Three-year-old Peter Proctor died this date, February 11th, in 1843 of Marasmus and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. “Withering” is the Greek translation of ‘Marasmus.’ Like many diagnoses by early 19th Century physicians, they only could declare a symptom as the cause of death and not the underlying pathology. The wasting of the child’s body could have been from pneumonia, meningitis, or any disease that would cause chronic diarrhea. On tragic occasions, the child of a destitute family could starve to death from lack of food. This was likely not the case in this instance.
Young Peter was the son of Mary Ann LeCount Proctor and Rev. Walter Proctor. Ms. Proctor was forty-two-years old at the time of her son’s death. She was born in Kent County, Delaware and was a member of the LeCount family which was one of the most significant pillars of the 19th Century Philadelphia Black community. Ms. Proctor was self-employed as a dressmaker. Ms. Proctor gave birth to at least thirteen children. Only seven reached adulthood. For more information on the children please go to: https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/portrait/L1L8-MSC
Rev. Proctor was fifty years old at the time of his son’s death. He was born in Port Tobacco, Charles County, Maryland. Like many Black ministers of the 19th century, he also had additional employment to make financial ends meet. Rev. Proctor was a successful shoemaker who also ran a barbering business, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census.
Rev. Proctor was a long time friend and colleague of Bishop Richard Allen and he was called Allen’s “eyes and ears.” Rev. Proctor was known to be a popular choice to perform baptisms, weddings, and burial services at Bethel Church and Bethel Burying Ground. Rev. Proctor also had a history of marrying interracial couples. Not all Black ministers would do that and, certainly, no white ministers would perform the ceremony. Their churches would be burned down by white mobs and the clergymen would be lucky to get away with only a crippling assault. (1)
Rev. Proctor and Ms. Proctor were active members of the Vigilance Association of Philadelphia, popularly referred to as the ‘Vigilance Committee.’ Over the decades, the organization assisted thousands of Black women, men, and children fleeing their southern enslavement. They were provided protection, housing, food, cash, and, if needed, transportation to New England and Canada. Lawyers were provided to the unfortunate who were kidnapped by slave catchers. The Committee also could organize a flash mob to try to physically remove the arrested fugitive from the kidnappers and the police. Click on the following for further info: https://journals.psu.edu/pmhb/article/view/42412/42133.
According to the 1843 Philadelphia City Directory, the Proctor family lived at #34 Blackberry Alley illustrated by the red circle on the above map. Only a block west of Washington Square, it was known in the press as a “notorious haunt of iniquity” for its numerous and often rowdy houses of prostitution. The Proctors would be on the move every several years, finally settling on Bonsall Street (now Rodman), living next to Ms. Proctor’s family. (2)
Young Peter Proctor died on a day where the temperature rose to 40 degrees with clear skies. He was buried by his family, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground. It is very likely that Rev. Proctor performed the burial service for his son.
(1) Daily Pennsylvanian, 2 Feb 1857.
(2) Public Ledger, 20 Dec 1837.