunset. Hattie, Charles, Georgie and I went on a strawberry expedition. . . . We had an abundance of fun during our walk. Hattie, who is a capital mimic, amused me exceedingly. Laughed till we nearly exhausted . . .
Tuesday, June 22. Took a very pleasant drive this beautiful morn. Stopped at Tacie's. . .
Wednesday, June 23. Had an Essex Transcript, full of interesting matter, from Mr. Purvis. After school went to ride with Henry in the donkey wagon. Had a very pleasant ride till we got within a little distance of home. Then Monsieur le donkey took it into his head to be frightened at some cows, and jumped into a ditch nearly upsetting the wagon. Whereupon I took my leave, and preferred to walk home.
Thursday, June 24. Are having perfect June days now. Gathered some flowers for Aunt Margaretta. After school Hattie and I took a walk to Dr. C.'s. Met Tacie there. Had a pleasant conversation, and a delightful walk home in the rising moonlight. . . .
Friday, June 25. Very hot day. Perfectly beautiful moonlight eve. Mr. Purvis drove Hattie and me to Tacie's where we spent an hour or two delightfully. . .
Sunday. June 27. . . Read "Picciola" with Tacie. Mr. Purvis read the "Prisoner of Chillon" to us. . . .
Wednesday, June 30. . . Last night we had quite an amusing comedy enacted. Mr. Purvis had one of his sleep talking attacks, and said the most ridiculous things. I laughed until I was exhausted. Then Hattie had the nightmare, and nearly threw herself out of bed, imagining that she saw "something clothed in white" passing through the room . .
Philadelphia . . . Monday, July 5. . . . Spent yesterday afternoon and eve. in trying to rest; but in vain. Patriotic young America kept up a din in celebrating their glorious Fourth, that rest was impossible. My very soul is sick of such a mockery. All day my thoughts revered that delightful Grove at Framingham where the noblest and best and most eloquent of our land uttered their testimony against its hypocrisy. . .
Tuesday, July 6. Went to Aunt Sarah's this morn. As usual a scene of confusion and disorder greeted me. What a contrast to the elegance and order of Byberry. . . .
Sunday, July 11. . . Tacie and I spent most of the morning in the woods, close to a pretty little stream . . . gladdening our ears with its sweet, dreamy music. . . We did nothing but talk. Tacie told me all about her college life . . . I know and love her all the better for this day's pleasant intercourse. . . . Tacie has a very nice collection of books. . . .
Byberry. Wednesday, August 25. . . Had some very amusing tableaux. Dressed the boys as wandering musicians. Charlie looked like a splendid oriental magician in his long scarlet rob and white silk cap with black plumes. Hattie and I were a bride and groom of the olden time. . . . Our Irish girls were in ectasies, and what with their mirth and the children's we had a merry time of it. We waited for Aunt Harriet, Tacie and Mr. Purvis as long as we could, but at last had to doff our robes, for they came not. Sat up very late, reading. . .
Saturday, September 18. After school Mr. Purvis drove me to Tacie's. Spent several hours with her . . Tacie came back with us, and we had a delightful eve. Mr. Purvis reading to us some old letters, written when he was in Europe . . .
Sunday, September 19. . . . Quite a large party dined with us. Howard Gilbert was there. . . . He and Mr. Purvis had some very spicy discussions.
Monday, April 4, 1859. Heard to-day that there has been another fugitive arrested. There is to be a trial. God grant that poor man may be released from the clutches of the slave-hunters. Mr. Purvis has gone down. We wait anxiously to hear the result of the trial. How long, oh, how long shall such a state of things as this last?Daniel Dangerfield had been arrested in Harrisburg by an armed U.S. Marshal claiming that he was a fugitive from the ownership of Elizabeth Simpson of Virginia. People in Harrisburg knew the arrested man as Daniel Webster -- a "peaceable, honest, and industrious" fence-maker. Marshals sent him immediately by train to Philadelphia so as to avoid demonstrations or attempts to free him in the town. Under the law, slaveholders need only sign affidavits like the one sworn against Dangerfield. Bystanders were required to help marshals grab their victims. Federal commissioners decided the cases, and defendants could not testify. The law, in historian Eric Foner's words, "made slavery a national institution."
|Martha Coffin Wright|
On Monday, crowds numbering in the thousands waited outside the court, the colored people outnumbering the whites. Lucretia Coffin Mott, Mary Grew, Charlotte Forten and Passmore Williamson were spectators in the courtroom. Mott's sister, Martha Coffin Wright, told of elbowing her way in "amid the roars of the crowd." During a recess, Mott approached Longstreth:
I ventured to step forward, and, in an undertone, expressed to him the earnest hope that his conscience would not allow him to send this poor man into slavery. He replied that he must be bound by his oath of office.
The other discrepancy was height: the Virginians said the missing slave was about 5-foot-6. Longstreth had the prisoner stand and be measured. Brewster objected: "Get his boots off, your honor." Webster removed his boots. Longstreth made a note: boots on, 5-foot-10; boots off, nearly 5-9. As the lawyer for the side that generally said Negroes were better off enslaved, Brewster could hardly argue that, after five years' freedom, a man might stand taller.
Final arguments began Tuesday evening and lasted through the night. By noon on Wednesday, anticipation of a verdict was "painful" in intensity, McKim wrote. At 4 p.m., the courtroom filled again. "All was silence and suspense," Mary Grew wrote, "and none dared hope for a favorable conclusion." Longstreth began reading his decision. He noted that along with property, the case "involved the liberty or bondage of a human being." He said the slaveholders had proven a lawful claim on Daniel Dangerfield, who had fled in 1854. But the testimony persuaded him that the defendant in the courtroom had lived in Harrisburg since 1853. When Longstreth noted that Webster was 5-foot-10 -- taller than the fugitive -- tears and hurrahs filled the room. Longstreth ordered the prisoner "discharged." Lucretia Mott hooked her arm through Webster's. Slowly, they made their way out of the courtoom. Black men hoisted Webster into a carriage, unhitched the horses and pulled him through the city. "You never saw such an excited and happy crowd," Mott's sister wrote. Charlotte Forten recorded the aftermath in her journal:
Wednesday, April 6. good news! After waiting with intense and painful anxiety for the result of the three days' trail we are at last gladdened by the news that the alleged fugitive, Daniel Dangerfield, has been released. The Commissioner said that he had released him because he was not satisfied of his identity. Others are inclined to believe that the pressure of public sentiment - which was, strange to say, almost universally on the right side - was too overwhelming for the Commissioner to resist, particularly as his own family - even his wife, it is said, declared that they could discard him if he sent the man into slavery. It is encouraging to know that there was so much right and just feeling about the matter. It gives one some hope even for Philadelphia. Last night the court sat for fourteen hours, the longest session that has ever been held in this city. Many ladies stayed during the entire night, among them noble and venerable Lucretia Mott, untiring and devoted to the last. She is truly lovely - saintly in look as in spirit, for a beautiful soul shines through her beautiful face. . . .
