Sixty-eight-year-old Rachel Brown died this date, June 17th, in 1840 of ovarian cancer and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Ms. Brown was a widow living with her adult children. In addition to Ms. Brown, there were five other family members. Four out of the six were born in Pennsylvania. Her oldest son was a seaman, according to the Philadelphia 1836 African American Census. There was another son occupied as a house painter. The Brown family worshipped at Bethel AME Church.
The Brown family lived on Little Oak Street, a dead end alley barely over the border from the city into the Southwark District in south Philadelphia. The modern map below shows the location of Little Oak (red arrow) and the location of where the educator and civil rights activist Octavius V. Catto lived and was assassinated (purple arrow). During the gruesome anti-African American riots of the 1830s and 40s, this area was a war zone. The crazed white mobs advanced through the neighborhood pillaging, burning and murdering any Black man or woman that was unlucky enough to be caught outside. Many Black families left the city and escaped by ferry to Camden, New Jersey. The small city police force was overrun often by gangs with the names of Rats, Killers, Blood Tubs and Bouncers.
The day after Ms. Brown passed away “We had showers all day, until toward night when a splendid rainbow appeared and gave promise of future fine weather.” (Public Ledger, 19 June 1840)