Thirteen-year-old Joseph Cropper died this date, January 31st, in 1853 of a “sudden and unexpected Rupture of a Blood vessel in the Lungs.”
At the time of his death, Joseph was an inmate in the Philadelphia Colored House of Refuge. Built only three years before his death, it housed youths under twenty-one-years-old that were convicted of minor crimes, such as theft or fighting. Besides those children who were convicted of a crime, it also gave shelter for up to a year to those who were abandoned or homeless. (1)
It is possible that the young Mr. Cropper was already suffering from a serious respiratory disease, such as Tuberculosis, prior to his death. If that were the case, then it is strange that the attending physician and the coroner did not mention that fact. Joseph would have been in the advanced stages of the disease and should have been in the infirmary, not in a dormitory. These institutions were violent places, often ruled by gangs and run by people willing to look the other way for the sake of their own personal gain.
According to the 1850 U.S. Census, Joseph was the son of Daniel and Annie Maria Cropper. Mr. Cropper was forty years old at the time of his son’s death. Ms. Cropper was forty-two years old. Mr. Cropper was employed as a waiter and a porter, as the latter was usually seasonal.
Ms. Cropper was a stay-at-home mother caring for Joseph, his three sisters, and one brother. At the time of their brother’s death, Elizabeth was twenty-years-old, Sarah A. was twelve-years-old, Daniel, Jr. was nine-years-old, and Ann M. was seven-years-old. Mr. and Ms. Cropper were both born in Delaware, while the rest of the family members were born in Pennsylvania, according to the 1850 U.S. Census and Ms. Cropper’s obituary.
The family was not listed in the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. Their home address was last reported in the 1850 Philadelphia City Directory. The family lived on Emeline Street, now Kater Street. It was a narrow thoroughfare between 8th and 9th Streets and South and Bainbridge Streets. The street was packed with Black families that supported themselves by being employed as laborers, blacksmiths, waiters, laundresses, cooks, and dressmakers.
The Philadelphia city directories for the 1850s do not contain any mentions of the Cropper family. The family does appear in the 1860 U.S. Census as having moved back to Delaware and living in the New Castle area. Still living with their parents are Daniel, Jr. and Anna.
It appears that the family moved back to Delaware after the death of Joseph. Daniel Cropper died in December of 1886 and Annie Marie Cropper in 1889. (2)
Thirteen-year-old Joseph Cropper died on a clear and mild day at the end of January when the temperature rose to a high of forty-nine degrees. He was buried, with dignity, by his family at Bethel Burying Ground. There is the beginning of a family tree at Ancestry.com
(1) https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/house-of-refuge/; E.P. Oherholtzer, Philadelphia: A History of the City and its People, p. 176.
(2) The Morning Sun (New Castle, DE), 13 April 1889.