Twenty-three-year-old Cornelia Fletcher died this date, April 29th, in 1848 of Tuberculosis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The 1847 Philadelphia African American Census reports Ms. Fletcher was the head of a household that included three other Black women. In addition, the Census states that Ms. Fletcher was the owner of 8 1/2 Barley Alley. The house was valued at $750 or $23,250 in 2019 currency. Her monthly mortgage payment was $4 or $124 in 2009 currency.
The 1848 Philadelphia City Directory shows an Elizabeth Fletcher residing at the same address as Cornelia Fletcher. Both are employed as seamstress/dressmaker. Elizabeth could be Cornelia’s mother or sister. The two other women living in the home are working as domestics and their names are not recorded. The 1847 Census reports that only three of the women were born in Pennsylvania. All of them could read and write and they regularly attended religious services.
Barley Alley was considered to be a cartway being only 6’10” wide. In this small thoroughfare, there were 56 other Black families in addition to Ms. Fletcher’s with a total of 245 individuals, according to the 1847 Census. These individuals were employed in 25 different occupations.
It is shocking to contemplate that, during Cornelia Fletcher’s short life, she was witness and victim of five race riots in Philadelphia. A sixth riot occurred the year after she died. Black business and civil rights leader Robert Purvis wrote in 1842 that the white mob violence destroyed a great deal of what the Black community built and created a constant “Hell on Earth” for Black Philadelphians. Despite this, the four women at 8 1/2 Barley Alley fought back to preserve their right of self-determination.
Cornelia Fletcher was buried at Bethel Burying Ground on a clear warm April day with the winds coming out of the South.