One-year-old Charles Waterford died January 24, 1848 of Catarrh Fever and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The infant lived with his parents, Charles (porter) and Eliza Ann Waterford (washwoman), at 5 Taylor’s Alley near Front and Chestnut Streets. It is likely that Mr. Waterford was employed at the nearby wharfs.
A schooner being unloaded at the Chestnut Street Wharf in 1868. From The Free Library of Philadelphia Collection.*
Baby Charles died of “Catarrh.” This is not a disease, it is a symptom. The word simply means a dramatic and significant increase in mucous. This could be caused by many illnesses including the flu, pneumonia, bronchitis or Typhoid.
*For further history on the Delaware River wharfs please see Philadelphia’s Lost Waterford by Harry Kyriakodis.
Three-month-old Jermeiah, Jr. died this date in 1849 from Hydrocephalus and is buried at Bethel Burying Ground. He was identified by the physician that signed his death certificate as being “mulatto.” The Davis family lived at #2 Taylor’s Alley (now Ionic Street) which ran east-west between Front and 2nd Streets. Jeremiah, Sr. was a waiter making $12 a month and Ms. Davis was a self-employed dressmaker.** They had been members of Old St. George’s Methodist Church before leaving with Richard Allen and Absalom Jones to worship as they pleased.*
The Taylor’s Alley in the August 9, 1832 edition of the Nation Gazette was characterized as being a long time “grievous nuisance.” There were saloons on every corner and the alley housed a notorious “dance house” with a “Ball-room” that was “one of the most notorious dens of iniquity in our city.” There always seemed to be “mobs” of young men fighting in the street and large groups of men being arrested for illegal gambling in neighboring houses. In addition, there were constant fires in the neighborhood claiming many lives.***
Hydrocephalus in the 19th century was usually due to tubercular meningitis and was marked by atrophy of the brain and convulsions. ****
Taylor’s Alley (now Ionic St.). The Davis’ front steps would have been where the red “X” is on the left.
**1847 African American Census. http://www.swarthmore.edu/Library/friends/paac1847/main.html
***”Mysteries of City Life,” James Reese, p. 21 (1849).
**** Webster’s New International Dictionary, Reference History Edition (Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Company, 1910).
I certify that the child of Isaiah Moore living in Middle Alley was still born Philadelphia Dec 28th, 1821.
Middle Alley was not quite as infamous in 1821 as it was in the following 80 years. It was known during the Moore’s family residence as a place of dilapidated tenements inhabited for the most part by the Black working poor. But quickly the alley would become the local center for Black prostitution (“The Cage of Black Angels”), gambling and the illegal speakeasy. Middle Alley went on to earn its place on the notorious list of such places as St. Mary’s, Baker, Hurst and Alaska Streets.
I have not been able to locate any census or directory information on the Moores, however, their neighbors were dressmakers, coachmen, porters, trunk makers, and chimney sweeps. Yellow Fever or Typhus had ravaged the city in 1820 and it looked like 1821 was also going to be deadly.
A young physician who treated the victims of the disease in Middle Alley documented the march of the disease as he treated cases in the Dispensary and the infirmary at the Alms House. He accidently documents the cause of the disease without knowing it. He is appalled by the conditions of the streets in this section of town. The dirt, unpaved, streets have no gutters so rain and wastewater settle in pools and puddles in the roads. The paved streets are little better because garbage and animal waste block the gutters and the water runs into basements. These cellars become fetid pools (“foul pig-stye”) and consequently a perfect laboratory for breeding the female mosquitoes carrying the Yellow Fever virus. For this physician’s account of the Middle Alley epidemic please go to Google Books and enter the search term “An account of an Epidemic Fever, which prevailed among the Negroes of Philadelphia, in the year 1821.”
Three-year-old Caroline Alexander died this date, December 20th, in 1821 and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. She lived with her family on Burd’s Alley* (now Alder Street) near 10th and Spruce Street. Her cause of death was Scarlatina or as we know it in modern times as Scarlet Fever. It is a disease that would often prove fatal until the invention of antibiotics. Without the drug, the bacteria would invade the kidneys and the heart with painful and devastating results. The victim of the disease was highly contagious. It would spread quickly and often kill scores in the same neighborhood.
