Eleven-year-old Mary Ann Bolden died this date, November 27th, in 1853 of Typhoid Fever and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. She was the daughter of Joseph and Mary Ann Bolden. He was twenty-five years old at the time of his child’s death. Ms. Bolden was thirty-one. Both were born in Maryland. Mr. Bolden worked as a porter sporadically which was problematical since Ms. Bolden was physically unable to work. Charitable organizations donated firewood and “some groceries” to the family, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census.
The Boldens had two other children, Levi, who was seven-years-old at the time of his sister’s death and Joseph who was four-years-old, according to the 1850 U.S. Census. Ms. Bolden would give birth to a stillborn child in 1854 who was buried at Lebanon Cemetery.
The Bolden home (red pin above) was in Atkinson’s Court that opened on to Lombard Street between 5th and 6th Streets.
Atkinson’s Court (red arrows) was located between two important Black churches: Bethel AME Church (yellow arrow) and Wesley AMEZ (black arrow).
The Bolden family lived in one room at #1 Atkinson’s Court for which they paid $2.50 a month in rent, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. This overcrowded block-wide 10-foot wide lane was home to twenty poor Black families, totaling seventy-five member. The sun never shone in the dark rooms on the alley, making it a haven for respiratory diseases, especially Tuberculosis. For all the residents, there was only one hydrant/spigot for water to supply the block with questionable clean water.
In the same building as the Boldens, there was a family of eight adults and children living in one room. Six of the eight were formerly enslaved, according to the 1847 Census.
The Boldens buried their daughter on a day that started out cloudy with the temperature at 47 degrees at sunrise. The afternoon saw the skies clear with the temperature falling to 42 degrees by two o’clock.
The seven-day-old son of Mary Ann Reed died this date, November 22nd, in 1843 of “Debility”* and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Although the physician writing the death certificate spells the last name “Read,” I have decided to use the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census spelling of “Reed.”
Ms. Reed was a single mother living alone in a room at #7 Pleasant Avenue for which she paid $2.50 a month, according to the 1847 Census. She worked as a self-employed laundress. Ms. Reed reported she was formerly enslaved but declined to tell the census taker how she gained her freedom. She stated she could read and write.
The author of the death certificate was Randolph Stokes, a Black man and herb doctor who also was formerly enslaved. Many Africans who were kidnapped from their homelands brought with them their knowledge of medicinal herbs. The 1847 Census reported ten herb doctors lived in the Black Philadelphia community.
Pleasant Avenue (above) was a dead-end alley that ran north/south between Lombard Street and Minister Streets and between 7th and 8th Streets in center city Philadelphia. This street rarely appeared on a city street map. The ghettoization of African Americans in the city forced the poorest white and Black families to live on streets like Pleasant, with notoriously crowded dwellings where diseases were quickly spread. What is missing from the above illustration are the piles of garbage lying in the street clogging the gutters with black water that was home to numerous diseases that would kill hundreds. The city government would pay contractors to clean these alleys but it rarely occurred.
Mary Ann Reed’s seven-day-old son was buried on a “partly clear” day where temperatures rose into the 40s.
*Death from “Debility” is an archaic term that is not a cause of death. It is a symptom of a disease that causes a failure to thrive. In a newborn, it could be numerous underlying diseases.
Two-year-old Miles A. Gillam died this date, November 18th, in 1848 of Pneumonia and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. According to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census and the 1850 Federal Census, the child’s parents were Wesley and Sarah Gillam. She was born in New Jersey and was 28 years old at the time her son’s death. Mr. Wesley was born in Virginia and was 45 years old at that time. They had three other children: Martha (10 y/o), Margaret L. 5 (y/o) and Samuel who was either a newborn or born very shortly after the death of Miles. Sadly, Margaret died in September 1849 of a pulmonary disease and was buried next to her brother at Bethel Burying Ground.
The 1847 Census also shows that a female over the age of fifty was a part of the family. She was not a native of Pennsylvania. Either this woman or Mr. Gillam was formerly enslaved and gained her or his freedom through manumission.
The red arrow above indicates the location of the Gillam’s family residence on Eutaw Street, now Franklin Street.
The Gillam family lived in a shanty in the rear of #11 Eutaw Street in the Northern Liberties section of the city for which they paid $5 a month rent. Mr. Gillam earned $6 a week as a waiter and Ms. Gillam worked as a laundress. The Gillam children attended the Adelphia School, according to the 1847 Census. It was located several blocks from their home.
The Gillam family lived across the street from Franklin Square (above) which was one of the original green spaces designated by William Penn. It often was not green! During the Revolutionary War, it was an ammunition depot and, then, the northwest corner of the plot was used as a cemetery that contained many Yellow Fever victims. It fell into serious misuse being utilized as a dumping ground for garbage, dead animals and the human waste gathered from cesspool and sinks (outhouses). But by 1837, it was on its way to becoming a real park with a fountain in the middle of the crisscrossed walking paths.
1914 photo of a boy getting a drink of water from a spigot at Franklin Square.
The Gillam family buried their baby son and brother at the Bethel Burying Ground on a “pleasant day” where the morning saw no frost and temperatures rose to the mid-30s by the afternoon.
