Seventy-year-old Joseph Ash died this date, July 6th, in 1849 of “Debility”* and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. When Mr. Ash was a younger man, he worked as a porter, according to city directories. At the time of his death, he lived with his adult son, Josuha Ash, and his family at 220 S. 7th Street in center city Philadelphia. It appears the Ash family may have owned this basement unit at this prestigious address across from the southwest corner of Washington Square.
The value of the property in 2018 would be approximately $38,000. In 2018 dollars, annual taxes would be $475 with a water bill of $15 for the year.
The 1847 Philadelphia African American Census recorded that, in addition to his father, Josuha Ash’s family included his spouse, a male child under the age of five and a female child under the age of fifteen who was employed as a seamstress.
It appears from the 1847 Census that Sarah Ash, Josuha’s spouse, was employed as a “layer out of the dead” – the predecessor to the role of a funeral director or undertaker. She would prepare the body of the deceased for burial. Embalming became an option during the American Civil War, prior to that era the remains had to be interred as soon as possible. The law stated it had to be within the 24 hours after the individual died. A layer out of the death or a ‘shrouder,’ as they sometimes were called, had to be available around the clock. Their duties included washing and dressing the deceased and some shrouders also were able to provide items such as black mourning crape, shrouding sheets and ice to preserve the body in hot weather. Some also acted as the deceased family’s representative with burial ground managers, and the owners of funeral carriages and hearses.
Mrs. Ash, one of our oldest citizens of color, and a noted Shrouder, departed this life on the 28th ultimo, aged 69 years of age. Mr. Ash was one among the first who joined Bethel church . . . Her death was caused by typhoid fever. Mrs. Ash had a large circle of friends, and was a very thorough-going woman. If our memory serves us correctly, she came forward and partook of the Sacrament in Bethel church the last time we saw here there. We trust we shall meet her in heaven. . . . “The Christian Recorder,” February 18, 1865
It is likely that Sarah Ash prepared the body of her father-in-law for his interment at Bethel Burying Ground. Joseph Ash was buried on a pleasant day where the temperature only reached an unseasonable 80 degrees. There was no way to predict the devasting hurricane that would hit the city of Philadelphia on the evening of the 14th.