Forty-year-old Mitchell Blake died this date, January 7th, in 1841 of Tuberculosis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Mr. Mitchell was employed as a laborer while his spouse Elizabeth was self-employed as a day worker, according to the 1838 Philadelphia African American Census. It was reported that they had one child who was in school. The same census reported that the family lived in a room in a tenement at 238 Lombard Street in the rear of the building. For this, they paid $20 a year in rent or approximately $1.60 a month for an 8′ X 8′ room. This figure indicates severe poverty and paints a grim picture of their day-to-day living. Mitchell and Elizabeth Blake were not native to Pennsylvania and arrived in Philadelphia with $25 in their possession.
After Mr. Blake died, Elizabeth chose to stay at the Lombard Street address, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. It appears that their child had died or was no longer living with the child’s mother. The 1847 Census reports that Elizabeth now had a male child under the age of five years.
In October of 1840, Mr. Blake was dying. He lived another three months, however, the lining of his lungs was already damaged and they were leaking blood. Whether he was bedridden or mobile, he would have at least heard the rioting going on in Lombard Street. It was national election day on Friday, October 30th, and much like every Fourth of July in the city, it gave rise to the drunken hunting of African Americans by Irish gangs. A group of these racist thugs got hold of a rowboat and put it in the back of a horse-drawn freight wagon and filled it with armed white men. Their mission was to visit every Black church in the area and do as much violence and damage they could get away with in this virtually lawless city. When they pulled up to Bethel Church, they met a group of Black men who were not going to let their new church be vandalized. They drove off the boatload of gangsters who returned with overwhelming numbers that forced the parishioners into the church. According to the newspapers, the terrorists stopped after all the windows in the church were broken. Other Black churches did not fair as well. (1)
The child that Elizabeth lost after the death of her husband may have been Mary Amelia Blake who died on October 13, 1842, of Pneumonia. She was four years old and likely would have been placed in the same grave as her father.
Mr. Blake died on an exceptionally warm day in early January. The warm winds from the south caused the thick ice blocking the Delaware River to break up and allow ship traffic to advance.
He was buried, with dignity, by his family and friends at Bethel Burying Ground.
(1) Public Ledger, 2 Nov 1840; The Colored American, 14 Nov 1840.