Robert Purivs Moves to Philadelphia Timelines: Setting the Stage for Catto’s Life

Robert Purvis’ family moves from Charleston to Philadelphia, planned as an interim stop. William Purvis wanted to relocate his family to his native Scotland, but died in Philadelphia, leaving a fortune to his sons. Robert Purvis became an important abolition and civil rights leader in Philadelphia. His father, William Purvis, was a wealthy white businessman, and his mother, Harriett Judah, was mixed race. In Charleston, the Purvis couple was only able to have a “common law” marriage due to restrictive laws. Robert Purvis, although frequently mistaken to be “white”, defined his identity as a black man and a kindred spirit with his grandmother, whom he said was a full-blooded Moor. His wife, Harriet, was James Forten’s daughter. Together, they formed the Vigilant Committee in the 1840’s to aid fugitive slaves. Harriet was also a founding member, with her daughters and Lucretia Mott, of the integrated Philadelphia Female Abolition Society.

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