The six-month-old son of Rebecca and Isaac Conner died this date, August 6th, in 1849 of Tabes Mesenterica* and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. His first name was not recorded. Isaac (25y/o) worked as a drayman or longshoreman on the Delaware River docks. Rebecca (22 y/o) worked as a day worker. At the time of their son’s death, the Conners had two other small children, Issac, Jr. (3 y/o) and Ellen (1 y/o). Isaac and the children were all born in Pennsylvania. Rebecca was born in New Jersey. The family lived in one 10′x10′ room in Bedford Street for which they paid $2.50 a month, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census.
Tragically, Ms. Conner died on August 3, 1853, of lung disease and was buried with her infant son at Bethel Burying Ground.
The ghettoization of African Americans in the city forced the poorest white and Black families to live on streets like Bedford with its notoriously crowded dwellings which were little more than pigsties. Piles of garbage lay in the street, clogging the gutters with black water that was covered with foul-smelling vegetation. Bedford was a plague spot with fever-ridden pest houses. This is where Rebecca and Isaac were forced to raise their family. In addition to these conditions was the ever-present deadly threat from white gangs that roamed the street. Two weeks before the death of the Connor baby, the “Killers,” a white Irish gang of thugs, attacked an African American boy walking on Bedford Street, slicing him up with straight razors. He was eventually taken to Pennsylvania Hospital.**
X marks the location of Bedford Street. A 19th Century Philadelphia physician, a Health Department official, dramatically stated that “No city should ever have more than one Bedford Street.”
*Tabes Mesenterica is a progressive wasting of the intestines marked by anemia, dramatic swelling of the abdomen, diarrhea, fever, and pain.
**Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 July 1849, p.1.
For further reading concerning the history of Bedford Street see “The Philadelphia Negro,” W.E.B. DuBois; “The Peoples of Philadelphia,” Alan F. Davis and Mark H. Haller; “Philadelphia Politics From the Bottom Up,” Harry C. Silcox.