Seventy-one-year-old Jasper White died on this date, December 13th in 1853, of “old age.” Mr. White’s first name has also appeared as Joseph, Jesper, and Casper in the 1840 and 1850 federal censuses and the Philadelphia African Censuses of 1838 and 1847.
In the 1838 Census, Mr. White reported that he and three other family members were formerly enslaved. According to the census taker, some bought their freedom, although it is unclear how many. Others had not. But how the latter group gained their liberty is not recorded. In the 1850 Federal Census, the family is recorded as Mr. White, 67 years old, and Comfort White, 60 years of age. Also, there was Cosmos White, 27 years old, and Rachel White, 25 years. All four individuals were born in Maryland.
In addition, there was Margaret, who was six years old, and Georgianna, who was three years old. Both children were born in Philadelphia, according to the Census.
Jasper White stood five foot five and a half inches. He had a light complexion and his body had no scars and bore no signs of the whip. He was born in Worcester County, Maryland on the Eastern Shore, where he spent his first fifty-seven years on John H. White’s plantation plowing the fields and breaking his back harvesting the crops of cotton and corn. And when his body could no longer perform these duties, he was allowed to pay his enslaver for his freedom on May 27, 1836. (2)
In the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census, Mr. White reported that four members of his family, including himself, gained their freedom for a ransom of $1,500 or the modern equivalent of approximately $44,600. The difference between the 1838 census and the 1847 census on how many of the family members were freed, when they were freed, and how is not explained. The Maryland Slave Database (see #2) only lists Jasper White as being legally manumitted.
Jasper White and his family were living in Philadelphia by the Spring/Summer of 1837. The 1838 African American Census (taken the previous year) reports the Whites living in Hazzard’s Alley. The Alley is not listed as an official location. It is neither in directories nor maps. Using the names on the same census page as our guide, it appears they resided near the intersection of 7th and Bainbridge Streets. The family may have ended up there because they had family or friends nearby. There is only one other family located in Hazzard’s Alley. Ms. Flora Adams and her family of five lived next door. Ms. Adams also was manumitted from enslavement. Both families paid exorbitant rents and their homes in the alley may have only been temporary housing. Another possibility is that the rent was being paid by the local Anti-Slavery or Abolition Societies who may have assisted with both Mr. White’s manumission payment and his and his family’s living expenses.
Mr. White worked as a laborer while Ms. White took in laundry. The employment, if any, of the other adults is not recorded. One member of the family attended services at Bethel Church, according to the 1838 Census. By the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census, Mr. White was unable to work and labeled “helpless” by the census taker. The family was down to four individuals. Both children were gone. At least one female was employed doing washing and ironing. There is still no employment recorded for Cosmos White.
The children may have succumbed to the dozen diseases that hunted the poor. (3) There are no death certificates for the children. However, the records are not complete with long gaps of missing records. In a way, there may be an answer in the Federal Census of 1850 which states that the family of four adults has moved. When historians and sociologists (W.E.B. DuBois) write about the Black poor in 19th Century Philadelphia, the name of several streets and alleys are always mentioned. St. Mary’s and Small Streets are described as the home of the desperately poor African Americans. These streets were death traps of starvation, violence, and rampant disease. However, the social scientists and the newspapers of the era have deemed Bedford Street as the worst. The White family’s financial situation put them there by 1850. No one would choose to live there.
Mr. Jasper White died on a freezing day in December. His courage and amazing strength carried him and his family to Philadelphia after a long life of enslavement. He was buried by his family and friends, with dignity, in an African American-owned cemetery – Bethel Burying Ground.
(3) Another possibility could be that the family could not take care of the children and they were placed in the Children’s Workhouse. Run by Christian organizations, the children would receive clothes, three meals a day, an education, and taught a trade. In return, the young children would spend their time weaving straw mats and other items. The older children could be rented out as apprentices and domestics.