Eleven-year-old John Ashton, Jr. died this date, March 30th, in 1852 of Marasmus* and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. A funeral was held at the family’s residence, no. 9 Ronaldson Street on Easter Sunday, April 4th. The friends of the family were invited to attend the service at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. It is likely that a couple of the attendees were the Ashton’s Ronaldson Street neighbors, William Still (Underground Railroad) and the Reverend Benjamin Templeton, pastor of the Second African Presbyterian Church.
Ronaldson Street (now Delhi Street) is a small alley-type thoroughfare that runs from South St. to Bainbridge Street between 9th and 10th. The majority of the men living on Ronaldson worked as waiters as did John Ashton, Sr. Going south on the street it ran into the vast Ronaldson Cemetery that no longer exists. William Still wrote that Ronaldson Street was a street of “neat and genteelly furnished three-story brick homes, owned, occupied and paid taxes for, almost entirely by colored people . . . “**
*Marasmus (Marasamus/ Miasma) – Progressive emaciation and general wasting due to enfeebled constitution rather than any specific or ascertainable cause.
** One Day, Levin . . . He Be Free: William Still and the Underground Railroad by Lurey Khan, p. 163; Friends Review, Samuel Rhoads, vol. 13, 1860, p. 13-14.
Elizabeth Karney, a native of Delaware, died this date, March 28th, in 1853 and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Ms. Karney was suffering from a fistula; a hole between two internal structure that is usually the result of surgery or trauma. It is likely she had an infection from a vaginal fistula that can occur after days of pushing a baby that does not fit through the birth canal. Mothers can experience severe rectal, bladder and vaginal damage causing tissue tears that rip open the walls of one of these areas spilling urine and/or feces into the vagina and bladder. Without early and successful surgery to close the tear, the patient would eventually die of infection in this era before antibiotics.
Ms. Karney lived in the home of Luke Goines and his family. Formerly enslaved, he escaped to Philadelphia through the Underground Railroad and settled in Philadelphia with the assistance of William Still. He was a successful barber who owned the rowhouse at 193 Lombard and was a member of a family long involved in aiding fugitives and fighting slavery according to William Still.* He served on the Board of the Vigilance Committee and was known to harbor fugitives at his Lombard home. According to the 1850 Federal Census, Ms. Karney was not a member of the Goines’ immediate family* and there is no mention of her in the 1847 African American Census.
Ms. Karney was under the care of two nurses for 2-3 months. This would have been expenses and apparently not within her personal financial ability. in 1846-47, Mr. Goines reported his yearly income as $1,200 which is well above the average for a Black man during this time. He also reported personal property at $1,500, again well above the norm.***
** Members of the Goines household per the 1850 Federal Census:
Luke Goines 39
Hannah Goines 38
Martha Goines 11
Susan Goines 10
Charles Goines 2
Harriet J Swaimes 21
Thomas U Swaimes 5
Nine-month-old Nancy Jane Clark died this date, March 21th, in 1847 of Varioloid and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Varioloid was a mild form of smallpox occurring in people who had been inoculated against the disease. Individuals, especially children, would be inoculated and come down with a mild form of the disease. A small percentage of them would succumb to this illness. It was usually those children in a weakened state or suffering from another illness.
Thomas Clark was Nancy Jane’s father. He worked as a carter, probably servicing the County Prison only a block further up on East Passyunk Road. Ms. Clark took in washing and ironing in their home that they recently purchased in the 1500 block of Passyunk Road (west side), near the intersection of Passyunk and Dickerson Street.
Philadelphia County Prison on Passyunk Road. The men’s section opened in 1835 with the women’s “apartment” opening in 1838.
Life in this area was anything but peaceful. In the 1830’s and 1840’s it wore the infamous badge of “the worst slum district” in Philadelphia. Organized gangs ran wild while the police force was unable to protect the local citizenry. According to the 1847 African American Census, there were few Blacks in the immediate neighborhood and fewer who owned their homes like the Clarks. For further reading on the subject go to http://www.preservationalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/HCSCluster3.pdf.
