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.
The Laws’ residence would have been situated where the white car is pictured. Ms. Laws is one of a dozen of the Laws family (that we know of) that are buried at the Bethel Burying Ground. Stephen Laws was an original trustee of Mother Bethel who died in 1814 and was also buried at the Bethel Burying Ground.
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.
These “horse buses” were the later cousin of the old stagecoach and could carry many more passengers. The service was established throughout the city of Philadelphia in 1831. These were the predecessors of today’s trolleys and buses.
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 – inflammation of mucous membranes, especially of the nose and throat.
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.
The three-year-old daughter of Spencer Logan died this date of Scrofula (Tuberculosis) and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. According to the 1847 African American Census, Mr. Logan was employed as a porter and his spouse ( name unknown at this time) was employed as a laundress. They lived in a small room at 4 Bonsall Street for which they paid $2.50 a month for rent. Bonsall is now Rodman Street and the building would have been in the 900 block of Rodman. Several prominent Black families lived on this block including the LeCounts (#6) and the Bolivar family (#8). Both Mr. and Ms. Spencer were born enslaved and gained their legal liberation through manumission. It appears that both were born in Virginia.
Unidentified father with his baby girl
Thirty-two-year-old Henry Matthew died this date, February 3rd, in 1853 of Tuberculosis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. He was a native Philadelphian who employed as a boat builder. He was probably a sailmaker as his previous profession was cordwainer or someone who make boots and shoes from new leather; as opposed to a “cobbler” who repaired worn shoes.
A Black man who was employed as a sailmaker in all likelihood worked for James Forten (September 2, 1766 – March 4, 1842) “an African-American abolitionist and wealthy businessman in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Born free in the city, he became a sailmaker after the American Revolutionary War. After an apprenticeship, he became the foreman and bought the sail loft when his boss retired. Based on the equipment he developed, he built a highly profitable business. It was located on the busy waterfront of the Delaware River, in the area now called Penn’s Landing.” See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Forten
Mr. Matthew was married and lived at 56 Currant Alley (now S. Warnock St.) a small narrow alley that ran from Walnut St. to Spruce St. between south 10th and 11th streets. In the 1847 African American Census at least 85 Black families lived on this small narrow alley. The Matthew family is not listed in the 1850 Federal Census for the City of Philadelphia. His death certificate was signed by J.J. Gould Bias, M.D., an African-American gentleman, a friend of Rev. Richard Allen and a valued member of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Currant Alley (now S. Warnock St.) as it looks today.