127 S. Twelfth St. Phila. April 7th. 1859
My dear husband--
My last letter was delayed longer than I meant it should be and I am hardly rested enough from the exciting attendance at Court to be able to write now, but while every body is taking a nap I will give you a little history of our movements. I believe I told you that Miller feared there was no hope for the slave, but he was anxious that as many as could should go to the Commissioners office on Monday. Sister L. wrote to me to meet her there at 91/2. So Ellen and I started at 9 . . .we had leisure to admire the neatness of the office, a little back room, not half so large as your office. I doubt whether any but the claimants & witnesses & counsels would have been admitted, if we had not got foothold. People soon began to look in at the half glass door, and try the latch; Ellen helped me find out the secret of it, and we open’d the door for Sister L, Mrs. McClintock, Mrs. Truman, Anna Brown & others of our family & friends, & when the commissioner came from his back entrance, he must have been astonished to find a perfect jam. He said this case was not one for a town meeting. I will send you the papers telling of the adjournment to the Court House. When we got there there was a perfect jam and the door closed against us the moment they got the slave in amid the roars of the crowd.
Charles Walton had Ellen & Anna Davis under his care, and I kept by Sister L. & Miller McKim. It was very evident that none but the claimants and their friends were to be admitted, but by going round to another door, we got in and were fairly lifted from our feet by the pressure of the crowd to the little jury room. The glass was broken from the door, but we got the places we wanted. Sister L. held on to the slave & kept close by him all the time. The heat became almost insupportable, but we remained there till 1 P.M. & then adjourned to 4. We went early, & got in with less difficulty, but Mr. Furness who had dined with us at Edw. Hopper’s was excluded, & they wd. only admit ladies--by sending for the counsel however a good many managed to get in.
James Miller McKim
Thomas Mott, Charles Walton, & his brother, Ned Hallowell and other persevering ones. Abm. Barker & wife & many others of our friends, so that the room was nearly as crowded as the little jury room, tho’ twice as large. Sarah & Rebecca Yarnall went with us, on Tuesday. They adjourned between 9 & 10 to 4 P.M. on Tuesday. Sister L. & I dined at br. Benjamin’s & went early, but found the room nearly full. The excitement of the day before, and the heat of the room made me sick--my throat was inflamed & I had fever, but determined to remain as long as I could keep up. I could only stand it eight hours and then had to leave with Sarah & Rebecca at 1/2 past 11. They would have liked to stay longer, but Sarah urged me to go, seeing how sick I was.
Mary Grew begged me not to leave. I told her there was no hope for the slave & I was too ill to sit up. Thomas & Marianna & Miss Quincy were out at two parties & the girls had gone to bed, so being unable to get in, I waited on Sarah & Rebecca home, and staid all night there. Found in the morning that the decision was postponed to 4 P. M.--and then came home and went to bed, determined to go live or die. Took Belladonna & Mercurius--got up at 1/2 past 1--ready to receive Sister L. who came here to dinner, and accompanied by Thos. & Marianna Ellen & the Miss Waltons & Miss Quincy we started at 3--found a crowd at the door, many of them policemen, they said they had strict orders to admit only Mrs. Mott--we remonstrated, but finding them inexorable, Thos. advised her to go in, so she did, but we maintained our ground & at last they relented & let us in.
The first day Sister L. sat by the slave but the other days they took care to surround him. An old black man said if Mrs. Mott didn’t have a high place in Heaven he didn’t want to go there.
No one believed there was the remotest chance for the slave, it was therefore a joyful surprise when we found he was likely to be released. The officers couldn’t prevent the cheers that followed, and Charles Walton threw up the window & gave the word to the crowd below thronging the street. The slave was hurried into a carriage & borne off by his excited friends, and after dark they paraded up Arch Street to 13th, and past here giving before Edward Hopper’s and here “Three cheers for Lucretia Mott.”
You never saw such an excited & happy crowd--they had a carriage drawn by some of the crowd, with a long rope. Sister L. went out of town immediately after the decision. I was invited to go with her and spend the evening at Miller’s but did not feel well enough--did not expect even to sit up to hear Miss Quincy sing to a small company invited here, but felt a little better after tea & kept up.
Anna Hopper & Liv & Anna Davis were here notwithstanding. Anna D. & Ellen had seen the sun set and rise in the court room--they remained with Sister L. till the adjournment--after 6--Anna & Liv went home at 3 A. M. The party here was pleasant, every body was so elated at the unexpected decision. Miss Q. sang beautifully. She trembled with excitement, in court, and was very much overcome, as were some others at the decision, but said she wd. not have missed being there for a thousand pounds. She has always been so carefully guarded from everything, her brothers being rather conservative, that they would not have thought of the possibility of her being in such a crowd, but I have no doubt the determination of respectable people to witness the proceedings & to show their sympathy for the slave had a good effect. The counsel were serenaded last night. Perhaps you would rather I wd. not have written so much about it, and I would not, if there had been anything else, but I have neither seen nor heard anything else.Charlotte Forten wrote in her journal:
Friday, April 8. This eve. attended a large Anti-Slavery meeting at Samson Hall celebrating Daniel's release. A crowd of Southerners was present, and ere the meeting had progressed far they created a great disturbance, stamping, hallooing, groaning, etc. so that it was impossible to hear a word that the speakers were saying. In vain did the President strive to preserve order - the tumult increased every moment, and at one time there was a precipitate rush forward. We thought we should be crushed, but I did not feel at all frightened, I was too excited to think of fear. The veterans in the cause said that it reminded them of the time when the new and beautiful Pennsylvania Hall, which was afterward burned to the ground - was mobbed. But at last the police arrived. May of the disturbers were arrested, and order restored. Mr. Purvis's speech was fine; decidedly the most effective.
