Fifty-three-year-old Frances Paul died on May 27th, 1853 of Typhoid Fever, and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Ms. Paul was born in New Jersey according to the 1850 United States Census and was the mother of two children according to the 1838 Philadelphia African American Census. According to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census, she was employed as a cook.
Thomas Paul was seventy-three years old when his spouse died. He was employed as a “laborer” according to the 1847 Census. The 1838 Philadelphia African American Census reports his occupation then as “cabinetmaker.” Mr. Paul was born enslaved in Maryland. He would outlive his spouse by fifteen years dying in 1868 at eighty-five years old of heart disease. He was buried at Lebanon Cemetery.
It appears from the 1847 Census and the 1850 U.S. Census that the Paul family in 1850 was Thomas, Lydia, and maybe a daughter named Lydia. The rest we likely boarders. The Pauls rented the first floor (and maybe the basement) of 245 South 7th Street for the hefty sum of $15 a month. That is the equivalent of approximately $530 in modern currency.
Sixth and Lombard Streets was ground zero for racial attacks by white Irish gangs. Black churches and businesses were prominent in the area and were regularly targeted. It was not uncommon to see groups of Black men and boys defending their neighborhood, especially on Sunday evenings. After late services at Bethel, the congregants would gather outside the church to share news and each other’s company. White gangs, fueled by alcohol courage, would prey on the parishioners. However, they were often met by Black defenders and driven away.
Ms. Francis Paul died on a clear day in late May when the temperature rose to seventy-two degrees. She was buried, with dignity, at bethel Burying Ground.
Twenty-six-year-old Cleary Watts died on May 1st, in 1849 of Tuberculosis, and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The gender of this person was not recorded. “Cleary” is normally a male’s name. However, I noticed that in 19th Century African American culture, it is also used for a female’s name. Mr./Ms. Watts was a member of the large Watts clan that had lived near the Delaware River on Corn Street above Reed Street for at least a decade before his or her’s death.
Below is the 1850 U.S. Census data on the Watts families on Corn Street. This was recorded one year after Cleary Watts’s death. The deceased may have been a member of Ephraim and Judith Watts’s family. It is likely that Judith was not Cleary’s biological mother.
The members of the Watts family were hard-working with the men employed as porters on the nearby Delaware River waterfront. The women were employed as laundresses, domestics, cooks, and dressmakers. The family attended services at Bethel A.M.E. Church and sent their young children to local private Black schools including the Lombard and St. Mary schools. They owned their own homes. Despite being model citizens, the color of their skin made them second-class citizens who were not allowed to vote or sit on juries. The family members still had to protect themselves from the white gangs who made a game out of “hunting the nig.” They escaped the whip and chains of the Virginia and Maryland plantations to be forced to live in an apartheid city with a different kind of slavery.
There were two days during the year that were much more dangerous for African Americans to be out and about on the streets of Philadelphia. The first and most notorious is July 4th when there were all-day-long drunken rampages by white gangs in the Black neighborhoods. The other is the day that Cleary Watts died. May 1st was traditionally when the Firemen’s Parade was held. All of the volunteer fire companies would cover their fire fighting equipment with layers of flowers and march throughout the city all day long with flags flourishing and bands playing patriotic tunes. During this show of white power, the criminal gangs associated with the fire companies went hunting for African Americans to assault.
On the day that Cleary Watts died, there were major attacks in the Black communities at 6th & Fitzwater Streets, 8th and Catharine Streets, and 5th and Shippen Street (now Bainbridge Street). Even though there were many injured, the newspaper only reported an elderly Black man and woman admitted to Pennsylvania Hospital with skull fractures and cuts. One of those injured was Mr. Isaac Newkkins who was beaten down in front of his home on Bedford Street.
Cleary Watts died on a day that dawned clear but saw intermittent showers for the rest of the day. Mr. or Ms. Cleary Watts was buried, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground by his or her large family.
(1) It is often difficult to determine the maternal lineages of older, formerly enslaved individuals. Plantation owners demanded enslaved females start having children when they were thirteen years old. By twenty years old, they were expected to have five children. As an incentive, enslavers would promise freedom to those women who survived their younger years and gave birth to at least fifteen children.
