Fifty-five-year-old Elizabeth Macklin died this date, September 18th, in 1848 of an abdominal disease and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Ms. Macklin was married to Moses Macklin who would die two months later in November at sixty-one-years-old of a viral disease, likely pneumonia or influenza. Elizabeth and Moses were interred together at Bethel Burying Ground.
Elizabeth Macklin was a self-employed washerwoman. It was backbreaking work that had to be done in the sub-freezing winter and the heat and humidity of a Philadelphia summer day. She also would be expected to labor when pregnant, take care of children, shop for groceries, and cook. Ms. Macklin’s work week may have looked like the following:
Monday: Deliver clean laundry to clients from the previous week. Gather dirty laundry from clients, look for new clients, and shop for work supplies.
Tuesday and Wednesday: Gather buckets of water from the spigot or hydrant outside and carry them upstairs, making multiple trips, gather firewood to boil water while soaking, washing and wringing out clothes and bed sheets. She would have to carry the heavy wet items outside to hang on clotheslines. On freezing and rainy days, she would have to hang them inside.
Thursday and Friday: Iron for hours until completed. Deliver clean laundry. Repeat Tuesday and Wednesday.
Saturday: Iron all day “finishing late at night or early the next morning” (3)
Depending on how many clients she had, and if there were any helpers, Ms. Macklin would make anywhere from $0.50 to $2.00 for her week of labor.
Ms. Macklin died on a clear day in September where the temperature rose to sixty-eight degrees in the afternoon. She was buried, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground by her adult children and with financial assistance from a beneficial society at Bethel A.M.E. Church, according to census records.
Seventy-two-year-old Benjamin Morris died this date, September 7th, in 1841 of Tuberculosis (Consumption) and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The document above shows Mr. Morris’s age as nintey-two which is incorrect. The below document filled out by the manager of the cemetery shows his correct age as seventy-two. This is also backed up by census records.
Mr. Morris was employed as a blacksmith and may have worked at McGavett’s Foundry which was next to his home at the corner of Broad Street and Paper Alley in center city Philadelphia. Mr. Morris owned his home, according to the 1838 Philadelphia African American Census. It was a small house with only three rooms and valued at $1,100 in 1838. That would be approximately $34,500 in modern currency. Mr. Morris had $125 in personal property or approximately $4,000 in modern currency.
Mr. Morris was born to an enslaved mother in approximately 1769. It is not known what colony they lived in at the time. It could have been Pennsylvania. It is recorded in the 1838 Census that he gained his freedom by manumission when $250 was paid to his enslaver. Given the small amount, he may have been a child when this occurred.
Mr. Morris died on a early September day that saw a violent hail storm sweep the city damaging homes, trees, and gardens. He was buried, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.
One-year-old John Alexander Ricks died this day, August 24th, in 1851 of Pertussis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The disease, which is also called Whooping Cough, is a highly contagious bacterial disease. Children with this disease develop a “100-day cough” that racks their bodies with pain and can lead to broken ribs, pneumonia, seizures, inflammation of the brain, and death. Today, children receive vaccines that successfully prevent the disease.
Alexander Ricks’ parents were Sarah and Charles Ricks. Ms. Ricks was twenty-nine-years-old at the time of her son’s death. Mr. Ricks was thirty-five-years-old and he had been born in Maryland. She was born in Delaware, according to the 1850 U.S. Census. They had two other children: William was seven-years-old and Charles was five-years-old. Both were born in Pennsylvania.
Mr. Ricks was formerly enslaved in Maryland. He reported to the census taker of the 1847 Philadelphia African Census that he was neither manumitted nor had he paid for his freedom. It appears he was a passenger on the Underground Railroad.
The family lived in one room at #8 Little Pine Street for which they paid $11 a month. That amount is several dollars above average. Mr. Ricks was employed as a coachman and may have owned his own horse and cab. The high rent may have included rent of a stable in the rear of the property. The 1847 Census also reports the family owned $150 in personal property, which may have included the horse and cab. In modern currency that amount equates to approximately $5,000. On a busy week, Mr. Ricks would have earned between $5-$8. Ms. Ricks labored as a laundress and may have earned $1 a week if business was good.
According to the 1847 Census, either Mr. or Ms. Ricks could read and write. But even without that skill, they would have been aware of the most popular book in 1851 Philadelphia. “Negro-Mania” by John Campbell stated that it was God’s will that the Black man was subservient to the white man. The book contained many supporting statements from white businessmen, politicians, jurists, and clergy. They readily led their names to the book’s thesis that the “Colored Race” would never be the “mental, political, or social equal of the white man” And all of the “sickly sentimentalism” and “maudling philosophy” of the abolitionists would not change what God decreed. The African race was created to service the white race.