Seventy-six-year-old Rachel Banton died on this date, November 15th, in 1848 of “old age” and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. I believe she was the spouse of William B. Banton. The couple likely lived with an adult married child, his or her spouse, and their two children. The 1847 African American Census reported the children were between the ages of five and fifteen years old.
The Bantons reported to the 1837 African American Census taker that there was a total of five in the family who were all born in Pennsylvania. The Bantons reported they were free-born.
Ms. Banton worked as a laundress and Mr. Banton as a bootblack. In the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census, he reported earning $20 a month or approximately $640 in 2018 value. In 1847, the rent for a room at 233 S. 9th Street was $5 a month or approximately $160 in 2018 value.
The Bantons lived across 5th Street from what is now Independence Mall.
Rachel Banton worked as a laundress. A job that taxed her body and spirit. Water had to be drawn and carried from the nearest hydrant, firewood had to be obtained, fires had to be started and heavy bundles of clothes had to be picked up and returned to her customers after the clothes and sheets were hung up, dried and folded. All this in the wilting heat and freezing cold, while taking care of children, shopping for and preparing the family’s meals, and, on occassion, while pregnant. It was an undertaking for only the strong and strong-willed. The sketch and photo below illustrate the difference between the romanticized version and the reality of a Black laundress in the 19th Century.
Rachel Banton was buried at Bethel Burying Ground on a day that began “frosty” with the temperature rising to 53 degrees in the afternoon of a “fine” day.
Seven-month-old Benjamin Wilson died this date, November 10th, in 1825 of Scrofula and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Scrofula is a disease in which the bacteria that causes tuberculosis can create symptoms outside the lungs. This usually takes the form of inflamed and extremely painful lymph nodes in the neck. Today the infection is cured with antibiotics which did not exist in 1825.
The 1824 Philadelphia City Directory reports that a Mr. James Wilson, a Black man, resides at 7th and Cherry Streets which was also the address of the deceased child. The red pin on the map above indicates that location in the city. Mr. Wilson’s occupation is listed as “oysterman.” Oysters were the fast food of the 18th and 19th century in Philadelphia. Mr. Wilson’s income would not have been steady because of the variability of the weather and the seasonal availability of oysters. Mr. Wilson, like all Black vendors regardless of their wares, was subject to violent attacks in Philadelphia by thieves and gangs. There was nothing remotely romantic or nostalgic about what these men and women had to do to eke out a living.
“Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser,” September 6, 1824.
Coincidently, the Wilson family lived doors away on Cherry Street from the office of The Pennsylvania Society for the promotion of the Abolition of Slavery, the relief of free Negroes held in bondage, and for improving the condition of the Negro race. This organization lobbied for the rights of Black men and women and provided legal representation for captured fugitives from slavery and for African Americans kidnapped by gangs of slave catchers. In addition, they established schools for Black children and adults in their “plain neat building” erected for this purpose on Cherry Street, between Sixth and Seventh Streets. It was commonly known as Clarkson Hall. If the Wilsons had other children, they likely attended this school.
The above is the earliest photo of the 600 block of Cherry Street taken in 1859.
The Wilson family buried seven-month-old Benjamin at Bethel Burying Ground on a cool November day where the temperature rose to an afternoon high of 47 degrees.
Philadelphia Health Office records show that Baby Wilson was one of fifteen children that died of Scrofula in 1825.
The one-year-old unnamed daughter of William Chambers died this date, November 5th, in 1846 of Pertussis or Whooping Cough. I was unable to find the name of the child’s mother in the very few public documents available. The 1847 Philadelphia African American Census reports that the Chambers were not native to Pennsylvania and that they had a son under the age of five. Mr. Chambers was employed as a stevedore or a porter who worked on the docks loading and unloading ships on the Delaware River or Schuylkill River docks. Ms. Chambers worked in the home.
The map above shows the approximate location of the Chambers’ home at 30 Quince Street located between Lombard and Walnut Streets and 11th and 12th Streets. The family lived in a 12’x12′ room, for which they paid $1.75 with an approximate 2018 value of $57.37. The Chambers reported to the 1847 Census taker that they owned $50 in personal property which is equivalent to $1,639.21 in 2018.
The above is a photograph of Quince Street in 1961. The thoroughfare no longer exists. It is was covered by Thomas Jefferson University Hospital buildings.
Quince Street in 1847 was home to thirty-one Black families including the Chambers family. It was where the poor working class and the destitute lived side by side. The Black men and women on the narrow cobblestone lane worked as shoemakers, laundresses, dressmakers, coachmen, waiters, china packers, cabinet makers, undertakers and the layers out of the dead. The last being a highly respected female occupation that was the early forerunner of a funeral director. A great number of the children who grew up on Quince Street likely went to school right on their street. Ms. Diana Smith, an African American teacher, ran a school for Black children beginning in 1836. For the next twenty-five years, she would take an average of 25-30 students a year, male and female, into her home and teach them reading, writing, and math.
The Chambers family buried their baby daughter on a clear day in November where the temperature rose to 65 degrees by the late afternoon.