The nine-month-old son of John and Martha F. Burk died this date, April 9th, in 1846 of Hydrocephalus and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The disease has two types: (1) congenital and (2) acquired after the birth which may have been premature. Other causes for the second category are meningitis, tumor, head injury, and stroke. The child develops an enlarged head with ever-increasing spinal fluid pressure on the brain. Commonly called “water on the brain,” the poor child was a victim of constant seizures, urinary incontinence, blindness, deafness, headaches, and severe lethargy. Death comes after the brain is crushed by the build-up pressure. Victims of the disease were subjected to various painful “cures” that were quackery. Ms. Burk was twenty-three years old at the time of her child’s death. Mr. Burk was twenty-four.
The 1847 Philadelphia African American Census shows Mr. and Ms. Burk without children and living at #12 Barley Street in the Moyamensing District of Philadelphia. He worked as a laborer and she was self-employed as a day worker. They were both born in Virginia.
The Burks paid $3.75 a month in rent or approximately $138.00 in modern currency. Interestingly, the family had $500 in personal property which is approximately $18,400 in modern currency – a small fortune for a Black family in 1847. The 1850 U.S. Census may show us how the funds were utilized.
By 1850, the Burk family added three individuals. Jane Burke (38 years old), Martha F. Burke (7 years old), and Mary Burke (4 years old). They were all born in Maryland. The $500 may have been used to buy the freedom of the likely mother and daughters. The census taker took care to spell the last name of the new members differently. One possible scenario might be that Jane is the sister-in-law of Mr. John Burk.
By 1850 the large family lived in a room in Milton Street near the corner of 10th and Christian Streets. There is no mention of the family in Philadelphia in the 1860 U.S. Census. Philadelphia was not only a final destination for the recently liberated from slavery but also a stop on the way north to Canada.
The nine-month-old son of John and Martha Burk died on a clear day in early April when the temperature rose to a high of forty-nine degrees. He was buried, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.