Robert Purvis’ interest in abolition started early in his childhood due to the teachings of his father and other abolitionists. Born in 1810, in Charleston, SC, he was of African American, Hebrew, and English heritage. Educated in the North at Amherst College, he settled in Philadelphia, PA and became active in the anti-slavery cause.
Purvis was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery and the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. His wife, Harriett Forten, was a founder of the Female Anti-Slavery Society of Philadelphia. Their house was a well-known station on the Underground Railroad. He was instrumental in helping the Hawkins family find a place to settle in Byberry Township, PA.