The red pin marks the approximate location of the Clark’s home. The large parking lot and Acme store to the north is where the County Prison stood.
Sarah Draper,42, died this date, March 18th, in 1824 of Typhoid Fever and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. She and her husband Jesse lived at 92 Bedford Street. Jesse worked as a porter and sadly died 12 years later. He was found dead “lying up against the wall” of a Presbyterian church at the corner of 12th and Lombard Streets on Christmas Day in 1836. The coroner ruled that he “died by the visitation of God.”*
There are infamous alleys and streets that were cesspools of human existence for the Black citizens of 19th century Philadelphia. Bedford Street was one of them. It ran east and west, between Shippen (now Bainbridge) and South Streets. It eventually became a place of violence, squalor, disease, and hopelessness. However, at the time of Ms. Draper’s death it was a mixed race neighborhood of industrious working class families that consisted of carpenters, coachmen, mariners, carters and painters according to the relevant City Directory. The newly (1818) ordained Bethel African Methodist Episcopal minister, Clayton Durham, lived across the street at 65 Bedford Street.** Rev. Durham would travel to parts of Maryland every year to hold “soul-saving” camp meetings, “but more to get [enslaved] men and women their freedom.” Could the Drapers assisted their neighbor in hiding fugitive slaves?***
*Public Ledger, 11/26/1836
**1820 City Directory of Philadelphia
***Allen B. Ballard, One More Day’s Journey: The Story of a Family and a People, p. 47.
Ann Hogan, 38, died of Tuberculosis and was buried on this date, March 14th, in 1841. She lived with her family on Gaskill Street in the New Market Ward just north of Southwark. The New Market Ward extended east to the Delaware River, west to Fourth Street, north to Spruce Street and south to Cedar Street (now South Street). Her neighborhood had the reputation of being known for “frequent fights and other disturbances.”* At the time of Ms. Hogan death there were approximately 829 Black males and 1,209 Black females in the Ward according to the 1840 Census of New Market Ward.**
It is unknown at this time if Ms. Hogan was employed outside of her home. But in the New Market Ward it would not be uncommon to see, smell and hear the Pepper-Pot Woman hawking her popular Pepper-Pot Soup.
Philadelphia History, Vol. II, City History Society, p. 107. Available online at GoogleBooks.
* Public Ledger, 18 August 1841.
** Public Ledger, 3 November 1840.
The attending physician mistakenly put down “Samuel” instead of “Simon.” It was subsequently corrected on the church sexton’s form.
The Reverend Simon Murray died of Tuberculosis on this date, March 11th, in 1840 at the age of eighty years and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. At the time of his death he lived with his spouse at #4 St. Mary’s Street in the Seventh Ward only a block away from “Big Wesley” in the middle of the 500 block of Lombard Street. He moved with his family to Philadelphia in 1818 at the age of 58 years of age. He was a used clothes seller and lay preacher who joined Richard Allen’s A.M.E. Bethel Church.
After several years, Rev. Murray became disenchanted with Richard Allen’s authoritarian manner and joined with other former Bethelites to break away from Bethel Church to form their own church situated only 90 feet away on Lombard Street. He left Bethel with “about a dozen” other congregants and “formed an independent African Methodist church that they called the Wesleyan Society,” according to J. Gordon Melton. (A Will To Chose, p. 106.)
Rev. Murray was eventually made senior pastor of Wesley Church (aka “Big Wesley” and “Brick Wesley”). He held this position for a year and was then placed in charge of “Little Wesley,” the congregation’s mission church located at 515-519 Hurst Street (now S. Randolph Street). “Little Wesley” consisted of two adjoining row homes that no longer exist. For a thorough history of the conflict between Bethel and Wesley please read Freedom’s Prophet by Richard Newman, p. 209-227.
