Fifty-five-year-old Anna Clarke died this date, April 6th in 1853 of “Hemiplegia.” This would be paralysis of one side of the body from a stroke or head injury. Six years earlier in the 1848 Philadelphia African American Census, Ms. Clarke reported she was self-employed as a laundress. It was a strenuous job, even for a young person. John, her husband, worked as a stevedore, loading and unloading cargo from the ships docked on the Delaware River wharfs. It too was a backbreaking job, even for someone half his age. We don’t know his exact age but we can assume it was close to his spouse’s age. In 1847, there was another female in the home listed in the census as someone between the ages of 14 and 50 who also worked as a laundress. Her relationship to the Clarkes’ was not recorded. Only two of the three residents were born in Pennsylvania. In 1847, the family lived in Rose Alley.
Little Pine Street was a thoroughfare of poor working Black families who mostly lived in one room, likely only 9’x9′. But there was another group who resided in the rear of these buildings like the Clarkes. Sheds, horse stables, and pig pens were covered with odd pieces of lumber and carpet and rented as shelter. The floors were dirt and would easily get muddy from the leaky “roof.” Renters would lay discarded pieces of carpet on the bare ground that would get soaked and gather mold. These hovels were the perfect environment for diseases to spread, especially Tuberculosis.
Anna and John Clarke lived on Little Pine Street with neighbors who were employed as a carpenter, painter, boot black, cook, laundress, and several who were seamen. Their children went to school at nearby 6th and Lombard School and Bethel Church. The church was a constant target for white mobs to attack. The Black house of worship was a threat to the white society in apartheid Philadelphia. Congregants were attacked as they left Sunday services. This often resulted in violent battles that also brought the Black residents of Little Pine Street to the clash.
This occurred on such a regular basis that a grand jury ruled that Bethel Church was a “nuisance” for attracting racist mobs. The worshippers at Bethel Church were accused of being a burden to the good order of things because of the color of their skin. It is very likely that the Clarkes were part of this “problem!” (1)
Anna Clarke died on a Spring day in 1853 and was buried by her husband, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.
(1) Poulson’s, 10 July 1822; Public Ledger, 7 August 1837; Age, 11 March 1864.