Below is part of a newspaper article from the April 27, 1892, edition of “The Times.”The city officially acquired the cemetery in late 1889 and it wasn’t until 1904-05 that they had enough money to actually landscape it as a park. In-between it was a “hard dirt” lot where children played and garbage and the bodies of dead animals were heaped and burned. In 1902-03 the city allowed the local elementary school to use it as a community garden. (See photo below).
HISTORIC GROUND – INTERESTING ASSOCIATIONS OF THE NEWLY -ACQUIRED PARKS
What is now known as Weccacoe Park, in quaint old Southwark, was, a few years ago, the old burial ground of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It was back in the early years of the century when Bethel Burying Ground was first used, the property having been secured by Richard Allen, the first African Methodist Episcopal bishop. At that time colored people after death were often treated with but little respect and it was the wish of Bishop Allen to set apart a place where his people could have the same kind of Christian burial as the white people. Just in what way he got the property is not clear but having gained possession of it he made it over to unfortunate results; for when, in succeeding years, the rains beat down upon old Bethel Burying Ground, the water washed the bones of the dead out of their graves and the Board of Health was forced, out of regard for the health of Southwark, to interpose. It has been over twenty-five years now since any burials have taken place in Bethel, and after the Board of Health issued its mandate the ground was neglected and rapidly went to ruin. . . . The committee on municipal government endorsed a recommendation to purchase the plot, and it was in the first batch of small park ordinances passed.
The following is an alphabetical directory of some of the African American Philadelphians who were buried at Bethel Burying Ground from 1810 to 1864. Currently, 2,482 individuals have been identified through City of Philadelphia death records and historic newspapers. Research is ongoing to identify the remainder of the 5,000+ estimated to be buried on Queen Street in old Southwark.
One-hundred and three-year-old Jane Brown died this date, November 15th, in 1841 of “old age” and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Ms. Brown worshiped* at Bethel Church (now Mother Bethel) when the Reverend Richard Allen was the pastor and later Bishop Morris. At 100 years old she reported her occupation as day worker with $20 of personal property. She lived in a room at 186 Lombard Street in center city Philadephia. She shared the room with an unnamed person who likely shared the $4 a month rent. All according to the 1837 African American Census.
Ms. Brown was enslaved and eventually gained her liberty. She reported that she was “freed by the law.” That could mean she was freed by a Will or other legal action. In 1780, the Pennsylvania Abolition Act provided for the children of slave mothers to be born free. It also required that these and children of African-descended indentured servants be registered at birth
Two-year-old Hester Bonning died this date, November 12th, in 1847 of Meningitis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. She was the daughter of Charles Bonning. Hester’s mother’s name has not been located. The Bonning family lived in a shack in the backyard of 246 carpenter Street in south Philadelphia. The hovel was 8’x8′ for which they paid $2 a month. Many times these structures were former hog pens or stables. Mr. Bonning was a “jobber” or day laborer and Ms. Bonning worked as a laundress. Hester had an older brother according to the 1847 African American Census. The census worker recorded that the famil was “very poor.” After this, there is no mention of the family in any other census records.
The Bonning family (red star) lived three blocks from the Bethel Burying Ground (red diamond).
Twenty-four-year-old Frances Ann Davis died this date of unknown causes and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Ms. Davis had a fourteen-month-old daughter, Mary Ann, die of an “Inflammation of the Breast” fifteen months early in August of 1849. From that death certificate, we learn that the family lived at 19 Barclay Street now Delancey Street that runs from 6th to 8th Street between Spruce and Pine Streets. Ms. Davis’ residence was only two blocks from Bethel Church (now Mother Bethel).
Bronze sculpture by artist Frank Bender based on forensic facial reconstructions of three intact skeletons exhumed at the African Burial Ground in New York City.