Eighty-nine-year-old Ellen Waters died this date, February 10th, in 1849 of “old age” and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground.
It is difficult to even remotely imagine what Ms. Water’s life was like. She was born into slavery before the American Revolution and self-reported that she was manumitted by her “mistress.”(1) Now at the time of her death in her 90th year of life, she lives in squalled poverty in one of the poorest and violent neighborhoods in the county. A neighborhood where the white gang the “Killers” roam the area with impunity attacking and killing African American like they are some sort of animal to be hunted. (2)
A neighborhood where every year on March 27th the annual “Fireman’s Parade” would provide an opportunity for white drunken racists to rampage through the streets of Black neighborhoods attacking it citizens.(3)
Ms. Waters lived in Shanty #2 at 67 Bedford Street near the intersection of 7th and South in the Southwark District. She was fortunate enough to live in the 12’x 12′ shack rent free because it was owned by her grandson who apparently lived there also. He worked as a clerk in a second-hand clothing store. It appears she worked as a laundress. (1)
We may read the few isolated facts present by the public records but we will never truly understand.
Photo is of a 19th Century African American woman. Her name was not recorded.
Note: The 1837 African American Census records that Ms. Waters is a widow and worshiped at Bethel A.M.E. Church.
(1) 1847 African American Census
(2) The Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/23/1849.
(3) The Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/2/1849.
Thirty-two-year-old Henry Matthew died this date, February 3rd, in 1853 of Tuberculosis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. I am afraid that I am not able to definitely identify Mr. Matthew in any of the censuses or city directories. There is no mention of him in the local newspapers of the era. We do know that he was born in Philadelphia around 1821 and was married at the time of his death. The family lived un Currant Alley which ran from Walnut Street to Spruce Street between 10th and 11th streets in the 7th Ward of the City.
Mrs. Matthew reported her husband’s occupation as “Boat Builder.” Many African American men up and down the East Coast became assistants or apprentices in established companies that were engaged in various phases of shipbuilding. They were employed as caulkers, blacksmiths, carpenters, sailmakers, ropemakers, spinners and anchor makers.* Robert Forten was a successful African American sailmaker in the first half 19th Century Philadelphia.
Perhaps the most notable of these African American men was Frederick Douglass. In the final months of his enslavement, he was put to work in a Baltimore shipyard and learned the skills of a ship caulker. He would pack the joints between the boards of a ship with Oakum, a tarred spun fiber. After his escape from bondage, he plied his trade in Newport, Rhode Island. His brutal and violence struggles in the Baltimore shipyard are documented in his biography.**
*Stavisky, Leonard Price, “Negro Craftsmanship in Early America.” The American Historical Review 54, no. 2 (1949): 315-25.
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, p. 83-87.
Five-year-old Hannah L. Andrews died this date, January 31st, in 1848 due to an Inflammation of the Bowels. She was the daughter of William (27) and Ellen (21) and sister to Sarah (5/a twin ?), John (3), William (2) and new newborn Charles according to the 1850 Federal Census. All were natives of Pennsylvania.
John was a Hostler which is a person employed to look after the horses of people staying at an inn or hotel. For this, he made $12 a month or approximately $300 in today’s currency. Ellen worked as a laundress earning $10 a month ($250). They rented a room at 66 Passyunk Road for $3.00 a month according to the 1847 African American Census.
The address is two block from Bethel Burying Ground. It was the filthiest in the area according to a November 24, 1849, Philadelphia Inquirer article. In addition, it was a major health threat to the residents given the existence of hog and cow pens a block away from the Andrews home. It was impossible to keep the animal waste from not filling the streets. These conditions may have been the cause of little Hannah’s illness. The Andrews’ corner of Passyunk Road and Catherine Street saw more than its share of white mob riots in the 1840s. *
The red arrow is the location Bethel Burying Ground and the black arrow is the Andrews’ residence.
*Philadelphia Inquirer, 15 July 1844 and 23 April 1845.