Saturday, April 9. The hero of the last few days come here to-night. He is a sturdy, sensible seeming man. It makes my heart beat quickly to see one who has just had so narrow an escape from a doom far darker and more terrible than death. Nor is he quite safe yet, for we hear that there are warrants out for his re-arrest. Poor man! there can be no rest for his weary feet nearer than the free soil of Canada. . . .
Saturday, April 23. Daniel has left us and we hear with joy that he is safe in Canada. Oh, stars and stripes, that wave so proudly over our mockery of freedom . . .
Saturday, April 30. Went to town with Mr. Purvis, Tacie and Hattie, to see Whittier. Had a delightful visit. . . . Thanks to the kindness of my good friends . . . I am offered a situation in the school of Mary Shepard. . . . I have had a truly kind and happy home here, and have become much attached to it. But the great advantage of attending school, the pleasure of being with Mary S., and, over all, my conviction that it is my duty to go . . . prevent me from hesitating a moment about going. . .
|The Liberator, November 1859|
Robert Purvis was co-chair of the mass meeting held in Philadelphia on Martyr Day, December 2, 1859, the day John Brown was hanged for his leadership of the Harper's Ferry raid. A racially-integrated assembly of several hundred abolitionists, among them Lucretia Mott and Unitarian minister William Furness, came together for a public prayer vigil for John Brown. Although the gathering was disrupted at times by pro-slavery sympathizers also in the audience, the National Anti-Slavery Standard reported that “the meeting was a great success, making a new era in the progress of the cause.” After Robert Purvis gave an impassioned speech in which he called John Brown “the Jesus of the 19th Century,” the police closed down the meeting.
|1860 Officers of the American Anti-Slavery Society|
What is the attitude of your boasting, braggart republic toward the 600,000 free people of color 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. That 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 that policy is, undoubtedly, to destroy the colored man, as a man, to prevent him from having any existence in the land except as a "chattel personal to all intents, constructions and purposes whatsoever ."
With this view, it says a colored 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; and he shall not even put his face in a United States court-room for any purpose, except by the sufferance of the white man.
I had occasion, a few days since, to go to the United States court-room in the city of Philadelphia. My errand was a proper one; it was to go bail for one of the noble band of colored men who had so bravely risked their lives for the rescue of a brother man on his way to eternal bondage. As I was about entering the door, I was stopped, and ordered back. I demanded the reason. "I have my orders," was the reply. What orders? "To keep out all colored people."
Now, sir, who was the man that offered me this indignity? It was Deputy-Marshal Jenkins, the notorious slave-catcher. And why did he do it? Because he had his orders from pious, praying, Christian Democrats, who hold and teach the damnable doctrine that the "black man has no rights that the white man is bound to respect."
It is true that Marshal Yost, to whom I indignantly appealed, reversed this man's orders, and apologized to me, assuring me that I could go in and out at my pleasure. But, sir, the apology made the matter worse; for, mark you, it was not me personally that was objected to, but the race with which I stand identified. Great God! who can think of such outrages, such meanness, suchdastardly, cowardly cruelty, without burning with indignation, and choking for want of words with which to denounce it?
And in the case of the noble little band referred to, the men who generously, heroically risked their lives to rescue the man who was about being carried back to slavery; look at their conduct; you know the circumstances. We recently had a slave trial in Philadelphia-no new thing in the city of "Brotherly Love." A victim of Virginia tyranny, a fugitive from Southern injustice, had made good his escape from the land of whips and chains to Pennsylvania, and had taken up his abode near the capital of the State. The place of his retreatwas discovered; the bloodhounds of the law scented him out, and caught him; they put him in chains and brought him before Judge Cadwallader -a man whose pro-slavery antecedents made him a fitting instrument for the execution of the accursed Fugitive Slave Law. The sequel can easily be imagined. Brewster, a leading Democrat-the man, who, like your O'Conor of this city, has the unblushing hardihood to defend the enslavement of the black man upon principle-advocated his return. The man was sent into life-long bondage.
While the trial was going on, slaveholders, Southern students and pro-slavery Market-street salesmen were freely admitted; but the colored people, the class most interested, were carefully excluded.
Market Street, Philadelphia
Prohibited from entering, they thronged around the door of the courthouse. At last the prisoner was brought out, handcuffed and guarded by his captors; he was put into a carriage which started off in the direction of the South. Some ten or twelve brave black men made a rush for the carriage, in hopes of effecting a rescue; they were overpowered, beaten, put under arrest and carried to prison, there to await their trial, before this same Judge Cadwallader, for violating the Fugitive Slave law!
Mark you, they may go into the courtroom as prisoners, but not as spectators! They may not have an opportunity of hearing the law expounded, but they may be punished if they make themselves chargeable with violating it!
. . . There was a man in Philadelphia, the other day, who stated that he owned and sailed a schooner between that city and different ports in the State of Maryland-that his vessel had been seized in the town of Easton, (I believe it was,) or some other town on the Eastern Shore, on the allegation that, contrary to law, there was no white man on board. The vessel constituted his entire property and sole means of supporting his family. He was advised to sue for its recovery, which he did, and, after a long and expensive litigation, thecase was decided in his favor. But by this time the vessel had rotted and gone to wreck, and the man found himself reduced to beggary. His business in Philadelphia was to raise $50 with which to take himself and family out of this cursed land, to a country where liberty is not a mockery, and freedom a mere idle name!
. . . Your American Democracy-your piebald and rotten Democracy, that talks loudly about equal rights, and at the same time tramples one-sixth of the population of the country in the dust, and declares that they have "no rights which a white man is bound to respect." . . . Your Reform Convention, your Pierce Butlers-the man who, a year ago, put up nearly four hundred human beings on the block in Georgia, and sold them to the highest bidder-your Pierce Butlers disfranchised me, and I am without any political rights whatever.
