The nine-month-old daughter of Levi and Harriet Harman died this date, January 1st in 1851 of Hydrocephalus and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Mr. Harman was fifty-one-years-old and worked as a stevedore. Ms. Harman was twenty-nine-years-old and was employed as a laundress. Both were born in Delaware, according to the 1850 U.S. Census. That Census also shows the family included: William Harman who was thirteen-years-old and Elizabeth Harman who was ten-years-old. Both children were born in Pennsylvania. The 1847 Philadelphia African American Census shows that there was another young male (unnamed) in the family who was employed as a seaman. He is not recorded in the household by the 1850 U.S. Census.
The six members of the Harman family lived in an 11’x 11′ shed in the rear of #19 Middle Alley for which they paid $2.25 a month in rent. Mr. Harman earned $6 a week, according to the 1847 Census. Middle Alley ran from 6th to 7th Streets between Spruce and Pine Streets. It is now called Panama Street. Middle Alley had a long history of violence, brothels, speakeasies and crushing poverty. In addition to dealing with all these elements in their everyday lives, the Harmans, as well as all Black Philadelphians, now had to live in fear of the newly emboldened fugitive slave catchers – savage kidnappers for profit.
By 1850 the southern enslavers had won over enough northern politicians to pass the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. The law required liberated, formerly enslaved Black men, women, and children to be returned to their enslavers, even if they were in a free state. The act also made the federal government responsible for finding, trying and returning escaped Blacks.
Each major city in the north had a federally appointed commission/judge to conduct a hearing to decide the validity of the kidnappers’ claim that the African American was a fugitive. It was not a coveted job by most attorneys. However, there was one in Philadelphia who appeared to be born for the job. Edward D. Ingraham, Esq. was a racist, known for dismissing outright the evidence presented by the Black man or woman’s lawyer. Ingraham took delight in his “indecent haste” in railroading victims while handing the notorious kidnapper George F. Alberti whatever he needed. The Commissioner exhibited “. . . zeal in the business of making it [Fugitive Slave Law] agreeable for the South” and appeared to be ” . . . much endeared to slave-catchers.” There even was an implication that Ingraham was taking bribes from the slave-catchers – “a ten-dollar slave catching judge.”
All the poor of Philadelphia, regardless of race, suffered from the same crushing effects. Clearly, some more than others. However, only one group of Philadelphia’s citizens could be pounced upon, anywhere and at any time, and dragged in chains to hell.
Harriet and Levi Harman lost their baby daughter on a day where the sunrise temperature was a cold 18°. Late afternoon it rose to 33° with two inches of snow on the ground from the previous day.
- “indecent haste” . . . Trenton Star Gazette, 25 December 1850, p. 1.
- “zeal in the business” . . . Philadelphia: a history of the city and its people, a record of 225 years. v.2, p. 349, E.P. Oberholzer.
- “much endeared” . . . Miscellaneous writings on Slavery, p. 598, William Jay.
- “George F. Alberti” . . . The Underground Railroad: a record of facts, p. 557, William Still.
- “ten-dollar judge” . . . ibid., p. 598.