It was the duty of the church sexton of Bethel AME Church to dig the grave or have someone do it; supervisor the management of the Bethel Burying Ground and maintain the upkeep of the cemetery’s grounds. The sexton was also responsible for the official paperwork that went along with every burial. The law stated that no sexton was permitted to bury a body without a note (see above image) from an attending physician or a family member stating the deceased name, age, date of death and cause of death.
The contents of this note were then entered on a form (See image below) from the Health Department. This form along with the note had to be delivered by the sexton to the Health Department by the Saturday of every week for publication. Often the physician would not have all that information available to him and later the sexton would fill in the missing piece on the official form. Such was the case with the above.
Two-year-old Alfred Matlack died this date, November 12th, in 1848. His cause of death was “Catarrh,” which simply means fever accompanied by mucous secretions. The cause of the fever could have been Pneumonia, Influenza or even Typhus. Tragically, the Matlack family would lose another son, 8-month old Thomas to Pneumonia on May 12, 1850.
Alfred’s father, James, was a hod carrier which was a laborer employed in carrying bricks to bricklayers or stones and supplies to stonemasons. Alfred’s mother was a wash woman who took in laundry.
The Matlack family lived in an alley street called Bird’s Court, which was located between Locust and Spruce Streets and 10th and 11th Streets in the Washington Square neighborhood of Philadelphia. Their home would have been very near Pennsylvania Hospital.
The above is the original “Indenture” or sale agreement for the purchase of the Bethel Burying Ground on April 10, 1810 by Richard Allen and the trustees of Bethel AME Church. The document is owned by the Smithsonian Institute and will be exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, opening on the National Mall in 2015. The document will be shown along with Harriet Tubman’s shawl, Nat Turner’s Bible, a Tuskegee Airmen fighter plane, Emmett Till’s coffin and an original slave cabin from Edisto Island, South Carolina. (Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institue.)
For a larger photo of the document please click on Smithsonian Document II
In July of this year, The Friends of Bethel Burying Ground Coalition submitted paperwork to the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission (PHMC) as the first step in having Bethel Burying Ground placed on the National Register of Historic Places which is administered by the National Park Service. This application was the work of several members of the Coalition and Dr. Aaron Wunsch of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design whose generous assistance was critical. There is a hearing by PHMC in February of 2015 to examine the viability of the Coalition’s application. If approved it will go to the National Park Service for review and judgment. To read the Coalition’s application please click on the following – BBG NR Nom Final Draft (revised)
#1 Part One of Phase IB Archaeological Investigations of the Mother Bethel Burying Ground,1810 – Circa 1864
#2 Part Two – Appendix