Forty-seven-year-old Gideon Miller died this date, March 10th, in 1846 of a non-specific brain disease and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. At the time of his death, he was too ill to be employed, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. He had formerly worked as a waiter. His spouse, Mary Miller, was thirty-four years old and was self-employed as a laundress. Both were born enslaved in Maryland, according to the 1840 and 1850 U.S. Censuses. Mr. Miller’s death left Mary Miller the sole caretaker of her five children.
The family lived in one 10′ x 10′ room on Bedford Street for which they paid $0.50 a month. The census taker for the 1847 Census remarked that the building the Millers lived in was “a very old frame building not worth half the money – these persons are very poor from sickness in family,- one child a girl [is] Consumptive.” There were numerous alleys and streets in 19th Century Philadelphia that were not fit for humans to reside. Bedford Street was one of them. In 1846 it was a place of mayhem, squalor, disease, and home to the destitute. “Poverty is the worst kind of violence.” (Mahatma Ghandi)
The red circle above shows the heart of the “negro quarters” on Bedford Street. The black circle illustrates the location and proximity of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
In 1846 all of the city and county of Philadelphia were an active battleground for the dozens of volunteer fire companies that were nothing more than dens of murderous white racist thugs. On the night of Sunday April 2nd in 1845, Mr. Miller, although an invalid, would still have been aware of the awful noises coming from the streets in the neighborhood. Over 500 white boys and men were on a rampage trying to kill each other with guns, knives, bats, and stones. The Weccacoe Hose Company, led by their gang the “Bouncers,” and the Moyamensing Hose Company, spearheaded by their gang “Killers,” engaged in a battle to murder each other for the sake of false religious pride. These riots had become so frequent that a local newspaper said it was concerned that the public was becoming “accustomed to the violence.” In a rare and dangerous condemnation the journalist stated that the police and courts had “failed” the citizens of the city. (1) It is impossible to imagine the anger and fear experienced by the Miller family as they huddled around their sick husband and father.
Mr. Miller died on a clear day in March where the temperature rose to a seasonable 50 degrees. He was buried by his family, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.
(1) Daily Chronicle, 24 April 1845, p.2. The Weccacoe Company members were Protestant Nativists and the “Boys of Moya” were Roman Catholic. The majority of both were Irish immigrants.