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.