I am taxed to support a government which takes my money and tramples on me.Pierce Butler was a South Carolina planter who represented the state in the Continental Congress, the 1787 Constitutional Convention and the Senate. One of the largest slaveholders in the United States, Butler defended American slavery for both political and personal motive. He introduced and supported measures to benefit slaveholders, including counting the full slave population in state totals for the purposes of Congressional apportionment. The compromise measure provided for counting three-fifths of the slave population in state totals, which led to Southern states having disproportionate power.
|Pierce Mease Butler|
On the faces of all [the slaves] was an expression of heavy grief; some appeared to be resigned . . . some sat brooding moodily over their sorrows . . . their bodies rocking to and fro with a restless motion that was never stilled.When the sale was complete, 429 men, women, and children had been auctioned to the highest bidder, netting more than $300,000 and restoring Pierce Butler to his accustomed affluence. It was short-lived, howevever; he was briefly imprisoned for treason in August 1861, and sat out the Civil War in Philadelphia, a refuge for numerous Southerners. He returned to his plantation after the war ended, but died of malaria in 1867.
Reporters visited Purvis at his home and published their interview in The Liberator on September 21, 1860:
The stage put us down at his gate . . . His dwelling stands some distance back from the turnpike. It is approached by a broad lawn, and shaded with ancient trees. In the rear stands a fine series of barns. There are magnificent orchards connected with his farm, and his live stock is of the most approved breeds. We understand that he receives numbers of premiums annually from agricultural societies. In this fine old mansion Mr. Purvis has resided many years.
We were ushered, upon our visit, into a pleasant dining room, hung with a number of paintings. Upon one side of an old-fashioned mantel was a large portrait of a fine looking white man; on the other side, a portrait of a swarthy negro. Above these old John Brown looked gloomily down like a bearded patriarch.
In a few minutes Mr. Purvis came in. We had anticipated a stubborn-looking negro, with a swagger, and a tone of bravado. In place of such we saw a tall, beautifully knit gentleman, almost white, and handsomely dressed. His foot and hand were symmetrical and, although his hair was gray with years, every limb was full, and every movement supple and easy. He saluted us with decorous dignity, and began to converse. It was difficult to forget that the man before us was not of our own race. The topics upon which he spoke were chiefly personal.
He related some very amusing anecdotes of his relations with southern gentlemen. On, one occasion he applied for a passage to Liverpool in a Philadelphia packet. Some southern gentlemen, unacquainted with Purvis, save as a man of negro blood, protested that he should not be received. Among these was a Mr. Hayne, a near relative of Hayne the orator. Purvis accordingly went to Liverpool by another vessel.
He met Hayne and the southerners as they were about returning home, and took passage with them, passing for a white man. He gained their esteem, was cordially invited by each to visit him in the south, and no entertainment was complete without his joke and his presence. At a final dinner, given to the party by the captain of the vessel, Mr. Hayne, who had all along spoken violently of the negro race, publicly toasted Mr. Purvis, as the finest type of the Caucasian race he had ever met. Mr. Purvis rose to reply. "I am not a Caucasian," said he; "I belong to the degraded tribe of Africans."
The feelings of the South Carolinians need not be described.
Mr. Purvis has written a number of anti-slavery pamphlets, and is regarded, by rumor, as the president of the Underground Railroad. He has figured in many slave-rescue cases, some of which he relates with graphic manner of description. He is the heaviest tax-payer in the township, and owns two very valuable farms. By his influence the public schools of the township have been thrown open to colored children. He has also built, at his own expense, a hall for free debate. We left him with feelings of higher regard than we have yet felt for any of his people. It is proper to remark, that Purvis is the grandchild of a blackamoor, who was taken a slave to South Carolina.At the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society in October 1860, held in Philadelphia, The National Anti-Slavery Standard reported that Lucretia Mott was glad that the Society did not sanction the measures resorted to by John Brown:
Our principles lead us to reject and to intreat the oppressed to reject all carnal weapons, relying solely on those which are might through God to the pulling down of strongholds. We did not countenance force, and it did not become those--Friends and others--who go to the polls to elect a commander-in-chief of the army and navy, whose business it would be to use that army and navy, if needed, to keep the slaves of the South in their chains, and secure to the masters the undisturbed enjoyment of their system--it did not become such to find fault with us because we praise John Brown for his heroism.
For it is not John Brown the soldier that we praise; it is John Brown the moral hero; John Brown the noble confessor and martyr whom we honor, and whom we think it proper to honor in this day when men are carried away by the corrupt and pro-slavery clamor against him. Our weapons were drawn only from the armory of Truth; they were those of faith and hope and love. They were those of moral indignation strongly expressed against wrong.
Robert Purvis has said that I was "the most belligerent non-resistant he ever saw." I accept the character he gives me; and I glory in it. I have no idea, because I am a non-resistant, of submitting tamely to injustice inflicted either on me or on the slave. I will oppose it with all the moral powers with which I am endowed. I am no advocate of passivity. Quakerism, as I understand it, does not mean quietism. The early Friends were agitators; disturbers of the peace; and were more obnoxious in their day to charges, which are now so freely made, than we are.Purvis was criticized by some members for his outspokenness. The Philadelphia Bulletin reported:
Mr. Robert Purvis (colored) took the floor, and delivered one of his characteristic ultra harangues. This Government was the meanest and foulest despotism that ever existed. [Hisses.} Washington and Jefferson were slave-drivers and thieves, whose memory should be held in detestation. The Constitution was an accursed scroll, which he trampled underfoot. [Renewed hisses and exclamation of great disgust.] The audience might hiss until the crack of doom, for all the speaker cared, the founders of this country were man-thieves and murderers; he despised them and those who upheld them.The Philadelphia Press reported:
Mr. Robert Purvis, whose violence has never been questioned, came out on the evening of the first day with one of chis characteristic intemperate and violent speeches, which threatened for the time not only to interrupt the quietude of the affair but even to drive off the pioneers.Purvis responded during the convention:
I came to this meeting to keep as much as possible in the background; but . . . I know my vehemence when my feelings are touched, and I mean to speak guardedly. But, sir, it's no use; I can't be anything but Robert Purvis and when I speak I must speak in my own vernacular.The Civil War began in April, 1861; the Purvis home also had the anxiety over Robert Purvis, Jr., who was ill with tuberculosis, which his brother William had died of just four years earlier. Robert had been following in his father's footsteps with both abolition work and business, but in 1859 he began to show signs of tuberculosis. In 1861 he was confined to bed, with his cousin, Charlotte Forten, nursing him.
