One-hundred-year-old Rebecca Miller died this date, September 23rd, in 1847 of “old age” and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Ms. Miller was a widow who, ten years before her death, at ninety years old reported her occupation as “washwoman,” according to the 1837 Philadelphia African American Census. She also stated she was free born and worshipped at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church at 6th and Lombard Streets.
The year Ms. Miller was born, 1747, still saw French and Spanish pirates hunting American and British ships in the Delaware Bay. In addition, white settlers in western Pennsylvania still were trying to move out Native Americans who refused to give up their homes without a fight. Philadelphia was still a town growing into a city.
As a girl, Ms. Miller likely walked past the London Coffee House on the corner of Front and High Streets, where a rickety platform was erected on the sidewalk to display the Black men, women, and children up for sale as slaves. At the same location, she would have witnessed President George Washington signing the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 that ordered escaped enslaved Blacks to be dragged back into bondage.
As a Black woman, she survived the “Huntin’ the Nig” mobs of 1834, 1842 and 1844 and the deadly epidemics of Yellow Fever, Small Pox, Cholera, Typhus, and Tuberculosis that swept through the city in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The purple arrow indicates the location of the Bethel Burying Ground. The red arrow indicates the location of Elliott’s Court (now Kater St.) where Ms. Davis rented a room for $6.25 a month.
Rebecca Davis was buried on a September day where, at dawn, it was foggy and a cool 52 degrees. The afternoon was clear while reaching a high of 74 degrees.