Seventy-year-old Stephen Armstrong died this date, November 11th, in 1841 due to Hydrocephalus and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Hydrocephalus is a condition in which fluid accumulates on the brain. Mr. Armstrong’s symptoms could have included headaches, double vision, vomiting and seizures. The causes of this painful illness includes meningitis, brain tumor, and head trauma.
Mr. Armstrong was self-employed as a porter. He owned his own wheelbarrow to transport materials or goods from one point to another. Because of this, he was considered a private business owner. In 1838, three years before he died, he paid $2.50 in business taxes. This amount would be approximately $75 in modern currency.
Although not explicitly stated, I believe, after examining census records following Mr. Armstrong’s death, his spouse was Ann Armstrong.* Both were born enslaved in Maryland and paid a total of $715 for their manumission. In modern currency, the amount would be approximately $21,000. Ms. Armstrong was employed as a laundress.
According to the 1838 Census, Ann and Stephen Armstrong lived with four other individuals in two rooms at 245 South 7th Street, very close to Washington Square, in the older part of the city. The ages and the relationship of the four to the Armstrong couple was not recorded. All four were born in Pennsylvania.
The building at 245 South 7th was a three-story wood frame structure that was home to three separate African American families. The Armstrongs paid $6 a month in rent or approximately $167 in modern currency.
1841 was a bad year for the citizens of Philadelphia. They saw a 400% increase in Small Pox deaths and an increase of 2,000+ patients at the city’s clinics (Dispensaries). However, the congregants of Bethel A.M.E. saw their old church replaced by a new larger structure to accommodate the large influx of free African Americans from the southern states. The fear of slave rebellions aided by free Blacks spurred the creation of stricter laws governing the lives of these men and women who fled north.
Mr. Armstrong died on a near freezing day in November that saw showers all day. He was buried by his family, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.
(1) Ann Armstrong was 54-55 years old when her spouse died. She continued to live near Washington Square and make her living by washing clothes. She passed away in October of 1852 at sixty-nine years old and was buried at Lebanon Cemetery.