The nine-month-old son of John and Martha F. Burk died this date, April 9th, in 1846 of Hydrocephalus and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The disease has two types: (1) congenital and (2) acquired after the birth which may have been premature. Other causes for the second category are meningitis, tumor, head injury, and stroke. The child develops an enlarged head with ever-increasing spinal fluid pressure on the brain. Commonly called “water on the brain,” the poor child was a victim of constant seizures, urinary incontinence, blindness, deafness, headaches, and severe lethargy. Death comes after the brain is crushed by the build-up pressure. Victims of the disease were subjected to various painful “cures” that were quackery. Ms. Burk was twenty-three years old at the time of her child’s death. Mr. Burk was twenty-four.
The 1847 Philadelphia African American Census shows Mr. and Ms. Burk without children and living at #12 Barley Street in the Moyamensing District of Philadelphia. He worked as a laborer and she was self-employed as a day worker. They were both born in Virginia.
The Burks paid $3.75 a month in rent or approximately $138.00 in modern currency. Interestingly, the family had $500 in personal property which is approximately $18,400 in modern currency – a small fortune for a Black family in 1847. The 1850 U.S. Census may show us how the funds were utilized.
By 1850, the Burk family added three individuals. Jane Burke (38 years old), Martha F. Burke (7 years old), and Mary Burke (4 years old). They were all born in Maryland. The $500 may have been used to buy the freedom of the likely mother and daughters. The census taker took care to spell the last name of the new members differently. One possible scenario might be that Jane is the sister-in-law of Mr. John Burk.
By 1850 the large family lived in a room in Milton Street near the corner of 10th and Christian Streets. There is no mention of the family in Philadelphia in the 1860 U.S. Census. Philadelphia was not only a final destination for the recently liberated from slavery but also a stop on the way north to Canada.
The nine-month-old son of John and Martha Burk died on a clear day in early April when the temperature rose to a high of forty-nine degrees. He was buried, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.
Eight-month-old David Cole, Jr. died this date, March 25th, in 1846 of Pneumonia and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground on the 28th according to the Philadelphia Board of Health Records. He lived with his mother (unnamed) and father David, Sr. in the rear of a building on Emeline Street. He had a sister who was under five years old, according to the 1847 African American Census. There was also a woman over fifty years old in the family. The three adults were not native to Pennsylvania and likely were all born in Virginia. A note by the census taker states “Manumitted by Sarah Crippen of Virginia.” It doesn’t state who in the family was manumitted.
The 1847 Census has the Cole family living in the rear of a building on Emeline Street. There was only one thing worse than residing in one of the dilapidated wooden shells on the narrow thoroughfare; the worst place was living in a hovel in the rear of one of these horrible places. They tended to be originally built as a cow pen or pigpen. It had a roof and sides consisting of pieces of rugs and/or wood with a hole in the roof for smoke to try and rise from the dirt floor. The men, women, and children in these hell holes would freeze in the winter and bake in the summer. Deadly forms of Tuberculosis, Pneumonia, and Influenza were common. For the privilege of living like this, the family paid $6 a month or approximately $208.00 in modern currency. The $6 amount is double what it should have been compared with similar properties.
Eight-month-old David Cole, Jr. died on a day in late March when a “storm of heavy rain, accompanied with thunder and lighting” hit the city coming from the southwest. (1) He was one of four hundred and seventy-nine Philadelphia children to die of lung diseases in 1846, according to Philadelphia Board of Health records. The Cole family buried their son, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.
(1) This is likely the reason for the delay in the burial.
The one-year-old daughter of Southern and Julia Forten died this date, March 3rd, in 1852 of Catarrh Fever and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The diagnosis is an archaic term applied to several respiratory infections such as the flu, pneumonia, and even the common cold. The Forten child was one of 462 children to die of various respiratory illnesses in Philadelphia between 1852 and 1853, according to the Board of Health records.
According to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census, the Fortens lived in Salem Alley near the intersection of 12th and Lombard Street. As the above map shows, it was a narrow thoroughfare with three-story tenements and warehouses. The family lived in one room for which they paid $3 a month or in modern currency approximately $111.00. The Fortens were one of nine Black families living in the alley. The families totaled thirty-two men, women, and children. The men worked as coachmen, laborers, seamen, and waiters. The women were self-employed as laundresses, domestics, and hucksters (aka peddlers).
