Forty-year-old Levin Custis died this date December 8th, in 1842 and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Dr. Boardman did not see the corpse until the next day – if at all. He omitted Mr. Custis’s age which was eventually added to the weekly Board of Health Summary. According to the 1838 Philadelphia African American Census, the good doctor also misspelled the deceased last name.
Mr. Levin Custis was formerly enslaved and gained his freedom through manumission, as did his spouse, according to the 1838 Census. Mr. Custis was employed as a laborer, while Ms. Custis took in laundry. I have not been able to identify her first name. The 1838 census also reports a third individual living with the family, possibly a child.
The Custis family lived in a room on Flower Street in the Moysmensing District of Philadelphia County. Through the 19th Century, Flower Street (now South Fallon Street) saw its tragedies, including starvation, exposure, riots, and epidemics. March was a cruel month for the poor in the city. Work was either slow or non-existent. Consequently, money for food and wood or coal for heat was a problem. In desperation, some would break up furniture to burn for heat. In March of 1835, even that couldn’t keep Flower Street resident Ms. Amy Grant and her baby son from freezing to death in their room. (1)
Flower Street was also the target of rampaging racist mobs in the summer of 1835 and in 1842.
In addition to the seasonal rampages of white racist mobs, the residents of Flower Street also fell prey to the criminal gangs that daily roamed the neighborhood unchecked. (2)
Mr. Levin Custis died on a cold December day that saw snow fall all day. It was especially heavy in the evening. This may have delayed the physician and may have been the reason why the death certificate is dated the day after he died.
(1) Daily Pennsylvanian, 4 March 1835.
(2) Daily Pennsylvanian, 11 September 1848