Purvis was one of many blacks who called for the enlistment of blacks in the Union Army, and who were angered and dismayed by the army's refusal.
My honored father-in-law, the late James Forten, used to narrate, with glowing feelings, stories of the courage and patriotism of the colored people in the Revolutionary struggle. He, as you know, was a soldier and prisoner of war in that contest. With others of his race, while yet a youth, he enlisted . . . What is true of him, as to patriotism and courage, is true of thousands of others of his complexion . . . The time will come, and is not far distant, when the people of this country will be glad to avail themselves of the assistance which they now so contemptuously and so foolishly reject.The Purvis's son, Robert Purvis, Jr,. died on March 19, 1862; he was buried next to his brother William in the Byberry Meeting burial ground. Both Lucretia Mott and Miller McKim spoke of Robert's life and qualities. William Lloyd Garrison wrote to his wife later that summer: "I found Mrs. Purvis still very deeply afflicted at the recent loss of their beautiful and noble son." Charlotte Forten wrote in her journal:
When I saw him lying so cold and still, and witnessed the agony of the loving hearts around him, I wish . . that I could have been taken instead of him. He had everything to live for . . .In August 1862, Purvis responded to renewed calls for blacks to emigrate and colonize outside of the United States:
Great God! Is injustice nothing? Is honor nothing?
Is even pecuniary interest to be sacrificed to this insane and vulgar hate?
. . . It is said that his is the "white man's country." Not so, sir. this is the red man's country by natural right and the black man's by virtue of his sufferings and toil.
Your fathers by violence drove the red man out and forced the black man in.
The children of the black man have enriched the soil by their tears, sweat and blood. Sir, we were born here, and here we chose to remain. . . . I elect to stay on the soil on which I was born, and on the plot of ground with I have fairly bought and honest paid for. Don't advise me to leave, and don't add insult to injury by telling me it's for my own good; of that I am to be the judge.
It is vain that you talk to me about "two races" and their "mutual antagonism."
In the matter of rights there is but one race and that is the human race.
When the war broke out, Mr. McKim was one of the first to welcome it as the harbinger of the slave's deliverance, and the country's redemption. "A righteous war," he said, "is better than a corrupt peace. When war can only be averted by consenting to crime, then welcome war with all its calamities."
In 1862, after the capture of Port Royal, he procured the calling of a public meeting of the citizens of Philadelphia to consider and provide for the wants of the ten thousand slaves who had been suddenly liberated. One of the results of this meeting was the organization of the Philadelphia Port Royal Relief Committee. By request he visited the Sea Islands, accompanied by his daughter, and on his return made a report which served his associates as a basis of operations, and which was republished extensively in this country and abroad.
After the proclamation of emancipation, he advocated an early dissolution of
the anti-slavery organization, and at the May Meeting of the American Anti-slavery Society, in 1864, introduced a proposition looking to that result. It was favorably received by Mr. Garrison and others, but no action was taken upon it at that time. When the question came up the following year, the proposition to disband was earnestly supported by Mr. Garrison, Mr. Quincy, Mr. May, Mr. Johnson, and others, but was strongly opposed by Wendell Phillips and his friends, among whom from Philadelphia were Mrs. Mott, Miss Grew, and Robert Purvis, and was decided by a vote in the negative.
William Lloyd Garrison
|Home for Charlotte Forten |
and other schoolteachers in
Beaufort, South Carolina
Robert Purvis was encouraged by the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1,
son of Frederick Douglass
as a member of the 54th Massachusetts
For the first time since this Society was organized, I stand before you a recognized citizen of the United States (applause). . . . Old things are passing away, all things are becoming new. Now a black man has rights, under this government, which every white man, here and elsewhere, is bound to respect (applause). The damnable doctrine of the detestable Taney no longer rules at Washington. The slaveholders and their miserable allies are biting the dust, and Copperhead Democracy has come to grief. . . . The black man is a citizen, soldiers, standing on an equality in the rank and file with the white soldiers . . . I see it in the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts . . . I see it, above all, in the glorious and immortal proclamation of Abraham Lincoln on the first of January 1863. (cheers)Charlotte Forten saw the Massachusetts 54th Regiment when they arrived in South Carolina a month later:
Tuesday, June 30. Day after day I have driven home from school, thoroughly exhausted. . . . We spend our evenings on the piazza, sitting up quite late generally in fear of the fleas, which torture us so . . . This eve. Mrs. Hunn, Lizzie and I rode with Col. Quincy Gillmore down to see the 54th Massachusetts which is encamped at Land's End. We were caught in a thunder shower, which prevented the Regt. from having its Dress Parade and spent the time in
Major Ned Hallowell's tent. . . . We had a very pleasant time. Colonel Gillmore insisted on our taking tea with him. Then we must stop to play whist, so it was midnight when we got home. Had a delightful ride in the bright moonlight. . .
Thursday, July 2. Col. Robert Shaw and Major Hallowell came to take tea with us, and afterwards stayed to the shout. . . . I am perfectly charmed with Col. Shaw. He seems to me in every way one of the most delightful persons I have ever met. . .
Monday, July 6. Came up from Beaufort to Land's End to-day . . . Tea with the officers of the 54th. . . . Were just in time to see the Dress Parade. Tis a splendid looking regt. An honor to the race. Then we went with Col Shaw to tea. Afterward sat outside the tent and listened to some very fine singing from some of the privates. . . . I am more than ever charmed with the noble little Col. Shaw. What purity, what nobleness of soul, what exquisite gentleness in that beautiful face! . . . I hope I shall have the pleasure of seeing him many times down here. He and his men are eager to be called into active service. Major Hallowell rode with Lizzie and me to Col Gillmore's tent where the rest of the party played whist till a very late hour . . . I was thoroughly exhausted. . . . Part of the time sat close to the water's edge, and watched the boats, and the gleaming lights over the water, and the rising moon . A deep peace was over everything . . .
