Forty-seven-year-old James Champion died on December 6th, in 1818, of Tuberculosis and eventually was buried at Bethel Burying Ground in early January of 1819. The reason for this delay was a long stretch of below-freezing temperatures that completely froze over the Delaware River, according to newspaper accounts. (1)
Large cemeteries usually had vaults where they stored bodies in situations like this. Bethel did not have a vault. It was possible to rent space in a vault in a nearby cemetery. It was also a possibility that he was temporarily buried “between the walls” which meant a corpse was buried underneath the floor of the church. (2) But whatever the situation, Mr. Champion’s remains were removed and interred at Bethel Burying Ground in early January of 1819, as described by the above document.
Tragically, there is little personal information available on Mr. Champion or his family. Philadelphia city directories record his occupation as “carter” until 1813 when he is listed as a “master chimney sweep.” A carter is an operator of a wagon or cart that transports goods. Elizabeth Street was the location of several large businesses, including the cordial distillery of J. Dickerson and the chocolate manufactory of Frederick Shonnard. Mr. Champion could have been employed at either one of these.
James Champion was an original trustee of Bethel Church along with its founder, the Rev. Richard Allen. Champion was an early Allenite or devoted follower of Allen. To give an example of Mr. Champion’s status in the church, we only have to look at an event on December 19th in 1805. A beloved Bethel congregate and an old member of St. George’s Methodist Church, Charles Boston, died and was buried on this date. There was a large funeral at Bethel where the white Methodist clergy followed the coffin in the procession to Mr. Boston’s grave. The only ones allowed to lead the coffin were Rev. Richard Allen, Rev. Absalom Jones, and James Champion! (1)
In the same year as his death, while he was suffering from Tuberculosis, Mr. Champion finished a hymn book of 314 hymns for his church with Rev. Allen and Daniel Coker. (2)
(1) A Journal of the Travels of William Colbert . . . (1790-1833).
(2) The quadrennial address of the bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, p. 16.