Alder Street is located between 10th and 11th Streets and Locust and Spruce Streets. This view is looking south with Spruce Street visible in the far distance. (Photo/T. Buckalew)
* Often mistakenly transcribed as “Birds Alley.”
The Reverend John L. Armstrong died this day, December 14th, in 1851 of Erysipelas and is buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Rev. Armstrong was a traveling African Methodist Episcopal preacher, originally from Maryland, who had been in Philadelphia for only 10 months. He was married and resided in the 800 block of what is now Kater Street in the Southwark section of the city.
The 800 block of Kater street that was known as Emeline Street in 1851.
Erysipelas is not a diagnosis. It is a symptom. It represents an inflammation and blistering of some part of the skin that accompanies certain diseases such as Typhoid.
On this date, November 23rd, in 1843, Diana Jackson died of “old age” and is buried at Bethel Burying Ground. She had reached the age of 101 years. Of those interred, whose death certificates have survived, there are 19 individuals buried at the Queen Street cemetery between the ages of 90 and 103 years of age. This is astounding considering their life expediency was in the late 20s to early 30s! There is no reliable data at this point to determine with specificity the life expectancies of the Black men and women in 19th century Philadelphia. However, the First African Baptist Church Cemetery (FABC), located at 8th and Vine Streets in Philadelphia, was excavated and the remains examined during the 1980s. There is a 21-year overlap in usage between this cemetery and the Bethel Burying Ground – circa 1822 to 1843. There were 135 skeletons recovered and studied from the Vine Street graveyard. It was determined that the life expectancy of these individuals was 26.59 years according to anthropologist Dr. Lesley M. Rankin-Hill, author of A Biohistory of 19th-Century Afro-Americans: The Burial Remains of a Philadelphia Cemetery. This small book is a wealth of information on the 19th century Philadelphia African American community and the medical and socioeconomic struggles they endured. A must read for anyone who is serious about understanding the history of Black Philadelphians.
In addition, Rebecca Yamin’s Digging in the City of Brotherly Love: Stories from Philadelphia Archeology offers vital insights into the FABC excavation and the community outreach of the archeologists handling such a culturally sensitive project. I used their template for community outreach in my initial contact with relevant “shareholders” concerning the future of the Bethel Burying Ground. ”The Swift Progress of Population”: A Documentary and Bibliographic Study of Philadelphia’s Growth, 1642-1859 is not for the casual reader. It is a valuable guide to the demographics of early Philadelphia. I feel that every time I open this book I discover something new and remarkable. Dr. Susan E. Klepp, the book’s author, is the former Professor of Colonial America and American Women’s History at Temple University.
Mr. William Winters, 40 years old, died this date, November 20th, in 1824 and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. He was a labourer who lived at 269 Catherine Street just two blocks from the burial ground. His cause of death was Typhus Fever. Some may confuse Typhus and Typhoid. I know I initially did. The name Typhoid means “resembling typhus” and comes from the symptoms common to Typhoid and Typhus. Despite this similarity of their names, Typhoid and Typhus are distinct diseases and are caused by different species of bacteria.
Typhus is caused by the rickettsiae bacteria and transmitted by flea, mite and tick bites. When these parasites bite a victim, they leave the rickettsaie bacteria behind. Scratching the bite opens the skin to the bacteria, allowing them to enter the bloodstream. Within the bloodstream, the bacteria grow and replicate. A rash covers the entire body of the victim accompanied by a high fever. The individual will suffer petechaie, which is bleeding into and through the skin. Delirium, stupor, hypotension, and shock occurs followed by death.
Typhoid fever is a totally different bacterial disease transmitted by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the feces of an infected person, which contain the bacterium Salmonella enterica. This disease has been a deadly human disease for thousands of years, flourishing in conditions of poor sanitation, crowding, and poverty. After becoming infected the victim, develops a high fever and becomes exhausted and emaciated due to constant diarrhea and the perforation of the intestines. The patient develops septicemia, slips into a coma and dies.
Although antibiotics have markedly reduced the frequency of these diseases in the developed world, it remains endemic in developing countries.