Six-year-old Francis Burton died this date, May 21st, in 1842 of “convulsions.” According to 1842 Philadelphia Board of Health records, Scarlet Fever was killing hundreds of the city’s children and may have been the cause of the child’s death. Francis had three siblings at the time of his death. They included Mary who was eight-years-old, Charles who was four-years-old and Peter, Jr. who was the youngest at two-years-old. The younger children attended the 6th and Lombard School, while the older children were enrolled at Miss Amelia Bogle’s private school, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census.
The parents of this brood were Mary Burton, thirty-two-years-old, who was a self-employed laundress, and Peter Burton, forty-two-years-old, who was employed as a porter. He was born in Delaware and Ms. Burton was born in New Jersey. All of Francis’s siblings were born in Pennsylvania, according to the 1850 U.S. Census.
The Burtons owned their home on Barley Street. It was between 10th and 11th Streets, just south of Pine Street. According to the 1847 Census, the Burtons were close to paying off their mortgage. Barley Street was a narrow two block long thoroughfare that in 1846 was home to fifty-eight Black families with an amazing total of two hundred twenty-four men, women, and children. They were packed into three-and four-story tenements where they shared outhouses and one or two water pumps. The women worked as laundresses, seamstresses, and cooks. The majority of the men worked as waiters, barbers and porters.
On the morning of August 1, 1842, only a few months after young Francis’s death, a memorial parade was held by over 1,000 members of the Black Young Men’s Vigliant Association on Philadelphia’s Lombard Street between Fifth and Eighth streets in commemoration of the eighth anniversary of the end of slavery in the British West Indies. As the marchers approached Bethel A.M.E. Church at 6th and Lombard Streets, they were attacked by thousands of racist Irish-American thugs. A three-day rolling riot by a white mob attacked African Americans and burned Black homes, churches, and meeting halls.
It appears the Burton family was not physically harmed by the mob. Their home was two or three blocks outside the area of destruction. The next time they may not have been so fortunate.
Six-year-old Francis Burton died on a pleasant day in May after a violent nor’eastern washed through the city the night before. He was buried, with dignity, by his parents at Bethel Burying Ground.