Eighty-seven-year-old Amelia Turpin died this date, March 8th, in 1851 of “old age” and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The 1850 U.S. Census shows that Ms. Turpin had a roommate. She was Hannah Baker who was fifty-four-years-old at the time of Ms. Turpin’s death. She was born in Pennsylvania, while Ms. Turpin was born in South Carolina. There was no occupation/employment mentioned for either woman.
Ms. Turpin lived at #3 Green Street, near the intersection of 4th and Spruce Streets. In the above map, Green Street is circled in red. The red pin illustrates the location of Bethel A.M.E. Church at 6th and Lombard Streets.
Green Street was a crowded neighborhood of Black working-class and poor. The 1847 African American Census registered forty-two families on Green Street with a total of 145 individuals who were employed in the following occupations: Barber, Dressmaker, Domestic, Laborer, Seamstress, Steward, White Washer, Laundress, Hat Dryer, Seaman, Coal Heaver, Porter, Waiter, Clothes Dealer, Cake Maker, and Boot Maker. There were many large families, some with three generations living under the same roof. The 1847 Census reported that up to 50% of Black Philadelphians were formerly enslaved!
On the day that Ms. Turpin died, a Black woman and her son were brought to Philadelphia to appear before the federal Fugitive Slave Commission to determine if they were self-liberated. She gave her name as Hannah Dellam and her son’s as Henry Dellam. The slave catchers swore that their names were Helen and Dick from the plantation of James Perdue of Baltimore County, Maryland. Ms. Dellam stated she was forty-years-old and had given birth to seven children, only three of whom were still living. She also was pregnant and due to deliver any day. Henry Dellam was approximately twelve years old. The draconian 1850 Fugitive Slave Law was enacted the year before. It granted free rein to slave catchers for hire to roam the northern states and kidnap Black men, women, and children off the streets, out of their beds and to send them back to the whip and the field. This tragedy occured regardless of whether they were actually the formerly enslaved or not.
Ms. Dellam and her son were represented by capable abolition and anti-slavery lawyers in Philadelphia who were responsible for the successful legal representation of scores of self-emancipated African-Americans. However, in this case, the evidence overwhelmingly was in favor of the slavers and, after several days of testimony, the heavily pregnant woman and her son were transported back to Maryland. When the child Henry Dellam was asked why he ran away from the plantation, he stated that he was tired of being tied up and of being whipped. (1)
Ms. Turpin died on a snowy day in early March where the temperature did not rise above freezing until later in the afternoon. The day before was a day filled with sleet and snow.
(1) Pennsylvania Freeman, 13 March 1851; Sunday Dispatch, 9 March 1851; Albany Evening Journal (NY), 11 March 1851.