Fifty-eight-year-old Sarah Bagwell died this date, August 22nd, in 1847 of an Ulcerated Bronchid and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. She developed an abscess that eventually became a complete hole in her trachea.The medical literature of the era lists Tuberculosis and Cancer as the main causes. Ms. Bagwell worked as a laundress and lived with her husband Edward, a bricklayer, at 72 Christian Street in South Philadelphia. With the change in street numbering the house would now be recognized as being situated in the 200 block of Christian Street. The attending physician reported that they lived in the rear of the Christian Street structure.
Above is a photo from the 1960s and shows a building in the 200 block of Christian Street erected many years after the Bagwells lived nearby. However, what it does depict is the rear living quarters often rented to African Americans because of the low rents. It appears that the Bagwells may have owned this small piece of property valued at $1,000, according to the 1838 Philadelphia African American Census. That amount equates to approximately $28,140 in 2017 U.S. currency.
The 1838 Census also revealed that the Bagwells had three sons and a daughter. The only name to be found in the census records is “Richard” who also was employed as a bricklayer. The 1847 Philadelphia African American Census reports that Richard Bagwell and his spouse were also financially doing well, owning their home on Davis Court valued at $2,000 ($56,280).
Although the Bagwell family appears to have been somewhat financially secure for African Americans in 19th Century Philadelphia, they still had to be on the alert for the Irish and Nativist white gangs that prowled their streets. In particular, two gangs that seemed to be the most active in the Bagwells neighborhood were the “Wildcats” and the “Rats.” When these gangs weren’t out trying to kill and maim each other, they preyed on the African Americans of the Southwark and Moyamensing Districts.*
Dozens of gangs terrorized the unpoliced streets of the City with fearsome names, such as, American Guards; Bleeders; Blood Tubs; Bouncers; Bulldogs; Deathfetchers; Flayers; Fly-By-Nights; Garroters; Gumballs; Killers; Lancers; Molly Maguires; Nighthawks; Schuylkill Rangers; Skinners; Smashers; Spitfires; The Forty Thieves; Tormentors; Turks; Vampyres and Wreckers.**
It was notorious political boss William “Bull” McMullen’s gang of racist cutthroats, the “Killers,” that assassinated African American educator and civil rights activist Octavius V. Catto on the afternoon of October 10, 1871, as he went to vote. The murderers were arrested but never convicted.***
*Public Ledger, May 28, 1845.
***Harry C. Silcox, Philadelphia Politics from the Bottom Up.