Frederick Douglass’s comment on race relations in Philadelphia two years before the book was published – “No (Black) man is safe – his life – his property – and all that he holds dear, are in the hands of the mob, which may come upon him at any moment – at midnight or mid-day and deprive him of his all.” (1) These were the streets that the Ricks family had to walk everyday to go to work, market or church.
Between 1850 and 1851, two-hundred thirty-five Philadelphia children died of Whooping Cough. One-year-old John Alexander died on a hot and humid day in late August where the temperature rose to 85 degrees. He was buried, with dignity, by his parents at Bethel Burying Ground.
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.
The unnamed seven-month-old son of Mary and Richard Hubert died this date, August 4th, in 1851 of Cholera and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Ms. Hubert was thirty-four-years-old at the time of her son’s death while Mr. Hubert was thirty-six-years-old. Both were born in Delaware, according to the 1850 United States Census. The family also included nine-year-old Maria and two-year-old Stephan. Both were born in Pennsylvania.
Mr. Hubert worked as a laborer earning $4-$5 a week. Ms. Hubert was a house cleaner, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. However, the census taker noted that Ms. Huber was “weakly” and “not able to work regularly.” The family lived at #15 Lisle Street in the Moyamensing District. The narrow thoroughfare was home to more than two dozen Black families. The men and women were employed as waiters, porters, seamstresses, carpenters, laundresses, sailmakers, and tailoresses (female tailors). The Black children in the neighborhood attended the St. Mary’s Street School or the Lombard Street School. The Huberts paid $8-$10 a month in rent.
The early 1850s in Philadelphia was a fearful time for white people. Every week it seems there was an insurrection by enslaved Black men and women in the slave states such as Alabama and Virginia. There also was a bloody insurrection in Cuba. Hundreds of Blacks were attacking plantations and murdering their enslavers. The southerners blamed the abolitionists for filling the minds of the Blacks with ideas such as equality and liberty. The most famous African American abolitionist was Frederick Douglass. He had visited Philadelphia many times and made numerous friends. But in July of 1852, a month before the Hubert baby died, he decided it was too dangerous to come to Philadelphia. Douglass wrote a friend that he was about to travel from his home in Rochester, New York to Cincinnati, Ohio. He had made this trip before and normally he would stop in Philadelphia. He wrote his friend that he felt sure that this time he would be attacked on the street by white mobs. Douglass also shared with his friend that the potential violence in the city was at a fever pitch, fueled by the “American Demon” – racism. (1)
The baby son of Mary and John Hubert died on a day in early August where the temperature only rose to 74 degrees with light showers falling in the afternoon. He was buried, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.
(1) Philip S. Foner, “The Battle To End Discrimination Against Negroes On Philadelphia Streetcars,” Pennsylvania History, vol. 40, no. 3, July 1973, p.266.
Eleven-month-old Allis Matilda Rivers died this date, July 30th in 1845 of “Summer Croup.” Clinically, it was known as Cholera Infantum, a disease of infants prevalent during hot weather, ordinarily characterized by fever, vomiting, and rapid emaciation. In the latter stages, the victim slips into a coma. Death follows violent convulsions. Allis Matilda was one of 557 children to die of this devastating disease between 1844 and 1845, according to the Philadelphia Board of Health records.
The baby’s parents were John and Elizabeth Rivers, both thirty-five-years-old at the time of their daughter’s death. Both were born in Pennsylvania, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. Allis Matilda had three sisters: Esther (11 years old), Margaret (10 years old), and Mary (8 years old). They all were born in Pennsylvania and attended the Shiloh School, according to the 1850 U.S. Census.
Mr. Rivers did not have steady employment and earned an estimated $1.50 a week as a ‘jobber.’ Ms. Rivers was self-employed doing washing and ironing, according to the 1847 Census.
The family of six lived in a wretched, tiny 10′ x 10′ hut. The 1847 census taker described it as “a very miserable old shed in the rear of an old frame building.” The floor of these structures was often dirt with straw or carpet remnants scattered about. The Rivers family paid $0.50 weekly for rent, which was a clear sign of destitution.
Again the census taker noted about the Black families on Shippen Street that it was “ . . . alarming there are many here who from necessity are very destitute and doubtless would do much better if an opportunity to do so was afforded but from the peculiar situations in which many are placed it seems almost a matter of impossibility for them to do better without the assistance of those in whose power if they give them regular employment. Another great cause of the poverty of the laborers is the vast and almost insurmountable rent tax, many who from being without employment this winter have had to pawn almost everything they possessed to keep up.” (1) (“‘Rent tax’ now is just known as rent.”)
Eleven-month-old Allis Matilda Rivers died on a late July day that was visted by a “severe storm of wind and rain.” She was buried, with dignity, by her parents at Bethel Burying Ground.