John Davis, 33 years of age, died on March 3rd and was buried on March 8th at Bethel Burying Ground. He worked as a laborer and lived with his family in the 1300 block of Pearl Street in the North Ward. Mr. Davis left his spouse Catherine (29) and his four children William (7), Charles (5), Mary (3) and Margaret (1) according to the 1850 Federal census. The announcement of his death in the newspaper stated that his illness was short, two weeks, “Which he bore with Christian fortitude.” (Public Ledger 7 March 1850)
Mr. Davis’ funeral on March 8, 1850 was accompanied by a large funeral procession attended by fellow Masons in full uniform and accompanied by Hazard’s Brass Band; the coffin was carried by members of the order and was covered with a “handsome black cloth and bound with silver.” Many others also made up the procession. (Philadelphia Inquirer, 8 March 1850)
Historian Roger Lane observed, “The importance of Freemasonry in the early black community, and some of its tone, may be shown by the fact that both the Reverends Richard Allen and Absalom Jones were leaders, with Jones winning a position as Grand Master of Pennsylvania.” See William Dorsey’s Philadelphia & Ours by Roger Lanes, p. 279-285.
African American Freemason Parade on Sept. 8, 1946 in Philadelphia. (Philadelphia Bulletin and Temple University Library.)
Detail of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Lithograph by W. L. Breton (Philadelphia, 1829). Library Company of Philadelphia
Prior to April of 1810, there existed a “Bethel Church Cemetery” according to the City of Philadelphia Board of Health records located in the City Archives. This cemetery appeared to be, according to newspaper reports, located on the land surrounding and adjacent to the church. My research has documented the existence of at least 220 individuals interred in those grounds. There could be more burials that are not documented. Lost records, poor record keeping, and unreported burials were not uncommon during this time period. In addition, Bethel Church burial records “were lost,” according to William Carl Bolivar, “in the church Dissension of 1850.” (The Philadelphia Tribune, 10 Oct 1914)
Total Burials in Mother Bethel Church Cemetery (6th and Lombard Streets) From 1797 to Early 1810.
|Total burials: 220
The Philadelphia Board of Health published a summary of interments by institution in their end of year annual report. Those reports have not survived. However, journalist and editor Zachary Poulson published those summaries in his annual almanacs for seven years. When that ceased in 1801 his newspaper continued to publish weekly accountings of burials in his newspaper.
- “Poulson’s Town and Country Almanack” for the years covering 1797-1802 and 1804-1805.
- “Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser,” a summary of interment announcements for 1803. There appears to have been a significant breakdown in the reporting of interment city-wide for 1803. I would not be surprised if the actual total interments were more in line with the numbers in 1802 and 1804.
- “Cemetery Returns,” City Archives of Philadelphia for 1806-1810. The number for 1810 is for those that were recorded being buried before the purchase of the Queen Street property which was April 28, 1810.
On Poulson, in general, Professor Susan E. Klepp, Ph.D. of Temple University states that “Poulson’s almanacs are superior to any known sources for eighteenth-century urban America.” Dr. Klepp has used Poulson’s data for a couple of decades in a number of her works.
Leven Thompson died this date, March 3rd, in 1824 and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. His official cause of death was “Phrenitis” which is translated as “brain fever.” This fever could have been from one of a long list of possible illnesses such as bacterial or viral Meningitis, head trauma, alcoholism or lead poisoning.
Mr. Thompson died at Pennsylvania Hospital and while he was there he would have received the standard treatment for his illness which was bleeding. This procedure commonly entailed the cutting into the median cubital vein at the elbow. Up to 20 oz. of blood was released at first and from then on more was released at the discretion of the physician who determined the proportionality of blood taken to the “violence of the symptoms. The main instruments for this technique were called lancets and fleams. For more information on this procedure and its history go to http://www.bcmj.org/premise/history-bloodletting.