Approximately one-hundred-year-old Hester Brown died this date, March 5th, in 1861 and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. I have not been able to find more personal information than what is on the death certificate. Born in Delaware in approximately 1761, she was most likely born to an enslaved mother at the least. Ms. Brown is not listed in any U.S. censuses or the Philadelphia African American censuses of 1836 and 1847. I also could not locate her in the Philadelphia city directories. Her death certificate reports that she was employed as a laundress. There were no mentions of her in the local newspapers of the era.
Ms. Brown lived in a room at 1017 Rodman Street, formerly known as Bonsall Street.
Her address was at the southern limits of center city Philadelphia.
The 900-1000 blocks of Rodman in 1861 was one of the thriving centers of African American family life. The LeCounts, Bolivars, Proctors, and Durhams, residents of those two blocks, were keystones in the building of educational, cultural, business, religious and civil rights institutions in 19th century Philadelphia. Perhaps none were more important as a role model than Hester Brown’s next door neighbor – The “Black Swan,” aka Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield.
Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield was born into slavery on a Natzeh, Mississippi plantation in 1819. Her life story is an amazing testament to the human spirit. She became a prominent vocalist that was the first Black person to sing for royalty during a concert attended by Queen Victoria in England. During her career, she traveled to Europe, Canada, and throughout the United States, performing to large crowds in concert and recital settings. In the antebellum United States, her concerts were often under heavy police guard because of the racist threats. She would tour in the Spring and Summer and, during the rest of the year, she was a vocal teacher to budding Black men and women seeking a singing career. Ms. Hester Brown certainly would have heard the beautiful tones wafting down Rodman Street.
908-910 Rodman Street in hard times (1926)
Hester Brown died on a cold March day where the temperature briefly rose to 41 degrees. Ms. Brown was not buried at Bethel Burying Ground for ten days after her death. It is not possible to give a definitive reason for this. Sometimes, if the weather is bad and/or the ground is frozen solid, there could be a delay. That doesn’t appear to be the case with Ms. Brown after reviewing the weather in 1861 for the months of February and March. It could be that she was indigent and, likely, could not afford a burial plot and Bethel Church eventually stepped up.
Coincidently, the funeral director, Thomas Allmond, who took care of Ms. Brown’s corpse, had his home and business at the same address as Ms. Brown, according to the 1860 city directory. Per the death certificate by 1861, he had moved down Rodman Street to 1027.