On July 22nd in 1814, John Richardson lost a fifteen-month-old child, gender and name unknown. He or she died from swelling of the brain caused by an unknown disease. Conditions such as kidney disease, heart disease, and Meningitis were common causes for the brain to swell in size. Philadelphia Board of Health Records reveal that the Richardson child was one of seventy-seven children to die with that diagnosis between 1813 and 1814.
According to the 1814 Philadelphia City Directory, Mr. Richardson was employed as a “woodsawyer.” He likely worked in one of the city lumberyards, such as Buntings & Watson’s lumber yard that was located only several blocks away from his home at Shippen Street near 7th in the Moyamensing District of the County. (1)
Given the early (1814) date of the child’s death, the mother’s name is not known. History tells us that she was likely self-employed as a laundress or seamstress. Geographically, they lived on the fringe of the county’s population. Only several years earlier, the neighborhood was a pasture.
In 1813, African Americans in Philadelphia were put on official notice that the white citizens and their political representatives wanted apartheid to be the law of the land. At the urging of the mayor and other Philadelphia politicians, the state senate took up bills that if passed would have made it legal to force all free Black men and women to be registered and carry documents on their person to prove it. It also was proposed that no more Blacks be allowed to enter the city and that the existing residents be taxed to pay for the cost of caring for indigent Blacks. The white officials estimated that there were over 4,000 fugitives from southern slave states.(2)
The Quakers no longer had any political influence in Philadelphia. The political group that succeeded them wanted the city turned into a slave state that would control every aspect of African American lives.
From the little we know about John Richardson, he lived the life of most Black men in early 19th Century Philadelphia. He was a husband, father, laborer, and likely a Christian who worshipped at Rev. Richard Allen’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church at 6th and Lombard Streets. This made him a very likely candidate for a member of the “Black Warriors.”
Amid all of that was happening with the proposed racist legislation, the War of 1812 with the British was in full fury. The English fleet was sailing north up the eastern seaboard taking coastal cities one after the other. It appeared that Philadelphia was next. In late August of 1814, the U.S. Army Engineers urgently needed to build a fortification up on the west bank of the Schuylkill River in an area known as Grays Ferry. From there, the cannons of the army would have a clear shot at the large ships of the British navy as they sailed up the river.
The Army started using white men as laborers, but that became a problem when it became apparent the majority were not fit enough to handle the heat and humidity. Military officers approached Reverends Richard Allen and Absalom Jones to rally the Black community to help with the construction project. Over a thousand Black men answered the call and gathered at the State House Yard, now known as Independence Mall. From there, they marched to Grays Ferry and worked without stopping for two days straight until the job was accomplished. African American historian Martin R. Delany called these men the “Black Warriors” of Philadelphia. Was Mr. John Richardson one of the “Warriors?” Very likely.
The Richardson baby succumbed to his or her illness in late July and was buried with dignity at Bethel Burying Ground.
(1) I have been able to track Mr. Richardson through city directories up to 1822. The family moved to German Street sometime between 1817 and 1818. German Street is now Fitzgerald Street.
(2) Edward R. Turner, The Negroe in Pennsylvania (1911), p. 229-230.
(3) Martin R. Delany, The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, p. 75.
Forty-year-old Peter Potter died this date, June 11th, in 1841 of Pneumonia and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Mr. Potter was employed as a seaman, according to the 1838 Philadelphia African American Census. It is unlikely at his age that he was a “blue water” or deep-water sailor. He may have been employed on coastal freighters that went from city to city along the east coast. This work would have been seasonal, with the winters bringing violent storms at sea and ice to the harbors. There is evidence in the city directories that, during the winter, he worked as a “hackman” driving a horse drawn cab.
The 1838 Census does not report his spouse’s first name. We know Ms. Potter was self-employed as a laundress and, along with her husband, she was “free born.” There were no children in the family.
The red circle indicates the location of Crab Street (later Charles Street). The black circle illustrates the location of Bethel Burying Ground and the proximity to the Potters’ home.
Mr. and Ms. Potter lived in a room at #12 Crab Street located between 4th and 5th Streets and Bainbridge and Monroe Streets in the southern part of the city. They paid $3.50 a month in rent or the modern equivalency of $107.50. The 1838 Census shows that #12 Crab Street was one of twelve residences on Crab Street occupied by African Americans. In four of them widows resided, single women lived in six others, and the Potters along with another couple lived in the remaining two homes. The women were occupied as cooks, laundresses, and domestics.
Mr. Potter died on a warm day in June. “Just before six o’clock p.m. we had a gust of wind and a shower of rain to cool the atmosphere so that the laborers and the invalid could sleep at night.”(1) He was buried, with dignity, by his spouse at Bethel Burying Ground.
(1) United States Gazette to the Country, 12 June 1841, p. 1.
