Thirty-nine-year-old James Johnson Richmond died this date, October 3rd, in 1853 of Tuberculosis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Mr. Richmond was married and the father of two boys. He was employed as a shoemaker, according to the 1850 U.S. Census. The mother of the boys was Charlotte Richmond who was thirty-four years old at the time of her husband’s death. She worked as a laundress. The boys were John, who was ten years old, and Peter, who was eight-years-old, when their father passed away. All of the family members were born in Pennsylvania. Sadly, the Richmonds lost an eighteen-month-old son, Robert, in November of 1851 to Tuberculosis.*
The family of six lived in one room in a four-story tenement on North 4th Street. Six years before Mr. Richmond’s death, the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census reports that the family paid $1.75 a month in rent. In 1847, Mr. Richmond worked as a waiter, reportedly earning $7.50 a week which is above average for a Black man in 1847 Philadelphia. This is the last information we have on Mr. or Ms. Richmond’s income and monthly rent. The Richmonds’ neighborhood was dominated by livery stables and warehouses.
To say that the Richmond family was lucky on July 9, 1850 would be an understatement. On the afternoon of that day, a fire broke out in a large warehouse at the intersection of Vine and Water Streets. Volunteer fire companies rallied to the site and the firefighters started putting water on the blaze. Firemen climbed to the roofs of adjoining buildings to try and get an advantage. In an instant, everything changed. A large quantity of gunpowder and saltpeter in the warehouse ignited and caused a massive explosion. Firemen and spectators were incinerated. The volunteers on the roofs burst into flames and were thrown to the ground four stories below. A metal bean was hurdled 100 feet into the air. The hot ambers flew for six blocks in every direction, ultimately destroying three-hundred and fifty-four buildings – homes, businesses, schools, food markets, and public buildings. Men and women whose clothes were on fire jumped into the Delaware River to extinguish the flames. Many drowned.
Dozens were killed and hundreds horribly injured. However, the Richmond home, which was just over six blocks away, survived.
Mr. James Johnson Richmond died on an Autumn day in early October of 1853. His family buried him at Bethel Burying Ground.