Sixty-year-old Sarah Benson died this date, January 19th, in 1850 of Dropsy* and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Although not born in Pennsylvania, she had been living in Philadelphia for the last thirty years. The 1847 Philadelphia African Census shows her as a widow and living with another woman and a child under five years old. Ms. Benson is reported as “assisting at home,” while the younger woman is employed as a wash woman earning $15 a month. Their rent for their one-room shed in the rear of 14 Passyunk Road was an expensive $5 a month.
Ms. Benson resided at the end of the long Passyunk Road (red pin) which was the entrance to the city proper from the farms in the southern part of the county. It is hard to imagine the constant noise, commotion, and tumult of the 24/7 procession of heavy freight wagons driven by barking teamsters. In addition, there would have been large droves of livestock that included cattle, pigs and sheep moving up the road.
Sarah Benson lived from 1820 to 1850 in the most racist city in the North. She witnessed and physically survived six major race riots during those decades. In addition to the major riots, Irish vigilante gangs with the terrifying names of Killers, Murderers, Bleeders, and Skinners went unchecked daily in their assaults against Black citizens. Black women were forced to do their market shopping early in the morning because, by late morning, the now drunk gangsters on the streets posed a violent threat.
Ms. Benson was buried at Bethel Burying Ground on a cold overcast January day where the temperature only reached thirty-four degrees.
*Dropsy – An old term for the swelling due to the accumulation of excess water. Today, one would be more descriptive and specify the cause, such as congestive heart failure or kidney disease.