The newborn infant of Margaret and Arthur Tate died this date, January 26th, in 1847 of “Debility” and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The Tates lived at 229 Lombard Street and he was employed as a porter no doubt working on the docks and or the large open market shed that was only feet from his front door. Ms. Tate was a homemaker taking care of four other children four boys and a girl according to the 1850 Federal census. The Tates lost two of their sons, Francis and James. Both of their biographical sketches are on this website. All of the children were buried at Bethel Burying Ground.
Soon after the death of the Tate infant, Arthur became the Sexton of Bethel Church. He replaced Sheperd Gibbs. One of his responsibilities would have been the management of the burial ground in which his children were buried. As we can see from the document below Mr. Tate was highly thought of in the Black community and was very involved in his church.
From BETHEL GLEANINGS by Rev. Joseph S. Thompson, Pastor of Bethel A. M. E. Church. PHILADELPHIA, PA (1881). This can be view at http://stillfamily.library.temple.edu/bethel-gleanings-page-23.
Forty-five- year-old James Milburn died of “Diseases of the Liver and Lung” on January 18th in 1853 and was buried on the 29th at Bethel Burying Ground. The reason for the delay in burial was due to the weather that froze the over the Delaware River and covered the streets in ice and snow.* Mr. Milburn was a “prominent Mason” and his brethren from the city and county” ” . . . with all the honors of the order” marched in his funeral procession from his residence at 197 Lombard Street to the Bethel Burying Ground at 5th and Queen Street. The procession “attracted a great crowd of spectators.”** Mr. Milburn is one of several other Masons that have been identified as interred on Queen Street. It may have to do with the fact that the Reverend Richard Allen was a highly ranked Mason.
According to the 1847 African American Census, Mr. Milburn was employed as a barber that owned only $1.50 in personal property (about $40 in today’s currency) and paid $4.00 a month in rent which he shared with another male also a barber. Mr. Milburn stated to the 1847 census taker that he “. . . has two wives both of whom are supposed to be living.” He also stated that he had no religious affiliation. Mr. Milburn was born in Maryland.
For further reading on Black Masons in Philadelphia, you can go to pages 280-281 in William Dorsey’s Philadelphia & Ours: On the Past and Future of the Black City in American by Roger Lane.
*Daily Pennsylvanian, 18 January 1853.
** Daily Pennsylvanian, 24 January 1853.
Sixty-year-old Anna Maria Henson died this date, January 21th, in 1854 of heart disease and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. As of 1847 she lived at 185 Lombard Street and shared a large room with another woman. They paid $3.00 a month for rent or $75 in today’s currency. Ms. Henson’s 1854 death certificate states that she lived on 8th Street just south of South Street at the time of her death. The 1850 Federal Census reports that she was born in Maryland.
In the 1847 African American Census, Ms. Henson reported that she was employed as a nurse. Black women in the 19th century were employed as wet-nurses, child’s nurse, sick room nurse and hospital nurses in segregated maternity wards and general wards. The 1847 census shows that 21 Black women and men reported their occupation as “nurse.”
19th and early 20th century African American nurse.
Wet Nursing: Tramps, Unfit Mothers, and Neglected Children: Negotiating the family in Late Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia, Sherri Broder (2002).
Black Nursing in General: Black Women in Nursing, Darlene Clark Hine (1985).
One-year-old Emma Anderson died this date, January 17th, in 1854 of Pneumonia and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. She lived with her parents Elizabeth (36) and George (36) at #3 Gray’s Alley. Emma had a nine-year-old sister Georgianna. Both parents were born in Maryland while the children were born in Pennsylvania. George worked as a porter and earned $5 a week: approximately $125 in today’s currency. Elizabeth was a “day worker” and took care of the children.
The Gray’s Alley residence was a large tenement with 20 Black families living there as of the 1837 African American Census. The Anderson family lived in a 9’X9′ room for which they paid an estimated $3.00 a month ($75). The 1837 census taker reports that the residents of 3 Gray’s Alley are poor, but the building is not in as bad shape as 46 Spruce Street which is overrun by rats that attack the occupants and bite them in their sleep and eat their clothing.
The rear of a 19th-century tenement.