Sixteen-month-old Joseph Davis died this date, June 8th, in 1841 of a disease of the spine, possibly Spina Bifida a birth defect. Between 1840 and 1841, seventeen children died from Spina Bifida and a total of thirty-one from “Diseases of the Spine,” according to the Philadelphia Board of Health records.
The beautiful penmenship of cemetery manager Shepherd Gibbs reveals that the father of the deceased child was Mr. Mark Davis. I can only find a reference to the family in the 1838 Philadelphia African American Census. Mr. Davis worked as a porter while Ms. Davis (not named) was self-employed as a laundress. Both were not born in Pennsylvania. In 1837, when the census was taken, they had a child who was old enough to attend Sunday school at Bethel A.M.E. Church.
The red pin indicates the location of the Davis home on Lombard Street below 11th Street. The black circle illustrates the location and proximity of Bethel A.M.E. Church where the family attended religious services. The black arrow points to the location of Pennsylvania Hospital at 8th and Pine Sreets.
One of the back breaking jobs that Black men were allowed to grind away at in 1841 was pushing heavily loaded carts of coal, wood, fresh fruits, vegetables and dry goods taken from the newly arrived ships docked on the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. Over cobblestone and rutted dirt streets in the heat and rain, they would push and pull their freight to warehouses and markets all over the city.
In a good week, a Black man working as a porter could earn $5 or the 2021 equivalent of $153.50. According to the 1838 Census, $5 is exactly what the Davis family paid for one month rent of their room on Lombard Street. Mr. Davis’ work was seasonal. During the winter months, when the rivers froze up and the ice stopped ships from reaching the wharves, there was no need for porters.
The above lithograph depicts the Delaware River in the winter of 1856. The sailing ships in the background are immobilized until the river is cleared of ice by warmer weather.
The 1838 Philadelphia African American Census shows twelve Black families living on Lombard Street between 10th and 11th Street. These families totaled thirty-eight men, women, and children. The women were self-employed as laundresses and seamstresses while the men were employed as porters and coachmen. The infants went to either the Shiloh Infant School or the 6th & Lombard Street School. The older children went to the Raspberry Alley School which was also open evenings for adult classes.
In January of 1841, Washington Engine Company, a volunteer fire company, erected a new building on the Davis’ block to house their heavy fire fighting equipment. The building was topped by a brass bell that was rung when the call went out for assistance. I think of the poor Davis family taking care of a very sick child among this racket that could occur night or day.
Mr. and Ms. Davis lost their baby son on an “oppressively hot” day in June where the temperature rose to ninety-one degrees by noon. A violent storm arose in the afternoon, providing a “refreshing shower” to the city. The wind was strong enough to capsize small boats on the Delaware River.
Little Joseph Davis was buried, with dignity, by his parents at Bethel Burying Ground.
Six-year-old Francis Burton died this date, May 21st, in 1842 of “convulsions.” According to 1842 Philadelphia Board of Health records, Scarlet Fever was killing hundreds of the city’s children and may have been the cause of the child’s death. Francis had three siblings at the time of his death. They included Mary who was eight-years-old, Charles who was four-years-old and Peter, Jr. who was the youngest at two-years-old. The younger children attended the 6th and Lombard School, while the older children were enrolled at Miss Amelia Bogle’s private school, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census.
The parents of this brood were Mary Burton, thirty-two-years-old, who was a self-employed laundress, and Peter Burton, forty-two-years-old, who was employed as a porter. He was born in Delaware and Ms. Burton was born in New Jersey. All of Francis’s siblings were born in Pennsylvania, according to the 1850 U.S. Census.
The Burtons owned their home on Barley Street. It was between 10th and 11th Streets, just south of Pine Street. According to the 1847 Census, the Burtons were close to paying off their mortgage. Barley Street was a narrow two block long thoroughfare that in 1846 was home to fifty-eight Black families with an amazing total of two hundred twenty-four men, women, and children. They were packed into three-and four-story tenements where they shared outhouses and one or two water pumps. The women worked as laundresses, seamstresses, and cooks. The majority of the men worked as waiters, barbers and porters.
On the morning of August 1, 1842, only a few months after young Francis’s death, a memorial parade was held by over 1,000 members of the Black Young Men’s Vigliant Association on Philadelphia’s Lombard Street between Fifth and Eighth streets in commemoration of the eighth anniversary of the end of slavery in the British West Indies. As the marchers approached Bethel A.M.E. Church at 6th and Lombard Streets, they were attacked by thousands of racist Irish-American thugs. A three-day rolling riot by a white mob attacked African Americans and burned Black homes, churches, and meeting halls.
It appears the Burton family was not physically harmed by the mob. Their home was two or three blocks outside the area of destruction. The next time they may not have been so fortunate.
Six-year-old Francis Burton died on a pleasant day in May after a violent nor’eastern washed through the city the night before. He was buried, with dignity, by his parents at Bethel Burying Ground.