The 1847 Census records show twenty-four Black women were employed as hucksters, while eleven Black men were employed in the profession. These street vendors usually carried fresh vegetables and fruit. These peddlers meant that Black women do not have to hazard the harassment by drunk white thugs at the local outdoor markets. The top image is from the Emory University Collection and the other is from the Philadelphia Library Digital Collection.
Southern and Julia’s last name was spelled several ways during their lives. “Fortin” and “Fortune” were used and, in one instance, his first name was spelled “Southernland.” It is impossible to tell which spellings were accidental or intentional. It looks like the couple frequently would switch residences between Philadelphia and Burlington City, NJ. Julia died, a widow at 87 years old, in January of 1907 in Atlantic City, NJ. She would have several more children and, sadly, none lived to their teens.
The Forten baby girl died on an early day in March in 1852 and was buried, with dignity, by family and friends at Bethel Burying Ground.
Eighteen-month-old Joseph Middleton died this date, February 28th, in 1848, due to Whooping Cough, and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. I believe he was the grandson of Francis and Catherine Middleton. Comparing the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census and the 1850 U.S. Census, one could draw the conclusion that the child’s unnamed parents moved from the family’s residence shortly after their son’s death.
In 1850 the family contained Francis (60 y/o) and Catherine (50 y/o), both were free-born in New Jersey. Their four children included William (21 y/o), George (19 y/o), Alexander (15 y/o), and Tabitha (12 y/o). Tabitha was enrolled in Solomon Clarke’s private school. The four siblings were all born in Pennsylvania and could read and write.
Francis was employed as a porter, Catherine was self-employed as a laundress, doing wash and ironing. Both William and George were apprenticed to a bootmaker in 1847. By 1850, only George was listed as a bootmaker in the 1850 Census.
The Middleton family paid $3 a month in rent or approximately $103 in modern currency. It appears they rented more than one room. According to the 1847 African American Census, Stevens’ Court was solidly working class. It was home to sixteen Black families with a total of eighty-six men, women, and children. All of the women in these families worked as laundresses while the men worked as laborers. There were two men who reported their occupation as “seaman.”
The historical records show that the Middletons were industrious and religious people who sought education for their children. They thrived, despite living through decades of persecution that included race riots, daily street violence from white gangs, and epidemics of Cholera, Yellow Fever, Malaria, Typhoid, Typhus, and Tuberculosis.
The Middletons worshiped at Richard Allen’s Bethel A.M.E. Church at 6th and Lombard Streets and paid into their beneficial society that acted like a bank’s savings account for emergencies. Some funds from this society were likely used for little Joseph’s burial expenses.
Eighteen-month-old Joseph Middleton was one of Philadephia’s one hundred thirty-three children to have died of Whooping Cough between 1848 and 1849. He died on a day that started out sunny and clear but by late afternoon a storm hit the city bringing hail, snow, and rain. The child was buried, with dignity, by his family at Bethel Burying Ground.
Seventy-one-year-old John Wells died this date, February 4th, in 1848 of an inflammation of his lungs. The cause is not stated by the physician and could be one or a combination of viral and/or bacterial diseases.
In the 1838 Philadelphia Census, Mr. Wells reported he was employed as a porter. In the year before his death, Mr. Wells reported he worked as a woodsawyer earning $5 a week, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. He shared this occupation with whom appears to be his son, John D. Wells, who lived at the same address. The name of the spouse of the senior Mr. Wells was not recorded. The family moved a good deal between 1838 and 1847, finally residing at 114 South 9th Street where the senior Mr. Wells passed away.
John D. Wells lived with his spouse and a daughter. There are no records that I was able to locate that reported the first names of either adult female. The women were self-employed as laundresses, according to the 1838 Census. It also reported that two of the adults were “free-born.” However, it did not state which two.
Mr. Wells was born in 1776. As a child, he walked the streets of Philadelphia with George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams. He saw the exuberant colonists celebrate their newfound freedom from Great Britain and their written commitment to democracy and freedom for all. The young Mr. Wells would go on to realize that his rights had been stolen and sold away. His legacy is our legacy. Please say his name.
Mr. John Wells died on a clear cold day in February 1848 and was buried, with dignity, by his family and friends at Bethel Burying Ground.
Thirteen-year-old Joseph Cropper died this date, January 31st, in 1853 of a “sudden and unexpected Rupture of a Blood vessel in the Lungs.”
