Forty-five-year-old Mary Polk died this date, May 25th, in 1850 of a “congestive brain” and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The term “congestive brain” can mean several things, but is most commonly a catch-all phrase for a stroke. According to 1850 Federal Census and the 1847 African American Census, Ms. Polk was married and mother of a daughter Caroline (18) and two sons Richard (13) and William (16) who was appreciating as a barber. She lived with her family in a shanty/shack in the backyard of 11 Prune Street which would currently equate to 411 Locust Street just east of Washington Square. Her residence is marked with a red X on the 1840 map below.
Mary Polk worked as a washwoman earning approximately $1.40 a week while her husband earned $1.50 a week as a laborer, according to the 1847 African American Census. This family was living on approximately 35% of what the average Black working poor were earning. They were paying $3.00 a month for what W.E.B. DuBois termed a “backyard tenement.” A dilapidated one-room shed/shack without heat, sewer or water. For more on this type of housing and environment see DuBois’ “The Philadelphia Negro,” especially pages 307-09 and 293-95.
The Polks belonged to a beneficial society where they saved money probably toward burial expenses. The family worshiped at Bethel Church (now Mother Bethel AME).