The eighteen-month-old son of Maria Bayles died this date, June 25th, in 1846 of Marasmus* and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. An 1846 Philadelphia African American Census worker contacted Ms. Bayles after her son died. The Census reports that Ms. Bayles was a single woman working as a domestic who lived at 15 Washington Street paying $2 a month for a room which was about what she made for a week’s work. Ms. Bayles reported to the census taker that she attended church services and was a member of a beneficial society that likely assisted her in paying the funeral expenses for her son.
Ms. Bayles lived with her son on Washington Street (now Rodman Street, see the red marker below) which was between 11th and 12th Streets and Lombard and South Streets.
Ms. Bayles was a “free black,” a person of color who was not enslaved. However, no African American in Philadelphia could consider his or her freedom secure as long as somewhere in the United States Blacks were enslaved and slave hunters were on the prowl. It did not matter where free Black citizens lived; they inexorably were linked to the institution of slavery. They could be accused by anyone that they were not who they said they were. The burden of proof would rest on the freeman to immediately produce “Freedom Paper” on demand. The document had to be carried at all times and, if the Black citizens weren’t able to show it, they could be kidnapped by fugitive slave hunters as a result. Ms. Bayles may have carried a document that resembled the following:
Maria Bayles interred her son on a day when the weather was reported to be “very pleasant” with the morning being cool and warming into the afternoon. (North American, 2 July 1846.)
*”Marasmus” stood for a variety of malnutrition, wasting and starvation illnesses. The condition has been characterized as a disease of the “extremely poor.” Often the infant or child was getting too many carbohydrates (cheaper) and little if any protein (more expensive). In many cases, the individual simply starved to death for lack of any food.