At the time of his death, Joseph was an inmate in the Philadelphia Colored House of Refuge. Built only three years before his death, it housed youths under twenty-one-years-old that were convicted of minor crimes, such as theft or fighting. Besides those children who were convicted of a crime, it also gave shelter for up to a year to those who were abandoned or homeless. (1)
It is possible that the young Mr. Cropper was already suffering from a serious respiratory disease, such as Tuberculosis, prior to his death. If that were the case, then it is strange that the attending physician and the coroner did not mention that fact. Joseph would have been in the advanced stages of the disease and should have been in the infirmary, not in a dormitory. These institutions were violent places, often ruled by gangs and run by people willing to look the other way for the sake of their own personal gain.
According to the 1850 U.S. Census, Joseph was the son of Daniel and Annie Maria Cropper. Mr. Cropper was forty years old at the time of his son’s death. Ms. Cropper was forty-two years old. Mr. Cropper was employed as a waiter and a porter, as the latter was usually seasonal.
Ms. Cropper was a stay-at-home mother caring for Joseph, his three sisters, and one brother. At the time of their brother’s death, Elizabeth was twenty-years-old, Sarah A. was twelve-years-old, Daniel, Jr. was nine-years-old, and Ann M. was seven-years-old. Mr. and Ms. Cropper were both born in Delaware, while the rest of the family members were born in Pennsylvania, according to the 1850 U.S. Census and Ms. Cropper’s obituary.
The family was not listed in the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. Their home address was last reported in the 1850 Philadelphia City Directory. The family lived on Emeline Street, now Kater Street. It was a narrow thoroughfare between 8th and 9th Streets and South and Bainbridge Streets. The street was packed with Black families that supported themselves by being employed as laborers, blacksmiths, waiters, laundresses, cooks, and dressmakers.
The Philadelphia city directories for the 1850s do not contain any mentions of the Cropper family. The family does appear in the 1860 U.S. Census as having moved back to Delaware and living in the New Castle area. Still living with their parents are Daniel, Jr. and Anna.
It appears that the family moved back to Delaware after the death of Joseph. Daniel Cropper died in December of 1886 and Annie Marie Cropper in 1889. (2)
Thirteen-year-old Joseph Cropper died on a clear and mild day at the end of January when the temperature rose to a high of forty-nine degrees. He was buried, with dignity, by his family at Bethel Burying Ground. There is the beginning of a family tree at Ancestry.com
Forty-year-old Mitchell Blake died this date, January 7th, in 1841 of Tuberculosis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Mr. Mitchell was employed as a laborer while his spouse Elizabeth was self-employed as a day worker, according to the 1838 Philadelphia African American Census. It was reported that they had one child who was in school. The same census reported that the family lived in a room in a tenement at 238 Lombard Street in the rear of the building. For this, they paid $20 a year in rent or approximately $1.60 a month for an 8′ X 8′ room. This figure indicates severe poverty and paints a grim picture of their day-to-day living. Mitchell and Elizabeth Blake were not native to Pennsylvania and arrived in Philadelphia with $25 in their possession.
After Mr. Blake died, Elizabeth chose to stay at the Lombard Street address, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. It appears that their child had died or was no longer living with the child’s mother. The 1847 Census reports that Elizabeth now had a male child under the age of five years.
In October of 1840, Mr. Blake was dying. He lived another three months, however, the lining of his lungs was already damaged and they were leaking blood. Whether he was bedridden or mobile, he would have at least heard the rioting going on in Lombard Street. It was national election day on Friday, October 30th, and much like every Fourth of July in the city, it gave rise to the drunken hunting of African Americans by Irish gangs. A group of these racist thugs got hold of a rowboat and put it in the back of a horse-drawn freight wagon and filled it with armed white men. Their mission was to visit every Black church in the area and do as much violence and damage they could get away with in this virtually lawless city. When they pulled up to Bethel Church, they met a group of Black men who were not going to let their new church be vandalized. They drove off the boatload of gangsters who returned with overwhelming numbers that forced the parishioners into the church. According to the newspapers, the terrorists stopped after all the windows in the church were broken. Other Black churches did not fair as well. (1)
The child that Elizabeth lost after the death of her husband may have been Mary Amelia Blake who died on October 13, 1842, of Pneumonia. She was four years old and likely would have been placed in the same grave as her father.
