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1601 Mt. Vernon Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19130
"underground railroad", slavery, anti-slavery
Former Home of Robert Purvis (1810-1898)
Located at 1601 Mount Vernon Street, in Philadelphia, PA, is the former home of Robert Purvis (1810-1898), a prominent anti-slavery activist in the 1800’s. This residence of Purvis was used to shelter slaves seeking their freedom, and was recognized as one of the pre-eminent stops on the underground railroad. Rumored to have harbored at least one slave per day, Purvis himself estimated to have sheltered between 9,000 and 11,000 slaves here between the years 1831-1861. This resulted in Purvis being unofficially recognized as the “President of the Underground Railroad”.
As for Purvis’ background, he was three-quarters European descent, was born to a fairly wealthy family, and was urged by some to “pass” for white. Instead, he chose to identify with the black community and use his education and wealth to fight slavery and help uplift the black race. He was raised in Philadelphia and married the daughter of Charlotte Forten Grimke.
The home is currently inaccessible, not being used, and is in a state of disrepair. However, it does appear that the home has been enclosed in gating and that some restoration work may be about to begin. There is a marker from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission at the residence.
Walking right up to a place where slaves hid during their journey to the "promised land" of freedom produces an exhilarating feeling that transforms the abstract into the tangible. Knowing that people such as Robert Purvis, who had nothing to gain by fighting for blacks’ rights, had the moral fortitude to place their personal assets directly into that fight for freedom gives hope and sets an example for anyone who wants to stand up and do something for what they believe in.