The one-year-old daughter of John B. Smith died of Catarrh Fever on this date, June 6th, 1848 and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The Smith family lived at the southeast corner of 10th and Christians streets where they ran a used clothing business out of their home. Ms. Smith was a seamstress and another adult in the family also worked in the store according to the 1847 African American Census. They paid $150 a year in rent. Mr. Smith reported his yearly income at $350.00.
This is a current photo of the S.E. corner of 10th and Christian streets in the old Moyamensing neighbor.
The Smith family lived a half block from Moyamensing Hall (aka Commissioners Hall) in the middle of the 900 block of Christians Street on the south side. It was the city hall for the district and functioned as the local governmental headquarters with Alderman courts, police station, morgue, and jail. It would not have been easy or safe living for the Smiths so near the center of Irish power. In addition, the neighborhood was plagued with political party riots, gang wars and race riots that involved outright acts of savagery against Blacks. The white gangs with the monikers “Killers” and “Stingers” vandalize, raped and killed with impunity. For further information see “Hunting the Nigs” in Philadelphia: the Race Riot of August 1834 by John Runcie. It is available at http://journals.psu.edu/phj/article/view/23611/23380. Also see the 10/18/1834 edition of the National Gazette and the January 3, 1848 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Andrew Miller, 41 years old, died this date, May 17th, in 1848 of Typhoid Fever in the hospital ward of the Blockley Almshouse and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. As a person of color, he would have been one of the 13% of the population of the institution. Although Blacks made up only 6-9% of the city’s population. Starting in 1821 the institution established segregation because Blacks were a problem because of their behaviors which were “indolent, improvident, and extremely prolific.” For those reasons the institution’s guardians moved Black men, women and children to “special almshouse wards where their behavior could better be managed.” Mr. Miller succumbed to his illness in this ward. *
The Blockley Almshouse, later known as Philadelphia General Hospital, was a charity hospital and poorhouse established in an area now between 34th Street and University Avenue where Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the VA Hospital currently stand.
Priscilla Ferguson Clement, Welfare and the Poor in the Nineteenth-Century City: Philadelphia 1800-1854, pp. 87 & 116.
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.
Two-month-old Joseph Thompson died this date, May 6th, in 1851 of convulsions and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The 1850 Federal Census, 1847 African American Census and the relevant city directories do not reveal any information on Joseph’s family. Educator, historian and author Charles L. Blockson claims that the African American neighborhood of Paschall’s Alley “aided and sheltered more fugitive slaves than any other section of the city until the Civil War.”*
Local historian, Harry Kyriakodis** asserts that numerous residents of Paschall Alley were Underground Railroad “agents” and that “. . . . the alley became reputed along the Underground railroad up and down the East Coast.” However, neither Blockson or Kyriakodis cite evidence of their claims.
Could the Thompson family had been fugitive slaves passing through Philadelphia to New England or Canada?
The 400 block of Wallace Street (formerly Paschall’s Alley) in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of the city. The street is near 5th and Coates Streets.
*The Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania, p. 17.
This is the legal document that was signed by the attorneys for Richard Allen and the original trustees of Mother Bethel when they purchased the property for the burying ground in April of 1810. Somewhere along the line the document was stolen and eventually resurfaced in a North Carolina flea market where it was purchased! It was donated to the Smithsonian several years ago by the daughter of the woman who acquired it. (Personal communications between myself, the Smithsonian and the donor.)
On April 28, 1810 the Reverend Richard Allen and the trustees purchased a plot of land for $1,600 to be used as a cemetery not only for congregants, but for any Black man, woman or child that wanted a respectable Christian burial; as opposed to an unmarked grave in a potter’s field.
October 10, 1914 “Pencil Pusher Points” column of Black journalist William Carl Bolivar in the Philadelphia Tribune.
In 1823 Rev. Richard Allen wrote that Bethel Church had spent between $1,200 and $1,500 in charitable relief for those who could not afford to pay for a burial on Queen Street.*
*Richard S. Newman, Freedom’s Prophet, p.150.
The stillborn male child of Jane Vanorkey was delivered this date, April 16th, in 1848 and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Ms. Vanorkey was a dressmaker with two other young children who attended the Shiloh Baptist Infant School at Clifton and Cedar Streets according to the 1847 African American Census. Simon, her spouse, worked as a bottler in one of the many distilleries and beer breweries in the city and surrounding districts.
One of the most famous dressmakers/seamstresses in American History is civil rights activist Rosa Parkers.
I have chosen to accept the spelling of the last name as “Corsey” because that is how it is spelled in several city directories.”Coursey” is used in the 1847 African American Census and we see that the hurried physician spelled it “Cansey.”
Trim* Corsey lost his 7-month-old son to Pneumonia on this date, April 12th, in 1849 and had the infant buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Mr. Corsey supported his family as a coachman making $15 a month. Ms. Corsey was a washerwoman adding to the family’s income that paid their rent of $56 a year for a room at 15 Watson’s Alley in the Cedar Section of the City. The alley ran south from 104 Locust Street and no longer exists.
In the 1847 African American Census, there were 104 Black Philadelphians who listed their occupation as “coachman.”
*Ancestry.com reports that the name “Trim” is a nickname for someone who is known as “a well-turned out person.” The name was first reportedly used as far back as the 16th century. I have not been able to locate any documents that reveal another first name if there is one.
In Loving Memory
She died April 3, 1819
Aged 26 years old
He that believeth in Me, though he was dead, yet shall live
Twenty-six-year-old Amelia Brown died this date, April 3rd, in 1819 and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The official death certificate or “Cemetery Return” for Ms. Brown is not in the public record. Whether it did exist at one time and was destroyed through the decades is unknown. Consequently, we do not have a cause of death for the young woman. I do not have any other specific information on her. The search for addition data on the young woman is hampered by the commonality of her last name and that she was a Black female who, in general, have left very little primary source material.
Amelia Brown’s gravestone was unearthed at Bethel Burying Ground on July 25, 2013 by archeologists. It is currently on display at Mother Bethel Church.
The Health Office, on a weekly basis, would make the causes of death for the previous week public and the local newspapers would publish the record. Four people in Ms. Brown’s age range died in the week of March 27th to April 3rd. That this leaves us guessing about her cause of death. It was most likely Consumption/Tuberculosis, but we may never know for certain.
“Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser,” April 5, 1819.
Leven Thompson died this date, March 3rd, in 1824 and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. His official cause of death was “Phrenitis” which is translated as “brain fever.” This fever could have been from one of a long list of possible illnesses such as bacterial or viral Meningitis, head trauma, alcoholism or lead poisoning.
Mr. Thompson died at Pennsylvania Hospital and while he was there he would have received the standard treatment for his illness which was bleeding. This procedure commonly entailed the cutting into the median cubital vein at the elbow. Up to 20 oz. of blood was released at first and from then on more was released at the discretion of the physician who determined the proportionality of blood taken to the “violence of the symptoms. The main instruments for this technique were called lancets and fleams. For more information on this procedure and its history go to http://www.bcmj.org/premise/history-bloodletting.