Eleven-month-old Allis Matilda Rivers died this date, July 30th in 1845 of “Summer Croup.” Clinically, it was known as Cholera Infantum, a disease of infants prevalent during hot weather, ordinarily characterized by fever, vomiting, and rapid emaciation. In the latter stages, the victim slips into a coma. Death follows violent convulsions. Allis Matilda was one of 557 children to die of this devastating disease between 1844 and 1845, according to the Philadelphia Board of Health records.
The baby’s parents were John and Elizabeth Rivers, both thirty-five-years-old at the time of their daughter’s death. Both were born in Pennsylvania, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. Allis Matilda had three sisters: Esther (11 years old), Margaret (10 years old), and Mary (8 years old). They all were born in Pennsylvania and attended the Shiloh School, according to the 1850 U.S. Census.
Mr. Rivers did not have steady employment and earned an estimated $1.50 a week as a ‘jobber.’ Ms. Rivers was self-employed doing washing and ironing, according to the 1847 Census.
The family of six lived in a wretched, tiny 10′ x 10′ hut. The 1847 census taker described it as “a very miserable old shed in the rear of an old frame building.” The floor of these structures was often dirt with straw or carpet remnants scattered about. The Rivers family paid $0.50 weekly for rent, which was a clear sign of destitution.
Again the census taker noted about the Black families on Shippen Street that it was “ . . . alarming there are many here who from necessity are very destitute and doubtless would do much better if an opportunity to do so was afforded but from the peculiar situations in which many are placed it seems almost a matter of impossibility for them to do better without the assistance of those in whose power if they give them regular employment. Another great cause of the poverty of the laborers is the vast and almost insurmountable rent tax, many who from being without employment this winter have had to pawn almost everything they possessed to keep up.” (1) (“‘Rent tax’ now is just known as rent.”)
Eleven-month-old Allis Matilda Rivers died on a late July day that was visted by a “severe storm of wind and rain.” She was buried, with dignity, by her parents at Bethel Burying Ground.