Seventy-two-year-old Joseph Lancaster died this date, October 19th, in 1847 of Apoplexy (stroke) and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Mr. Lancaster worked as a porter during his life. He was married to Hester Lancaster who was fifty-nine years old at the time of her spouse’s death. She worked as a washwoman. Both were born in Delaware. The 1838 Philadelphia African American Census reports that one of them was born enslaved and gained his or her freedom when the father paid the enslaver $135 dollars. In Delaware, the average price for an enslaved field hand in 1800 was $350. This was much higher than just fifteen years before in 1785. (1)
The Lancasters lived at 100 Gaskill Street for many years for which they paid $3 a month in rent. That amount is approximately what Ms. Lancaster might earn in two weeks of washing clothes and bedsheets.
Gaskill Street was only an eight-foot-wide narrow cartway that often was clogged with garbage and ashes from stoves and fireplaces. Heavy rains and overflowing cesspools would flood the basements which would then filter down to the water level and contaminate the drinking water at the local hand pump, causing illness and often death.
The 1847 Philadelphia African American Census shows the Black families on Gaskill Street were employed as mariners, chimney sweeps, porters, wood sawyers, shopkeepers, sailmakers, harnessmakers, shoemakers, laundresses, and waiters.
Shortly after Mr. Lancaster died and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground, the 1847 African American Census reported that Samuel Lancaster is living with Ms. Lancaster. Presumably, Samuel is her son. He is twenty-nine-years old and is employed as a bootmaker. However, by the 1850 U.S. Census, the Lancaster home looks very different. It includes 6 additional females, ages 14 – 65, and one additional male, age 2.
In 1850, the Philadelphia city directories start listing Hester Lancaster as a shopkeeper at her home address. It may be that she is now working with her son and they have opened a boot and shoe business.
Hester Lancaster died in July of 1857, at sixty-nine-years-old, and was buried at Olive Cemetery.
(1) Slavery in Delaware – available at http://www.ssam.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/SlaveryInDelaware.pdf