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.