The three-month-old son of Francis (30) and Maria Still (28) died this date, February 12th, in 1850 of convulsions and was buried in Bethel Burying Ground. Mr. Still was a porter and Mrs. Still was a day worker. The family lived at 4 1/2 Middle Alley.* They had another child approximately 3-4 years of age that attended the Lombard Infant School. Both mother and father could read and write according to the 1847 African American Census.
Every time I come across a family living in “notorious”** Middle Alley I cringe because of the alley’s long history of violence, brothels, speakeasies and crushing poverty. The only other factor that would make it worst is if the address contained a “1/2” after the house number as in the case of the Still family. It usually signified a 9’x9′ shed attached to the rear of the tenement. A shanty where a wooden floor would be a luxury. It would be situated next to the outhouse used by the dozens of people living in the adjacent buildings. Rats, roaches, the threat of fire and deadly diseases were constant neighbors. And yet the Still family persevered as did the thousands of other Black families did under the same circumstances. When we state that we “stand on the shoulders of giants” – these people buried at Bethel Burying Ground are the giants!
*Middle Alley ran from 6th to 7th Streets and between Spruce and Pine Streets. It is now named Panama Street.
**Colored Amazons: Crime Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910 by Kali N. Gross, p. 52-53.; The Philadelphia Negro by W.E.B. DuBois, p. 60 and 293.