Robert Gould Shaw
New York, Sunday, August 2. Came in sight of land to-day . . . Towards sunset our steamer touched the landing. There was a great crowd collected on shore (how odd it seemed to see so many white faces!) and we could not land till sometime after dark. . . . It seems so strange to be in a great city again . . .
Philadelphia. Monday, August 3. Had the hottest and most disagreeable rides to Philadelphia. . . . Am thoroughly exhausted. . . Too tired to think.
Thursday, August 6. Having endured the intense heat of the city, till I could bear it no longer, came to Byberry today. How delightful it is to breathe the sweet country air, to get into this quiet country home again. Dear Hattie looked better than when I saw her last. Constant outdoor exercise has brought back the roses to her cheeks. Georgianna has grown almost out of my remembrance, and so has Sara. . . . It is very, very pleasant to see them all again. We sat on the piazza very late talking . . .In December 1863, William Lloyd Garrison created a controversy when he announced that if Congress abolished slavery, he would abolish the American Anti-Slavery Society. Robert Purvis was concerned about the continuing prejudice and obstacles that blacks in the United States would face.
|Charles Burleigh Purvis|
During the war, many blacks wanted to visit their sons who were training in the U. S. Army at Camp William Penn, on the farm of Lucretia Mott’s son-in-law, Edward M. Davis. The trolley conductors however forced them to sit in back, or even outside. The blacks mounted a protest, refusing to give up their seats. Harriet Purvis participated in this protest. One day in 1866 she tried to take a seat on the trolley car, and was ordered to ride outside. She decided to get off the car, and on her way she told the people sitting near the door how unfair she thought this was. “I was heard with respect,” she said. She expressed her feelings to the
|"WE WILL PROVE OURSELVES MEN"|
The war ended in April 1865, but the assassination of Abraham Lincoln threw a pall over the celebrations. William Lloyd Garrison, the same month, reiterated that because of the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, he believed there was no further reason for the existence of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Other members, including Wendell Phillips and Robert Purvis, disagreed strongly. Garrison made a motion that the society dissolve: it was defeated by a vote of 118-48. At the fall meeting of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, Purvis joined with Phillips in rejecting a motion by Garrison to dissolve the Pennsylvania group. For the next several years, Purvis backed Phillips and attacked Garrison, feeling betrayed by his old friend. He later wrote:
Absolute justice, in the complete habiliment of all that constitutes a freeman, is our pledged duty to the slave, and short of it our work is not finished.
Purvis took the platform and poured upon my head all the vials of his vituperation, with eyes flashing fire and voice raised to its highest pitch - accusing me of being to the antislavery cause what Benedict Arnold was to the Revolutionary struggle and Judas Iscariot was to Jesus, and also ill-mannered and insult, && . . . He spoke several times, evincing the same biter spirit.Purvis continued to believe that the struggle for equality was not finished and much more work needed to be done. He wrote to the New England Anti-Slavery Convention:
I would repeat the words of our peerless LUCRETIA MOTT, in her letter to the late Anniversary Meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society that our duties still press upon us, and urge perseverance, until we have obtained the goal of our labors, to which we are pledged in "removing public prejudice" and securing "equality" of rights and privileges to all classes of American citizens. That this is not yet accomplished needs no argument. Let me repeat, our duties still press upon us.On September 13, 1866, Harriet Purvis spoke to the Female Society in support of black suffrage. During the speech Harriet denounced the practice of segregating black passengers on Philadelphia's railroad cars. She urged the society's committee on railroads as well as the citizens of Philadelphia to correct this injustice. Harriet reminded her audience of the sentiments of Judge Pitkin, a Republican from Louisiana who believed that it would be difficult to outlaw segregation.
Octavius Catto led the fight for legislative action on the streetcars. A major in the
Our aim and end should be homogeneity with the American people - we being in fact Americans . . . The great fundamental law of our Republican Government is Equal rights for all men by virtue of their common humanity.The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, usually referred to as simply the Freedmen's Bureau, was the federal agency that aided freedmen after the war's end. The Freedmen's Bureau Bill, which established the Freedmen's Bureau in March 3, 1865, was initiated by President Abraham Lincoln. The Bureau was part of the Department of War. Headed by Union Army General Oliver O. Howard, the Bureau started operations in 1865. Throughout the first year, it became clear that these tasks were more difficult than had been previously believed as conservative Southerners established Black Codes detrimental to the civil rights of people of color. In 1866, Congress renewed the charter for the Bureau, which President Andrew Johnson vetoed because it encroached into states' rights, used the military in peacetime, and would keep freed slaves from becoming independent. Johnson's administration intended to remove Howard from the agency; looking for a "colored man" to take the post, Johnson approached Frederick Douglass, who declined; then John Mercer Langston, who also refused; and finally Robert Purvis. Purvis consulted Wendell Phillips; he learned that it was a political stratagem on the part of Andrew Johnson:
We now see that the whole purpose of his execrable Excellency, to put a "colored" man in Gen. Howard's place is a mere "trick." . . . I hope his Excellency will be foiled in any attempt to shield himself from the indignation of the people which will be sure to follow his removal of Gen. Howard.The New York World reported on the meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society in early May, 1866:
The Anti-Slavery Society met last night at the lecture-hall of the Church of the Puritans, ostensibly for a business meeting, Wendell Phillips in the chair. There was a quaint collection here of gentlemen with spectacles, learned colored gentlemen, ladies with quaker bonnets, and other peculiar head gear, bloomer costume, and colored ladies in a condition of ecstatic excitement.
Mr. Pepper, of Norfolk, Virginia, commenced by a speech denouncing the
Freedmen's Bureau, saying that its officers were all corrupt, that it was doing more harm to the negroes than the State authorities could possibly do, and arguing from his own experience that any civil government was better than the military despotism now in power there. He concluded impotently by favoring negro suffrage.
Edward M. Davis
On motion, the following committees were appointed by the chair:
Nominating Committee--Edward Davis, of Pennsylvania; Lydia Mott, of New-York; Stephen Foster, of Massachusetts; Mary Green, and Susan B. Anthony, of New-York.
Susan B. Anthony
Business Committee--Rev. J.T. Sargeant, Lucretia Mott, Abby Smith, of Connecticut; Robert Purvis, Sallie Hollie, Parker Pillsbury, Martha C. Wright.
