The unnamed six-month-old son of Mary and Jacob Johnson died this date, August 23rd, in 1844 of Inanition and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The word ‘inanition’ literally means starvation. Today we might know it as a “failure to thrive.” The child was not able to use the nutrition that he was being fed. This condition may arise from a number of medical conditions, such as diabetes or a thyroid hormone disease.
Mary Johnson was twenty-four-years-old at the time of her son’s death and was employed as a laundress. Jacob Johnson was twenty-six-years-old and was occupied as a hat dryer.* Both were born in Pennsylvania, according to the 1850 U.S. Census and the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. The latter census reported that the Johnsons had two other children. They had a boy and girl with the ages ranging with one under 5 years old and the other between 5 and 15 years old. By the time of the 1850 U.S. Census, the Johnsons only reported having a two-year-old daughter named Julia. The Johnsons may well have had other children buried at Bethel Burying Ground.
The Johnson family lived on Green Street in the Southwark District of the County as indicated by the red arrow. The street was only a block away from the Bethel Burying Ground (purple arrow) where their infant son was interred. The family would have lived in one room for which they would have paid approximately $3 a month. In the 1847 Census, Mr. Johnson reported his income as $7 a week which was above the average wage for a Black man during this period. Ms. Johnson would have earned between $.75 to $1.50 a week as a laundress.
However, the Green Street address in the Spring and Summer of 1844 would put the Johnson family in the wrong place at the wrong time. In May and in August, there were a number of nativist mob assaults on the Irish Catholic population in Philadelphia. They were vicious and deadly with attacks on several Catholic churches. The center of one of these battles was the Church of St. Philip Neri on Queen Street in Southwark. There were days of rolling battles between the mob, police and, finally, the military. The mob at one point fired a cannon at the church. The Johnsons’ home backed up on the church! The yellow arrow on the above map points to the location of the church. There are no reports of anyone in the Johnson family being physically harmed. However, according to city directories, the family quickly moved six blocks to the west in a denser Black community.**
Mary and Jacob Johnson lost their baby boy on a rare chilly day in late August that saw rain in the afternoon. They buried their son at Bethel Burying Ground.
*A hat dryer would work in the drying room of a hat manufacturer. The wool for the hat would be cut, stitched, blocked and dipped in a stiffening agent before it was hung by the hat dryer. The acids and other chemicals used in the process, such as mercury, were deadly occupational hazards.
**For more history on the 1844 riots and reading suggestions, please go to –https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philadelphia nativist_riots.