Sixty-one-year-old Stephen Henry died this date, January 8th, in 1854 of Enteritis* and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Mr. Henry and his spouse Ann Marie (49 y/o) were both bakers of cakes and pies that they sold on the street around the local farmers’ market. The family included one child William (14 y/o) and one-hundred-year-old Rachel Thompson who appears to be Ms. Henry’s mother as they both were born in Maryland. The males were born in Pennsylvania. According to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census, Ms. Thompson was formerly enslaved and had suffered a stroke.
Philadelphia was peppered with farmers’ markets where citizens daily bought their meat, vegetables and dry goods such as candles and brooms. These markets were massive open-air structures with iron sheeted roofs. They would run for blocks often situated in the middle of the street. The vendors would rent stalls from the city that made and enforced laws governing the day to day operation of these markets. City officials would enforce the quality of the products being sold and also make sure that weights and measures were being honestly kept. There was one of these bazaars only a couple blocks from the Henry’s residence in Gray’s Alley and likely a place where they peddled their cakes and pies.
With the death of Mr. Henry, the family would have needed fourteen-year-old William to work full time if he hadn’t been already. The family now faced not only a “spartan” existence but one where life itself hung precariously in the balance.
As Mr. Henry’s coffin was lowered into his final resting place, Ms. Henry may have been silently reciting Psalm 44 to herself.
Our most gracious Lord
Life has beaten me down today
Lift me to see You in moments of my day
Let me feel Your presence in my pain
*Enteritis: Inflammation of the intestine and possibly the stomach.