Ten-year-old Samuel Irvine died this date, April 23rd, in 1835 of Marasmus and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. An archaic term, ‘Marasmus’ stood for a variety of malnutrition, wasting and starvation illnesses. The condition has been characterized as a disease of the “extremely poor.” Often the infant or child was getting too many carbohydrates (cheaper) and little if any protein (more expensive).
The identity of young Samuel’s parents is a mystery at present. They do not appear in any city directories nor in local or federal censuses of the era. The family did lose another child, eighteen-month-old Sophia, due to Hydrocephalus, on July 6, 1841. The Irvines lived in Shield’s Alley at the time when both children passed away, according to their death certificates. It appears that the adults did not want their existence to be public knowledge. Perhaps one or both were escapees from enslavement. Slaves catchers roamed the cities of the North looking for liberated Black men and women.
Another interesting circumstance is that the children’s death certificates were both signed by the same physician whose first language was French. There is an indication that he may have practiced medicine in Haiti at one time.
This is the death certificate of Sophia Irvine who very likely was the sibling of young Samuel. They probably rest in the same grave. Dr. Joseph G. Narende signed both certificates.
Shield’s Alley was a dead end backstreet, only ten feet wide, lined with two-story wood frame buildings, split down the middle by grimy cobblestones. Located at the corner of 9th and Locust Streets in center city Philadephia, the Irvine home would have been a room, maybe 12’X12′, with no running water or indoor toilet, both of which would have been available in the backyard of the building. For this, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census, they would have paid from $2-$3 a month. The average weekly salary for an African American laborer was $3-$4 a week when they were able to find work.
Shield’s Alley (red arrow) was later renamed Aurora Street. It no longer exists and is currently the location of a parking garage for Jefferson University Hospital.
And there is this union of trial and mercy in the removal of a young child. We cannot rebel against God for taking them to heaven, and yet we cannot but mourn over our loss; what can we do . . . (Rev. William Henry Lewis – 1857)