The following article was published in the 1819 January to June edition of The Register and National Recorder, vol. 1, p. 84-85. (Available at Google Books)
Elizabeth Ann Shire, 8 years of age, died this date, May 26th, of Tuberculosis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Elizabeth attended school at 6th and Lombard and could read and write and had a brother and sister, according to the 1847 African American Census. Her father, Joseph, was a porter and her mother worked as a washwoman to meet the needs of their growing family. They rented a single room for $64 a year at 45 Quince Street which was located from Walnut to Locust Streets between 11th and 12th streets.
The year after Elizabeth Ann died the family had to move because the city was demolishing their home to make way for the new Ramsey School for Colored Children. This probably was a blessing considering their immediate neighborhood had a startling number of fires accidentally and purposely set according to newspaper reports.
“The coroner held an inquest yesterday on the body of John Miller, colored, who was drowned on Sunday morning by accidentally falling from the steamboat Trenton [into the Delaware River]. The deceased was second cook onboard the Trenton.” (Phila. Inquirer, May 14, 1848)
Mr. Miller’s body remained at the coroner’s until May 21st, when an unknown individual claimed the body and proceeded to have the remains buried at Bethel Burying Ground.
Mr. Miller was a single gentleman who rented a room for $2 a month at 111 Buford Street (now Kater) near the Walnut Street Dock where the Trenton was berthed. The steamboat was built in 1825 and used to ferry passengers on day trips to the open spaces of Bristol, Burlington and Taconey. It also served as a water connector between stagecoach lines for Philadelphia, Trenton, New Brunswick and New York City.
Andrew Miller, 41 years old, died this date, May 17th, in 1848 of Typhoid Fever in the hospital ward of the Blockley Almshouse and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. As a person of color, he would have been one of the 13% of the population of the institution. Although Blacks made up only 6-9% of the city’s population. Starting in 1821 the institution established segregation because Blacks were a problem because of their behaviors which were “indolent, improvident, and extremely prolific.” For those reasons the institution’s guardians moved Black men, women and children to “special almshouse wards where their behavior could better be managed.” Mr. Miller succumbed to his illness in this ward. *
The Blockley Almshouse, later known as Philadelphia General Hospital, was a charity hospital and poorhouse established in an area now between 34th Street and University Avenue where Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the VA Hospital currently stand.
Priscilla Ferguson Clement, Welfare and the Poor in the Nineteenth-Century City: Philadelphia 1800-1854, pp. 87 & 116.
The Parker twins were stillborn on this date, May 14th and buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Stephen and Elizabeth Parker lived at 19 South 17th Street with another child, according to the 1820 Federal Census. Mr. Parker’s was listed as “boot cleaner” in the 1820 City Directory. There are 15 other documented individuals buried at Bethel Burying Ground with the surname Parker.
The Parker’s residence was demolished in 1825 to make way for Franklin High School. The first public high school in Philadelphia. The school was shut down in 1837 and used as the Atwater Kent Museum; now known as the Philadelphia History Museum.
Thomas Matlack, 8 months, died this date, May 13th, in 1850 of Pneumonia and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. His mother and his father James Matlack lost a two-year-old child, Alfred, to Influenza in 1848. The brothers would have been buried next to each other if possible.
James was a hod carrier which was a laborer employed in carrying bricks to bricklayers or stones and supplies to stonemasons. Alfred’s mother was a wash woman who took in laundry.
The Matlack family lived in a room located in a dead-end alley street called Bird’s Court. It was located between Locust and Spruce Streets and 10th and 11th Streets in the Washington Square neighborhood of Philadelphia near Pennsylvania Hospital. They paid $28 a year for the room.
The Reverend John Boggs, 66, died this date, May 11th, in 1848 and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. This pioneering missionary and former pastor of Bethel Church had a funeral procession of an estimated 1,000 individuals including 200 clergymen. However, according to Black journalist and historian William Carl Bolivar this number was less than the numbers for the funerals of Black band leader, composer and musician Frank Johnson (1842), James Forten (1842), Rev. Walter Proctor (1861) and slain civil rights leader Octavius V. Catto (1871). According to Bolivar, ” . . . this last in number [Catto] ranking next to Lincoln’s and General Meade’s.”*
Rev. Boggs’ wife, Sarah “Mother Boggs”, died on September 3, 1873 at 81 years of age. She was born in Maryland, worked as a cook and lived her final years at the Home for Aged and Infirm Colored Persons located at 340 South Front Street. (See below)
*Philadelphia Tribune, October 10, 1914, p. 4.
Two-month-old Joseph Thompson died this date, May 6th, in 1851 of convulsions and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The 1850 Federal Census, 1847 African American Census and the relevant city directories do not reveal any information on Joseph’s family. Educator, historian and author Charles L. Blockson claims that the African American neighborhood of Paschall’s Alley “aided and sheltered more fugitive slaves than any other section of the city until the Civil War.”*
Local historian, Harry Kyriakodis** asserts that numerous residents of Paschall Alley were Underground Railroad “agents” and that “. . . . the alley became reputed along the Underground railroad up and down the East Coast.” However, neither Blockson or Kyriakodis cite evidence of their claims.
Could the Thompson family had been fugitive slaves passing through Philadelphia to New England or Canada?
*The Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania, p. 17.
Four-year-old Margaret States died this date, May 3rd, in 1850 “from the effects of a burn.” She lived with her parents, Owen and Margaret, and her siblings on Carpenter Street between 13th Street and Broad Street and Christian Street and Washington Avenue. This street no longer exists. Owen was a laborer, a “jobber,” who was occasionally employed as a basketmaker. Margaret worked as a washerwoman who also did sewing according to the 1847 African American Census. The States were a family of 5 who all lived in a 10′ by 10′ room for which they paid $2.25 a month in rent. There are 16 other individuals buried at Bethel Burying Ground that we know about that succumbed to the “effects of a burn.”