The Reverend John Boggs, 66, died this date, May 11th, in 1848 and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. This pioneering missionary and former pastor of Bethel Church had a funeral procession of an estimated 1,000 individuals including 200 clergymen. However, according to Black journalist and historian William Carl Bolivar this number was less than the numbers for the funerals of Black band leader, composer and musician Frank Johnson (1842), James Forten (1842), Rev. Walter Proctor (1861) and slain civil rights leader Octavius V. Catto (1871). According to Bolivar, ” . . . this last in number [Catto] ranking next to Lincoln’s and General Meade’s.”*
Probable route, given that there were a thousand in the procession, of Rev. Boggs casket from his family’s residence in Acorn Alley (now South Schell St.) to Bethel Burying Ground in the 400 block of Queen Street. (East on Cedar St. – now South St. – and south on 5th St.)
Rev. Boggs’ wife, Sarah “Mother Boggs”, died on September 3, 1873 at 81 years of age. She was born in Maryland, worked as a cook and lived her final years at the Home for Aged and Infirm Colored Persons located at 340 South Front Street. (See below)
Established primarily by the Quakers in 1864, the Home for Aged and Infirmed Colored Persons was located at 340 S. Front Street.
*Philadelphia Tribune, October 10, 1914, p. 4.
About noon yesterday, three frame dwellings on Carberry Court, Catherine St. below Fifth were greatly damaged by fire, which originated in the sparks from a foul chimney which had been allowed to burn out. Owing to the high wind, the fire extended along the roofs with great rapidity, and most of the furniture and clothing of the tenants, were destroyed or greatly injured. James Barker and Mrs. McDevitt occupied one house, and Mrs. Ann Sharpley and Mrs. Graves occupied the other two. These females were widows, who lose their all by this calamity, and the destitute situation of Mrs. Graves is one of peculiar hardship. She has five children depending upon her for subsistence, who escaped from their home with no closing but what they had on – and of her furniture only a single bed was saved. The property formerly belonged to the Carberry estate. (Public Ledger, May 2, 1850)
Carberry Court* was a narrow dark alleyway that terminated at the northern boundary of Bethel Burying Ground. For decades leading up to 1850 the “back houses” that lined the passageway were home to white working class, mostly Irish, single men and occasionally single women and whole families. The lane saw its share of violent troubles with gang wars between the “Skinners” and the “Buffers” culminating in a pitched battle that lasted an hour on the evening November of 1847 at the head of Carberry Court. Pistols, bats, knives and stones were all used culminating in the death of a young man named Roger Kelley who was murdered. He was a member of the “Buffer” gang. (Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/8/1847)
Ten years later in June of 1857 a 21-year-old policeman (constable) was stabbed while breaking up a fight in Carberry Court and died of his wounds at Pennsylvania Hospital. The suspected assailant (James Diamond) “escaped over a grave-yard fence” and through Bethel Burying Ground onto Queen Street.(Philadelphia Inquirer, June 22, 1857) Diamond was caught and tried and acquitted of all charges due to numerous discrepancies in witness testimony. (Press, December 19, 1857)
*Also called Carberry’s Court and Carbery.
William Bacon, 30 years old, died this date, April 27th, in 1853 of Tuberculosis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. He lived with his spouse and children at 10 Acorn Alley and made his living at different occupation over the years, including waiter, seaman and trader. The Bacons paid $12.50 a quarter for their rent which was probably one large room or two smaller rooms.* Mr. Bacon was born in Cecil County, Maryland as it appears was his wife. Acorn Alley (now North Darien Street) ran from Spruce to Locust Streets in the 800 blocks.
The week that Mr. Brown was buried, there were three other individuals interred at Bethel Burying Ground that succumbed to Tuberculosis.
The red star indicates the location of Acorn Alley (now N. Darien Street).
*1847 African American Census
Nancy Moses, 50 years old, died this date, April 18th, in 1849 of “disease of the Lungs” and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Ms. Moses lived with her husband, Ezekiel, next to Bethel Burying Ground on Cobb Street (now Lawrence Street). She took in washing and ironing while Ezekiel earned a living working as a seaman for $20 per month according to the 1847 African American Census. The rent for their rooms was $90 a year. City directories reveal that as early as 1841 the family lived on the little alley street that abutted the graveyard. In addition to her spouse, Nancy also left behind two daughters Anna (18 y/o) and Mary (17 y/o).
The Moses family home is represented in this 1862 map by the red striated rectangle and Bethel Burying Ground by the red circle. Black families living on the surrounding streets of the graveyard were very rare until after the American Civil War. Could Ezekiel and Nancy Moses been some sort of caretakers for graveyard? Hopefully, further research will determine that one way or the other.
Eleven-year-old John Ashton, Jr. died this date, March 30th, in 1852 of Marasmus* and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. A funeral was held at the family’s residence, no. 9 Ronaldson Street on Easter Sunday, April 4th. The friends of the family were invited to attend the service at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. It is likely that a couple of the attendees were the Ashton’s Ronaldson Street neighbors, William Still (Underground Railroad) and the Reverend Benjamin Templeton, pastor of the Second African Presbyterian Church.
Ronaldson Street (now Delhi Street) is a small alley-type thoroughfare that runs from South St. to Bainbridge Street between 9th and 10th. The majority of the men living on Ronaldson worked as waiters as did John Ashton, Sr. Going south on the street it ran into the vast Ronaldson Cemetery that no longer exists. William Still wrote that Ronaldson Street was a street of “neat and genteelly furnished three-story brick homes, owned, occupied and paid taxes for, almost entirely by colored people . . . “**
*Marasmus (Marasamus/ Miasma) – Progressive emaciation and general wasting due to enfeebled constitution rather than any specific or ascertainable cause.
** One Day, Levin . . . He Be Free: William Still and the Underground Railroad by Lurey Khan, p. 163; Friends Review, Samuel Rhoads, vol. 13, 1860, p. 13-14.
Mr. Charles Atkins died this date, February 17th, in 1854 and was buried in Bethel Burying Ground. He was buried on the 25th. There was no reason was given for the delay; the weather had been seasonally warm so frozen ground was not an obstacle. His cause of death was detailed as “old age.”
The red dot pinpoints the location of Mr. Atkins home at 28 Blackberry Alley.
Approximately 7 years earlier, when Mr. Atkins was 93 years of age, he told a census worker that he was a carpenter (” when he could get the work”) and that his spouse was employed as a domestic. Mr. Atkins was born enslaved, whereas his spouse was not. The Atkins rented a room in a “Trinity,” which was a house consisting of only one room per floor.* Below is a photo of what is a “bandbox” Trinity style house.
*1847 African American Census; Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love by Kali N. Gross, p. 53.
The area bordered in blue is the Bethel Burying Ground. The graves are situated only 2 to 3 feet below the surface of the playground.