BBG TIMELINE (click on)
BBG TIMELINE (click on)
Forty-five-year-old Mary Polk died this date, May 25th, in 1850 of a “congestive brain” and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The term “congestive brain” can mean several things, but is most commonly a catch-all phrase for a stroke. According to 1850 Federal Census and the 1847 African American Census, Ms. Polk was married and mother of a daughter Caroline (18) and two sons Richard (13) and William (16) who was appreciating as a barber. She lived with her family in a shanty/shack in the backyard of 11 Prune Street which would currently equate to 411 Locust Street just east of Washington Square. Her residence is marked with a red X on the 1840 map below.
Mary Polk worked as a washwoman earning approximately $1.40 a week while her husband earned $1.50 a week as a laborer, according to the 1847 African American Census. This family was living on approximately 35% of what the average Black working poor were earning. They were paying $3.00 a month for what W.E.B. DuBois termed a “backyard tenement.” A dilapidated one-room shed/shack without heat, sewer or water. For more on this type of housing and environment see DuBois’ “The Philadelphia Negro,” especially pages 307-09 and 293-95.
The Polks belonged to a beneficial society where they saved money probably toward burial expenses. The family worshiped at Bethel Church (now Mother Bethel AME).
Twenty-four-year-old Mary Jane Laws died this date, May 21st, in 1848 of an intestinal disorder (Gastritis) and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Ms. Laws lived across the street from Mother Bethel Church on the corner of Little Pine St. (now Addison) and 6th Street.
Four-year-old William Ayres died this date, April 28th, in 1850 after being crushed to death by a horse-drawn trolley and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. I was unable to positively identify the child’s parents. There are some clues, but nothing definitive.
Ironically, there was an eight-year-old child killed in the same manner 11 days before the death of little William. The Public Ledger reporting the death stated that there were a high number of children being killed in the city by hanging onto the back of these vehicles, falling and subsequently being run over by other vehicles. The newspaper wondered, even with he high number of deaths, why there weren’t more accidents given the danger. (4/17/1850 p. 1)
The vehicle that crushed the child was the Omnibus No. 12 owned by John Levering. It would have looked similar to the one in this photo.
Fifty-four-year-old George Miller died this date, April 11th, in 1842 of Tuberculosis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. I have not been able to locate him in census records or city directories. This is not at all uncommon. Those that had escaped their enslavers and found their way north to Philadelphia would not welcome their presence published if they could avoid it. Mr. Miller was employed as a woodsawyer according to his Death Certificate. He lived in one of the worst neighborhoods in the 7th Ward. St. Mary’s Street was the epicenter of Black vice that included prostitution, gambling, and illegal speakeasies. It is where the poorest of the poor lived in conditions that are hard to imagine. Mr. Miller lived only about a block and a half from Bethel Church (now Mother Bethel).
Twenty-four-year-old Elizabeth Melony died this date, April 4th, in 1823 of “nervous irritation” and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. She lived on Lombard Street near 7th Street only a block away from Bethel Church.
The term “nervous irritation” can mean many things. After reviewing a fair amount of material it commonly meant, during this time period, a disease of the brain. It also referred to “hysteria” in women. A phenomenon that was due to ignorance and a misogynistic culture. For further reading, I found “Sex, Sickness and Slavery: Illness in the Antebellum South” by Marli F. Weiner to be helpful in understanding the disease as it related to 18th and 19th-century African American women; see pages 139-142, Some parts of this book are available online at GoogleBooks.
Three-year-old Isaac Lee died this date, March 8th, in 1849 of Catarrhal Fever and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Researching census data it is likely that Isaac was the son of Mary Isaac. His father’s name is not recorded and it is reported that he was physically unable to work. Mary’s occupation was as a “day worker.” They paid $5 a month for their room. They had no other children.
Mary or her spouse were reported to have been previously enslaved and gained their manumission by paying $100. It is possible that Mr. Lee’s disabilities occurred while he was enslaved and that is why the manumission price was so low.
Catarrhal Fever is similar to Influenza – in
The house that the Lees lived in was soon torn down after Issac death and the grand Continental Hotel was build at 9th and Chestnut. It is now known as the Ben Franklin.