One year and nine month old William Augustus died this date, April 22nd, in 1846 of Pneumonia and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Although the attending physician wrote the family name as ‘Augustine,’ there is census and city directory evidence that the family’s name was actually ‘Augustus.’ The child’s parents were Samuel, age thirty-six, and Mary Augustus, age twenty-nine. He worked as a porter and Ms. Augustus as a laundress. They had a one-year-old daughter Elizabeth. It also appears that Ms. Augustus was pregnant with her son George, according to the 1850 U.S. Census.
All the members of the family were born in Philadelphia with the exception of Ms. Augustus who was born in the West Indies. She was born to an enslaved mother on one of the many islands that used kidnapped Africans to grind away their lives harvesting sugar cane. The life expectancy of someone working in these killing fields was three years.
We may never know how Ms. Augustus came to Philadelphia. In the 1850 U.S. Census, she declined to answer any questions concerning her enslaved past. She was born in 1817 and, curiously, that was the same year when all the Caribbean islands, large and small, were devastated by a powerful hurricane. The sugarcane fields were destroyed along with all structures including “negro houses.” (1)
A possibility is that Mary’s enslaver fled the island they lived on and resettled in Philadelphia. The city was a haven for French refugees because of Stephen Girard’s presence and the subsequent French community near the Delaware River waterfront. Any enslaved Blacks would be freed once they landed in the city. They might have to do several years of an indentureship but eventually would be liberated. The 1850 U.S. Census shows that Ms. Augustus was one of 254 city residents born in the “West Indies.”
When Baby Augustus died, he was living with his parents and sister in one room on Centre Street. The family paid $3.50 a month for rent. Mr. Augustus was employed as a porter earning $5 per week. Ms. Augustus, who was pregnant, was self-employed as a laundress, likely earning around $.50 a week. The Augustus family neighbors on Centre Street were Black men and women employed as waiters, barbers, dressmakers, shirt makers, seamen, and a “travelling preacher,” according to the 1847 Census. Their very young children were cared for at the 6th and Lombard Street School, while the older children went to either the Adelphia School or the Raspberry Alley School. The last school listed in the previous sentence also had a evening school for adults that taught reading, writing, and math.
Baby Augustus died on a cloudy April day where the temperature rose to a high of 63 degrees. His parents buried him, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.
(1) Daily National Intelligence, Washington, DC, 26 November 1817, p. 2; Vermont Gazette, 2 December 1817, p. 3; Boston Commercial Gazette, 8 December 1817, p. 3.