Mr. Blake died on an exceptionally warm day in early January. The warm winds from the south caused the thick ice blocking the Delaware River to break up and allow ship traffic to advance.
He was buried, with dignity, by his family and friends at Bethel Burying Ground.
(1) Public Ledger, 2 Nov 1840; The Colored American, 14 Nov 1840.
Seventy-one-year-old Jasper White died on this date, December 13th in 1853, of “old age.” Mr. White’s first name has also appeared as Joseph, Jesper, and Casper in the 1840 and 1850 federal censuses and the Philadelphia African Censuses of 1838 and 1847.
In the 1838 Census, Mr. White reported that he and three other family members were formerly enslaved. According to the census taker, some bought their freedom, although it is unclear how many. Others had not. But how the latter group gained their liberty is not recorded. In the 1850 Federal Census, the family is recorded as Mr. White, 67 years old, and Comfort White, 60 years of age. Also, there was Cosmos White, 27 years old, and Rachel White, 25 years. All four individuals were born in Maryland.
In addition, there was Margaret, who was six years old, and Georgianna, who was three years old. Both children were born in Philadelphia, according to the Census.
Jasper White stood five foot five and a half inches. He had a light complexion and his body had no scars and bore no signs of the whip. He was born in Worcester County, Maryland on the Eastern Shore, where he spent his first fifty-seven years on John H. White’s plantation plowing the fields and breaking his back harvesting the crops of cotton and corn. And when his body could no longer perform these duties, he was allowed to pay his enslaver for his freedom on May 27, 1836. (2)
In the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census, Mr. White reported that four members of his family, including himself, gained their freedom for a ransom of $1,500 or the modern equivalent of approximately $44,600. The difference between the 1838 census and the 1847 census on how many of the family members were freed, when they were freed, and how is not explained. The Maryland Slave Database (see #2) only lists Jasper White as being legally manumitted.
Jasper White and his family were living in Philadelphia by the Spring/Summer of 1837. The 1838 African American Census (taken the previous year) reports the Whites living in Hazzard’s Alley. The Alley is not listed as an official location. It is neither in directories nor maps. Using the names on the same census page as our guide, it appears they resided near the intersection of 7th and Bainbridge Streets. The family may have ended up there because they had family or friends nearby. There is only one other family located in Hazzard’s Alley. Ms. Flora Adams and her family of five lived next door. Ms. Adams also was manumitted from enslavement. Both families paid exorbitant rents and their homes in the alley may have only been temporary housing. Another possibility is that the rent was being paid by the local Anti-Slavery or Abolition Societies who may have assisted with both Mr. White’s manumission payment and his and his family’s living expenses.
Mr. White worked as a laborer while Ms. White took in laundry. The employment, if any, of the other adults is not recorded. One member of the family attended services at Bethel Church, according to the 1838 Census. By the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census, Mr. White was unable to work and labeled “helpless” by the census taker. The family was down to four individuals. Both children were gone. At least one female was employed doing washing and ironing. There is still no employment recorded for Cosmos White.
The children may have succumbed to the dozen diseases that hunted the poor. (3) There are no death certificates for the children. However, the records are not complete with long gaps of missing records. In a way, there may be an answer in the Federal Census of 1850 which states that the family of four adults has moved. When historians and sociologists (W.E.B. DuBois) write about the Black poor in 19th Century Philadelphia, the name of several streets and alleys are always mentioned. St. Mary’s and Small Streets are described as the home of the desperately poor African Americans. These streets were death traps of starvation, violence, and rampant disease. However, the social scientists and the newspapers of the era have deemed Bedford Street as the worst. The White family’s financial situation put them there by 1850. No one would choose to live there.
Mr. Jasper White died on a freezing day in December. His courage and amazing strength carried him and his family to Philadelphia after a long life of enslavement. He was buried by his family and friends, with dignity, in an African American-owned cemetery – Bethel Burying Ground.
(3) Another possibility could be that the family could not take care of the children and they were placed in the Children’s Workhouse. Run by Christian organizations, the children would receive clothes, three meals a day, an education, and taught a trade. In return, the young children would spend their time weaving straw mats and other items. The older children could be rented out as apprentices and domestics.