Finance Committee--E.M. Davis, Susan B. Anthony, Sarah Hallock.
The resolutions, which were published in yesterday's WORLD, were then taken up, seriatim, for formal adoption. Upon the reading of the resolution commending Congress for the passage of the Civil Right's bill, "over the veto of the Southern leaders," Mr. Prince suggested that it would be well to qualify the thanks offered to Congress in consideration of its failure to pass any act giving suffrage to the negro, and in consideration of the passage of the shameful act admitting Colorado with the word white in its constitution.
Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton said she saw no courage or devotion on the part of Congress in giving to the negro the Civil Rights bill, when they do not give him the suffrage. We have all along heard that all measures are not worth a flip which do not give the suffrage to the negro. . . . Mr. Parker Pillsbury said that he thought the Civil Rights bill was a compromise, and therefore rather evil than good. The principle that half a loaf is better than none will not hold good in morals, for the half loaf may be so bad as not to be worth so much as none at all. If it were a stepping stone, and Congress were as persistent as before for negro suffrage, he would be satisfied; but the shadow has gone back on the dial of Congress, and suffrage has been lost sight of. Congress has since interpreted the Civil Rights bill, by the bill admitting Colorado with the word white in its constitution.
Robert Purvis, of Philadelphia, pitched into Horace Greeley, Robert Dale Owen, Henry Ward Beecher and Carl Shurz. Mr. Shurz says he has a prejudice against the negro, and Mr. Beecher has said that he never saw the negro woman he would marry, and Greeley and Owen belonged to the compromise party, and these four therefore comprised to him a quartette of the ugliest men he knew of. (Laughter and applause.) He was opposed to the praise of the passage of the Civil Rights bill.
. . . Mrs. Stanton moved an amendment, that they be requested to so amend the constitution as to guarantee to the State a republican form of government which would strike out the words "white" and "male." In a cause for which women had labored for thirty years she did not see the justice of securing suffrage to the negro and denying to women.
Mrs. Abby Kelly Foster considered it out of place to bring the question of woman's suffrage into this convention. Suffrage to the negro and woman, although they were one in a broad sense, were separated in the public mind, and were best advocated separately. This was not a suffrage society alone, it
was an anti-slavery society. The negro was still a slave in fact, and at present, while the civil rights of negroes cannot be protected, we were still an anti-slavery society. The Chairman, Wendell Phillips, with some acerbity, said Mrs. Stanton's amendment was out of order, because it was not consistent with the constitution.
Robert Purvis, of Philadelphia, said he would appeal from the chairman's decision. He believed it was the business of this society to resist all oppression--the oppression of women, as well as others.Days later in the same building, The American Equal Rights Association (AERA) was formed. According to its constitution, its purpose was "to secure Equal Rights to all American citizens, especially the right of suffrage, irrespective of race, color or sex." The call to meeting said:
The recent war has unsettled all our governmental foundations. Let us see that in their restoration, all these unjust proscriptions are avoided.
Let Democracy be defined anew, as the government of the people, AND THE WHOLE PEOPLE.
. . . The black man, even the black soldier, is yet but half emancipated, nor will he be, until full suffrage and citizenship, are secured to him in the Federal Constitution.
Still more deplorable is the condition of the black woman; and legally, that of the white woman is no better!
Shall the sun of the nineteenth century go down on wrongs like these, in this nation, consecrated in its infancy to justice and freedom? Rather let our meeting be pledge as well as prophecy to the world of mankind, that the redemption of at least one great nation is near at hand.
|Susan B. Anthony|
Most AERA members supported the Fifteenth Amendment. Among prominent African American AERA members, Frederick Douglass and Dr. Charles Purvis supported the amendment, but Charles' father, Robert Purvis, joined Anthony and Stanton in opposition to it. Purvis was torn by the question, but he was convinced, as always, that all rights were indivisible. He supported women's right to suffrage along with that of black men. Martha Coffin Wright, attending with her sister Lucretia Mott, wrote her husband David:
Mr. Purvis's son Charles made an earnest protest against Mrs. Stanton's idea. . . Mr. Robert Purvis came forward and said that deeply as felt the wrongs of his race, and anxious as he felt for that long delayed measure of justice, he could not help feeling the justice of your demand, and seeing the danger of so much added ignorance and bigotry to weight down our cause therefore he must stand with us. You can imagine the vehement applause. He alluded to his son's arguments and his strong sympathy for them, but on the other hand, stood his daughter, palpitating in every nerve for the recognition of her rights.
When women because they are women are dragged from their houses and hung upon lamp posts; when their children are torn from their arms, and their brains dashed upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; than they will have the urgency to obtain the ballot equal to that of black men.
I can not agree that this or any hour is 'especially the negro's.' I am an anti-slavery man because I hate tyranny and in my nature revolt against oppression, whatever its form or character. As an Abolitionist, therefore, I am for the equal rights movement, and as one of the confessedly oppressed race, how could I be otherwise? With what grace could I ask the women of this country to labor for my enfranchisement, and at the same time be unwilling to put forth a hand to remove the tyranny, in some respects greater, to which they are subjected?
. . . regretting however, the incompleteness of the Amendment in its provisions, in not ignorning sex as well as color. thirty years ago the political disenfranchisement of the "colored" citizens of the State was effected, by the infernal Democracy in the misnamed "Reform Convention," and how consistently and persistently they have continued their persecution of their victims!
Robert Purvis's mother, Harried Judah Miller, died in the fall of 1869 at her home in Philadelphia; she was eighty-five years old. She had managed her inheritance from William Purvis wisely, and left and estate of $100,000 to Robert and his children. She was originally buried in the St. Thomas Episcopal Church cemetery; later Robert had her remains moved to the family plot at Fair Hill Burial Ground.
On April 13, 1871, Charles Purvis married Ann Hathaway from Eastport, Maine. The daughter of white abolitionists, Hathaway had been sent by the New England Freedmen's Aid Association to Richmond, Virginia to teach the freedmen. She had moved to Washington in 1869 to take charge of the National Association's Home for the Relief of Colored Women and Children. When she and Charles married, she was 38 years old and he was 26. Their daughter, Alice, was born in 1872, and a son, Robert, in 1874. Charles' cousin, Charlotte Forten, boarded with them while she taught at the Sumner High School in Washington.
