The following is an alphabetical directory of some of the African American Philadelphians who were buried at Bethel Burying Ground from 1810 to 1864. Currently, 2,482 individuals have been identified through City of Philadelphia death records and historic newspapers. Research is ongoing to identify the remainder of the 5,000+ estimated to be buried on Queen Street in old Southwark.
INTRODUCTION TO THE BETHEL BURYING GROUND NAME DIRECTORY
The Bethel Burying Ground Name Directory is an alphabetical databank of the individuals buried at the Bethel Burying Ground (BBG) that still had existing death certificates on file in the Philadelphia City Archives. There are several individuals listed that had no certificates, but information was gathered for these individuals from an obituary or newspaper article. These few are footnoted. Out of the official estimate of 5,000+ who were buried at BBG, approximately 2,400 are listed in the Directory. In the City Archives’ collection there are records of complete years missing and, within many years, there are numerous months missing. Add to that situation the fact that not all who died in early Philadelphia left death certificates we are left with an incomplete record.
Looking at some of the names, you may believe there is a typographical error. I have attempted to translate the written word as it appears on the official documents. Many times the individual who wrote the death certificate or “Cemetery Return” did not personally know the deceased and is obtaining the person’s name second or third-hand. Illiteracy was common and physicians, every so often, did not take the time to add more than a couple scrawled lines.
There is a Medical Glossary at the end of the Directory. There are many archaic medical terms in the Directory that are no longer used in our current society. In the 19th century, the cause of death was not as important as it is today. With the advance of science, we can pinpoint the cause of death down to the cellular level. During the era of the BBG (1810-1864), it would not be uncommon to have listed the cause of death by just symptoms, such as, as cough, heartburn or swelling. Tuberculosis was certainly the overwhelming cause of death due to the deplorable living conditions that existed in the densely crowded tenements and alleys where the TB microorganism thrived. The Latin term “Phthisis Pneumonalis” was commonly written by the attending physician. I have reduced this to simply “TB” as a space saver.
There is an overwhelming amount of children buried in the BBG. Slightly over 38% of the total buried were children 2 years old and younger. Many were born weak from poorly nourished mothers. Starvation and wasting diseases made the infants weakened immune systems extremely vulnerable to infection from dozens of different viruses and bacteria. With no antibiotics, septicemia (blood poisoning) was always a real threat.
Finally, The Name Directory is a fluid document subject to updates. I encourage people to email me with new information, questions or suggestions. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.