The two-year-old son of Sarah Marshall died this date, November 25th, in 1848 of Tuberculosis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Ms. Marshall was a single mother working as a laundress residing at 10 Pleasant Avenue with a female child whose age was between six and fourteen years of age, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. This Census reports the younger child as a female, whereas the attending physician states that the child was a “son.” It appears that neither Dr. Lehman nor the manager of the cemetery was very familiar with the family as evidenced by the “Cemetery Return” (see below) filled out by the Bethel Church sexton Shephard Gibbs.
Ms. Marshall lived in crushing poverty and received assistance from an aid organization in the form of firewood for her stove. In a good week, she likely earned $2-$3 and she paid $3.50 a month for a 10’x10′ room. Despite her situation, she sent her older child to one of the several private schools that took African American pupils. Ms. Marshall would not have been able to afford the burial expenses of buying a plot, having the grave dug and purchasing a coffin. It is possible that she had her child interred in an already existing grave of a spouse, another child or other family members. She would have needed assistance that was most probably from an African American beneficial society.
Pleasant Avenue was a dead end alley that ran north/south between Lombard Street and Minister Streets and between 7th and 8th Streets in center city Philadelphia. This street rarely appeared on a city street map. The ghettoization of African Americans in the city forced the poorest white and Black families to live on streets like Pleasant with notoriously crowded dwellings where diseases were quickly spread. What is missing from the above illustration is the piles of garbage laying in the street, clogging the gutters with black water that was home to numerous diseases that would kill hundreds. The city government would pay contractors to clean these alleys but it rarely happened unless an epidemic broke out in the neighborhoods and threatened adjoining white districts.
The day that the child was buried, there would have been a Bethel Church minister over the grave. He may have recited the prayer that Rev. Richard Allen wrote for the death of a child.
The tyrant, Death, came rushing in,
Last night his power did shew,
Out of this world this child did take,
Death laid its visage low.
No more the pleasant child is seen
To please the parent’s eye,
The tender plant, so fresh and green,
Is in eternity.
Rev. Richard Allen (Hymn XLI, p. 64, “A Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs”)