Five-month-old Julia Harper died this date, July 15th, in 1847 of Cholera and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. She was the daughter of Robert and Dorcas Harper. He was twenty-five years old at the time of his child’s death; she was twenty-years-old. Both were born in Delaware. Julia was their only child. However, Ms. Harper would give birth to a son, Simon, in 1849, according to the 1850 U.S. Census.
In 1847, it appears that the Robert and Dorcas Harper family lived with or next door to the George Harper family on Race Street. Robert and George may have been brothers or cousins. According to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census, the rent for 340 Race Street was a hefty $6 a month. Robert worked as a laborer and George was employed as a stevedore and his unnamed spouse worked as a laundress.
Little Julia Harper was one of the 443 children in Philadelphia that died of Cholera in 1847. She died on a “temperate and pleasant” day in July with the temperature rising to 82° and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground.
Thirty years before the death of little Julia Harper, Race Street looked very different. Black children were being sold as indentured servants. A young Black man was up for sale as “a good Carriage driver” and “an excellent hand on a Farm.”
The two girls and the young man listed above were not enslaved for life, as in the historical sense. They were enslaved as indentured servants. Slavery of a different kind. Frequently, white immigrants would offer themselves and their family members as indentured servants in order to pay the cost of their passage across the Atlantic. This would not be the system that Blacks would be forced into.
Excellent reading on the Philadelphia Black indentured servant is in “A Fragile Freedom” by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. She focuses on Black women and girls forced into servitude. Also, the book “Freedom By Degrees” by Gary B. Nash and Jean R. Soderlund offers an excellent overview of the topic.