Zedekiah Johnson Purnell

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Zedekiah Johnson Purnell
Born 1813
Movement Colored Conventions Movement
Spouse(s) Ann Sammons

Zedekiah Johnson Purnell (born 1813) was an African-American activist, businessman, and editor of the literary journal The Demosthenian Shield.[1] In the 1840s, Purnell emerged on the national stage as an outspoken proponent of an African-American press, supporting such authors as Charles Bennett Ray and Samuel Cornish.[1]

Early life[edit]

Zedekiah Johnson Purnell was born in Philadelphia in 1813, in one of the most socially active families in Philadelphia's black community.


He began work as a sailor, but eventually changed careers for "a more stable life ashore", becoming a hairdresser and a successful businessowner, located on the corner of Carpenter & Decatur Streets. As of the 1860 Philadelphia Census, his real estate property was valued at approximately $1100. His personal estate was valued at $400.


Purnell began his work as a "champion of the black press" in 1839 when he helped to found an organization that would become known as the Demosthenian Institute, "a literary society of colored young men". He was an avid supporter of Samuel Cornish and Charles B. Ray's Colored American and Martin R. Delany's Mystery.

Personal life[edit]

Purnell married Ann Sammons. Purnell and both were listed as members of St. Thomas's African Episcopal Church, a church of the black elite. They eventually moved to San Francisco, CA, continuing their civil rights activism.


  1. ^ a b Winch, Julie (2000). The Elite of Our People: Joseph Willson’s Sketches of Black Upper-Class Life in Antebellum Philadelphia. State College: Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 159. ISBN 9780271043029. 

External links[edit]

  • ColoredConventions.org is a website about the Colored Conventions Movement, that collected biographical information about Zedekiah Johnson Purnell