Eight-year-old Mary Jane Ridgeway died this date, August 20th, in 1851 of “typhoid fever with perforation of the intestines” and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Typhoid on its own may not have led to her death, however, perforation and subsequent abdominal bleeding cause a deadly bloodstream infection (sepsis). Mary Jane would have suffered terribly from nausea, vomiting blood, and severe abdominal pain.
Her parents could only watch and provide very little relief. They were Margaret and Peter Ridgeway. Ms. Ridgeway was 30 years old at the time of their daughter’s death as was Mr. Ridgeway. He was born in Delaware and she in Pennsylvania. They had two other children: Elizabeth, 10 years old, and John, who was six years old. Both children were born in Pennsylvania, according to the 1850 U.S. Census.
Mr. Ridgeway was employed as a “seaman,” according to the 1850 Census. It is unknown if he was a “blue water” sailor, also known as a deep-water sailor, which would mean long stretches away from home. Or he may have been employed on the Delaware River on the coastal ferries to New Jersey and Delaware, which would give him more time at home. Either one was seasonal and would mean unemployment during the winter months. There was no occupation reported for Ms. Ridgeway.
Plum Street was described by a journalist of the era as a “small dark alley”and “long known as the most concentrated street of white prostitution in the city” and “a center of low-life in the city.” (1) The center of this mayhem was Dandy Hall. In a large three-story house at the eastern end of Plum Street, there was a saloon, a dance hall, and a brothel in one structure. On any given night, the drunken chaos from the building spilled out onto the street and created an extremely violent environment. That was never truer when on Christmas Eve in 1846 Dandy Hall came under attack by the “Home Squadron,” a group of hardcore murderers from the Killers gang. Blood ran in the street as throats were slashed and skulls crushed as constables tried to stop the destruction. (1)
It appears that the owner of Dandy Hall was not paying protection money and/or not buying his liquor from the bosses of the Killers which was the Moyamensing volunteer fire company. There was a number of failed arson attempts on the building in the following years. The Moyamensing gang succeeded in burning it to the ground in May of 1849. (3)
Such was life on Plum Street for the Ridgeway family.
Between 1850 and 1851 eighty-three children are reported to have died of Typhoid Fever, according to Philadelphia Board of Health records. Eight-year-old Mary Jane Ridgeway died on a late August day where the temperature rose to only 65 degrees. She was buried, with dignity, by her parents at Bethel Burying Ground.
(1) Maria Carlisle, “Disorderly City, Disorderly Women: Prostitution in Ante-Bellum Philadelphia,” Philadelphia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 110, No.4 (Oct., 1986), pp. 549-568. Sun (newspaper), 29 Dec 1846, p. 3.
(2) Philadelphia Inquirer, 24 May 1849, p. 1.