Two and a half-year-old James Pitts died this date, June 28th, in 1848 of Cholera and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. James lived with his parents Mark (44) and Ann (33). He had a nine-year-old brother William H. Pitts. Ann took in washing to supplement the family’s income and Mark had a used clothing business at 108 N. 2nd Street. His business would grow and in several years he moved his business to 1138 South Street. The used clothing business was traditionally a business dominated by Blacks. This started to change after the Civil War when it shifted to the Jewish community. (Early History of Negroes in Business in Philadelphia, p. 19.) In 1847 there were 52 used clothing businesses owned by Black Philadelphians according to the African American census.
According to the 1850 Federal Census, Mark was born enslaved in Virginia in 1805. Ann, born in Pennsylvania, was never enslaved and was born in Pennsylvania while William was born in Philadelphia.
The Pitts family lived in a tenement room located near the corner of 17th and Market Streets (“Schuylkill 6th”) for which they paid about $9.00 a month. The living conditions of this environment likely contributed to the death of young James.
Nine-month-old Arthur Tate died this date, June 2oth, in 1848 of Cancrum Oris and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The disease that caused the child’s life is a very devastating bacterial infection of the mouth that erodes away all the tissue. Massive ulcers caused by bacterial infections infected the baby. Predisposing factors for the disease included malnutrition, dehydration, and unsafe drinking water. There was no treatment available at that time that would have saved the baby’s life.
James lived at 229 Lombard Street with his father (Arthur) and his mother and two brothers and two sisters. His parents worked as a porter and a dayworker paying $11.75 a month for their room on Lombard Street. It appears Arthur was at one time enslaved and was liberated, according to the 1847 African American census.
There is little doubt that Arthur’s parents made their living from working in the nearby farmers market now known as Headhouse Square. The large open-air market was originally called New Market.
Fifty-nine-year-old Charles Davis died this date, June 15th, in 1854 of “Congestion of the Liver,” which is commonly associated with Congestive Heart Failure. Born in Frederica, Delaware he worked as a porter in Philadelphia for most of his adult life. He lived with his spouse, Rachael Molezton Davis, at 237 South 7th Street directly across from Washington Square. It is highly likely that Ms. Davis was a live-in domestic to the family that lived at such a prestigious address. The Davis family would have had a room in the basement for their living space.
Remarkably the names of Mr. Davis’ parents were also recorded. They were Mark and Necy Carpenter Davis. Also uncommon was the documentation of the women’s maiden names. Out of the thousands of death records, I have inspected associated with Bethel Burying Ground this is the only one that contains such information.
The Davis family resided at 237 S. 7th Street on the south side of Washington Square.
This is a photo of the south side of Washington Square taken in 1859, five years after Mr. Davis’ death. The red “X” in the background indicates where the Davis family resided.
According to Mr. Davis’ obituary, his funeral was held at this residence and then proceeded to Bethel Burying Ground. (Public Ledger, 14 June 1854)