Thirty-eight-year-old John Lemmond died this date, May 25th, in 1848, due to the effects of alcoholism, and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. He lived with his spouse, who is unnamed, and two children between the ages of five and fifteen years, according to the 1837 Philadelphia African American Census. The adults, who formerly were enslaved, were not native to Pennsylvania. However, the children were born in the state. They attended the Adelphia School and the Sixth & Lombard School.
Mr. Lemmond worked as a porter and his spouse was a day worker “when she can get it,” according to the census taker. The family did receive public aid in the form of firewood for their stove.
Liberty Court was an “African American enclave.” It was a small courtyard community of “band-box” houses squeezed in behind the larger residences that faced Ridge Avenue. “Liberty Court had been erected over a portion of the property along Tenth Street, previously owned by the First African Baptist Church (FABC), between 1810 and 1822.”
This “enclave” was home to poor working-class Black families who were paying $0.75-$1.00 a week for one room. The Lemmonds were paying $0.87 a week for one room. Looking at the results of the 1847 Census, there were 18 families in Liberty Court with a total of 86 family members. The vast majority of the adult males worked as porters while the women were employed in their usual jobs of domestic work and laundress. Many families received public assistance in the form of firewood in the winter. In addition, there was a higher than normal percentage of formerly enslaved men and women. Interestingly, I could not find any of the Liberty Court residents recorded in the 1850 U.S. Census.
Alcoholism or Intemperance, as it was called, was seen by Black religious and civic leaders of the time as a sign of moral weakness. It was labeled as the root cause of disease, poverty, crime, and violence. It even was seen as the main reason the white race saw Blacks as an inferior race. James Forten, an African American businessman and civil rights leader, said that sobriety would “stop the mouths of the enemies of freedom.”** The American Civil War and the failure of Reconstruction stand in stark contrast to this philosophy.
Mr. John Lemmond died on a day in May where the ” . . . weather was oppressively warm, the thermometer standing at 92 degrees at noon. In the afternoon, a refreshing shower of rain passed over the city, causing quite an agreeable change.”***
Mr. Lemmond was born into slavery on a southern plantation, a victim of the whip and shackle. His family buried him, with dignity, at the Bethel Burying Ground.
*John L. Cotter, et al., “The Buried Past: An Archeological History of Philadelphia,” p. 301-303.
**Julie Winch, “A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten,” p. 329.
*** Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 May 1848, p. 2.