Fifty-three-year-old Cato Griggs died this date, December 14th, in 1842 of Consumption (Tuberculosis) and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Mr. Griggs was employed as a chimney sweep and his spouse was employed as a day worker, according to the 1837 Philadelphia African American Census. Ms. Griggs’ first name was not recorded. In the 1830 U.S. Census, they reported having a son and daughter under the age of ten years. By the time of Mr. Griggs’ death, the children were adults and no longer lived with their parents in their one room on Bedford Street below 7th Street in the Moyamensing District.
The Griggs were working class poor, having only $20 in personal property and paying only $2.50 per month for rent, according to the 1837 Census. It is amazing to look at the 1830 U.S. Census and see who the Griggs’ neighbors were on Bedford Street. They included African Methodist Episcopal pioneering missionaries and former Bethel Church pastors Rev. John Boggs and Rev. Walter Proctor.* In addition, there were the founding AME families of Trusty, Durham, Law, and Tilghman. Many of these families have members buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Given the number of militant freedom fighters (Underground Railroad) on Bedford Street, it is very likely that runaways from Southern enslavers were sheltered with these brave families.
WALKING WHILE BLACK?
“Cato Griggs, a sprout from the African race, and a suspicious character was caught trespassing on the premises of a citizen of Southwark, about 2 o’clock in the morning. Committed.” (Public Ledger, November 25, 1837, p.1.)
Mr. Griggs was buried at the Bethel Burying Ground on a cold December day that saw snow flurries in the afternoon.
*William Carl Bolivar, an African American historian, and journalist, wrote that Durham and Proctor would travel to the slave state of Maryland for “camp meetings” preaching the bible. In addition to “soul saving,” these men would pilot enslaved men and women to freedom at great danger to these Black missionaries. (Philadelphia Tribune, June 28, 1913, in Bolivar’s weekly column, Pencil Pusher Points.)