In October 1871, during an election in Philadelphia, there were racial riots with fatalities. Octavius Catto, a colleague of the Purvises, was shot in front of his home by a young white man, and died instantly. A mass meeting was held to express the community's indignation not only at Catto's death, but at the failure of the authorities to arrest his killer. Robert Purvis was the first speaker. Catto's funeral was attended by 5,000 people, black and white.
Although the killer was identified as Frank Kelly, arrested and taken to trial, he was exonerated of any charges.
|Pages from one of William Still's secret UGRR diaries|
Charles Purvis taught medicine for several decades at Howard University. Due to the University's financial shortcomings, his position at Howard was unpaid from 1873 to 1907, and he supported himself by his private medical practice and investments in real estate.
The couple's first child, Robert, named after his grandfather, was born in 1873, followed by 4 more children over the next 20 years. Starting in 1880, Henry accepted a series of federal jobs.
Granville Purvis, their youngest son, graduated from Howard University and moved to Detroit, where he opened a pharmacy.
|William Lloyd Garrison|
Spending an evening at our dear Lucretia Mott's, I took with me this letter and one from yrselfAfter forty-three years of marriage, Harriet became ill and died of tuberculosis in June 1875, at the age of 65. She was buried in the family plot at Fair Hill Friends Burial Ground, a Quaker cemetery in Philadelphia. Purvis moved back to Philadelphia and later sold the Byberry house and farm. Their daughter Georgianna died in 1877 of tuberculosis, at the age of 27. She was buried next to her mother.
In 1878, Robert Purvis married Tacie Townsend, the Quaker poet who had been a close
|Garrison and his daughter|
After moving back to Philadelphia, Purvis remained active in the struggle for human rights and in local politics. He worked with the pacifist Universal Peace Union to fight the forced relocation of Native Americans, and participated in the national anti-lynching movement.
|Charles Burleigh Purvis|
|Robert Smedley's |
History of the
November 29th, 1885. Received a day or two ago a letter from dear Mr. Whitter. He says he is "sensibly nearing the end." . . . He speaks touchingly of the old friends, anti-slavery and literary, who have gone before. . . Mr. Whittier and Mr. Purvis are now the sole survivors of those who signed the Anti-Slavery Declaration in 1833.
My blood boils when I see the gingerly, mealy-mouthed manner in which the press of my country had handled the subject. I am almost compelled to believe we are looked upon as aliens.
We are to the manner born; we are native Americans.
. . . There is not a single African in the United States. . . . This is the land of our birth. . . . The fathers of the white race drove out the red man and forced the black man in. Our claim to remain here comes from the blood and sweat which has enriched the soil.Robert Purvis celebrated his 80th birthday on August 4, 1890; he received a letter from his old friend, John Greenleaf Whittier:
I have just learned by a note from Mary Grew that thy 80th birthday occurs on the 4th next. My thoughts turn to the convention of 1833 when we first met in the Anti-Slavery Convention. Of the 63 members of that memorable meeting only three and I remain. thank God that we have seen the end of slavery. . . . God bless the.Whittier died in 1892, making Robert Purvis the only surviving founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society.
If there is one thing fixed in the mind of the colored race it is that they believe they belong here because they have been born here . . . Here they'll stay and here they'll die, and here they'll hope for better things. . . I never met a slave in the hundreds I helped to gain their liberty who though that he was born a slave. they all believed in their natural right to freedom.Purvis at 80 had seven grandchildren: two by his son, Charles, and five by his son Henry. In 1890, his oldest grandchild, Alice, Charles' daughter, enrolled at Howard University. Sadly, his relationship with Henry was strained. When Purvis wrote his will in 1887, he named all his surviving children as executors with the exception of Henry. He added a codicil awarding Henry's share of the estate to his wife, Ella. His daughter, Hattie, continued to share the house in Philadelphia with Robert and Tacie, but was often away to attend women's rights conventions and to visit friends.
In March 1898, Edward Magill, the Quaker president of Swarthmore College, visited Purvis at his home to interview him about the Underground Railroad:
He is now quite feeble, his memory of recent events (not those of his earlier life) showing the effect of age. He received me most cordially, with all the grace and dignified courtesy for which he was so notably distinguished in early life. . .
He was remembered by many as “The President of the Underground Railroad,” and the phrase was used in The New York Times obituary. His funeral service was held at the Spring Garden Unitarian Church on Monday, April 18. Reverend Frederick Hinckley spoke at the service:
He believed in the cooperation of manly and womanly hearts; he believed in the home as created by the union of two equals in love and freedom. He believed the best results attainable in every department of life not when men work alone, not when women work alone, but when they work together.
. . . There were two articles in his creed. The first was: Truth is the summit of being; let us think and speak the truth. the second was: "to do good is my religion. I believe in the equality of men, and I believe that the religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy."Robert Purvis was buried next to his first wife and other members of his family in the Fair Hill Burial Ground in Philadelphia.
|Grave of Robert Purvis|
He was survived by his wife, Tacie, and four of his eight children: Charles, Hattie, Henry and Granville. He owned houses at 1524 North Street, Philadelphia (left to his wife), at 1522 Wallace Street, Philadelphia (left to his daughter Hattie), at 4232, 4234 and 4236 Market Street, West Philadelphia (left one each to his three sons, Charles, Henry and Granville) and the house where he lived on the North West corner of Mount Vernon and 16th Street.
In 2012, Margaret Hope Bacon published a biography, But One Race: The Life of Robert
Purvis. The historian Fergus Bordewich wrote that
In this long-overdue biography of Robert Purvis, Margaret Hope Bacon has given us back one of the towering figures in the history of civil rights. Bacon has given us not only the political man—whose name should be as familiar to us as that of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman—but also a compelling, full-round portrait of a deeply complex and appealing human being, whose natural optimism was sorely tested by the early loss of several children to disease, and by white America’s repeated betrayal of his abiding faith in the nation’s promise of freedom and equality.In 2014, a historical marker was placed at Byberry Hall, commemorating the 167th anniversary of its building by Robert Purvis. Purvis descendants attended the unveiling.
|Signature of Robert Purvis|
|"There is not a single African in the United States|
. . . We are native Americans."
~ Robert Purvis, 1886