Click on the link below for the full report on the archeological findings at Bethel Burying Ground –
Click on the link below for a collection of media reports on Bethel Burying Ground –
The six-month-old son of Mary and Josiah Purnell died this date, February 11th, in 1850 of Lobular Pneumonia and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Mary, twenty-two years old, and Josiah, twenty-nine years old, were both born in Delaware. One of them was born enslaved, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census.* Ms. Purnell was employed as a wash woman. Mr. Purnell worked as a waiter, reportedly earning $10 a month. The Purnells paid $2.50 a month for the rent of a room at 168 Locust Street which was located between 11th and 12th Streets on Locust Street.
The 1847 Census shows that the Purnells regularly attended religious services and owned a total of $75 in personal property. There is some evidence that Mr. and Ms. Purnell suffered the loss of one or two other children, both girls, in 1846 and 1848 respectively. Both girls also are buried at Bethel Burying Ground.
Baby Purnell was buried at Bethel Burying Ground on a February day that dawned clear but turned cloudy in the afternoon. The high temperature for the day was thirty-nine degrees.
Tragically, Mary Purnell would die four years later in 1854 of Tuberculosis and she was buried in the graveyard of the Philadelphia Alms House. Mr. Purnell would live until 1867 and die at age fifty from “Softening of the Brain.” He was buried at Lebanon Cemetery.
*In 1850, it appears from past census records that approximately four out of ten Philadelphia Blacks formerly had been enslaved.
The unnamed seventeen-month-old daughter of John A. Warren died this date, February 7th, in 1845 of Marasmus* and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. I was unable to locate the name of the child’s mother. The 1847 African American Census is the only document where the Warren family is recorded. The reason for this may be that the family or members of the family formerly were enslaved and had escaped their captivity. This group of people did not tend to be receptive to census takers. The 1847 Census does report a total of six members in the family – four males and two females. Four family members were between 15 years and 50 years of age. There was one family member between 5 years and 15 years and one under the age of 5. Four of the family members were not native to the state of Pennsylvania.
The 1847 Census simply states the family lived on Cedar Street which we now know as South Street. There was no house number given. We do know that they paid $7.50 a month for rent which was a hefty amount and may mean they rented more than just one room. The above photo is of the three hundred block of Cedar which now is only several blocks from the Delaware River docks. Mr. Warren sold oysters for a living, so it is likely that the family lived near the eastern end of Cedar Street. Oysters were the fast food of the 18th and 19th century in Philadelphia. Mr. Warren’s income would not have been steady because of the variability of the weather and the seasonal availability of oysters. Given the high rent, other members of the family beside Mr. Warren also had to be employed.
The Warrens’ baby girl died on a day that saw the end of a three-day snow and ice storm that deposited up to twelve inches of snow locally. Traveling within the city was practically impossible. The body at least would have been wrapped in a sheet and kept in the family’s room or apartment. The family may have had a small coffin made.
*Marasmus is caused by starvation or a diet totally absent from necessary nutrition. Apart from weight loss, long-term effects of Marasmus in children include repeated infections. Diarrhea, measles, or respiratory infections are serious complications that can be fatal in a child with this illness.
Twelve-year-old John Tilton died this date, February 5th, in 1854 of convulsions and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. John was buried next to his father Charles Tilton and two sisters, Adelia, seven months old, and a three-year-old whose first name was not recorded. (See below for further information on these.)
At the time of his death, John was being raised by his thirty-four-year-old mother, Matilda Tilton who was born enslaved in Maryland. Her freedom was purchased for $100, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. Ms. Tilton worked as a wash woman to support her family, according to 1847 and 1850 U.S. Census.
At the time of his death, young John Tilton had a thirteen-year-old brother William. Both boys were born in Pennsylvania. They lived with their mother in a tenement on Eutaw Alley between Rodman and South Streets and between 11th and 12th Streets in the southern part of center city. The short narrow thoroughfare was previously named Wagner’s Alley and currently is called Sartain Street. The Tilton family home was one room for which Ms. Tilton paid monthly the approximate equivalent of what she would earn in a good week of work.
According to the 1847 Census, young John Tilton and his siblings attended the Raspberry Alley School that was established in 1840 through Quaker philanthropy. Ms. Emeline Higgins, a highly respected educator, would teach reading, writing, and arithmetic to approximately thirty boys and girls yearly in Raspberry Alley near the corner of Ninth and Walnut Streets in center city Philadelphia. She was one of several African American women and men that taught in private schools for Black children.
Twelve-year-old John Tilton died on a cold day in January where the temperature only reached 19 degrees. He was buried next to his father Charles Tilton who died ten years earlier of Tuberculosis at forty-two-years old. John was also laid to rest with his sisters Adelia who also died in 1844 of Cholera at seven months old and an unnamed three-year-old sister who died in 1839 of an unspecified lung disease.
5 Feb 1890:
According to the official Minutes of the Board of Trustees for Bethel Church, President, D.W. Parvis reported on behalf of the Real Estate Committee that the Bethel Burying Ground has been sold to the City of Philadelphia for $10,000 which is approximately $125,000 in 2019 currency. In addition, Mr. Parvis reported that board member Mr. Charles Jenkins met with the Trustees’ legal representative, Wendell P. Bowman, Esquire. Mr. Bowman was the Church’s representative in negotiating the sale price of Bethel Burying Ground with the City of Philadelphia.
Mr. Bowman conveyed to Mr. Jenkins that he had “difficulties” in securing the high amount for the burial ground. Mr. Bowman’s fee for his services was $1,250 which is 12.5% of the $10,000. President Parvis stated to his fellow trustees that he would be willing to check with “other lawyers” to ascertain if the fee was excessive. Bethel Church pastor Cornelius T Shaffer was in attendance. The Minutes of the Bethel Trustees are available on microfilm at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the archives at Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church at 6th and Lombard Streets, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Sixty-five-year-old Flora Anderson died this date, January 31st, in 1844, and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. According to the City Coroner, she died “suddenly” and the “cause of death unknown.” Eight years before her death, she reported to the 1847 Philadelphia Africa American Census that she was the head of a family that included four other individuals. Two were not native to Pennsylvania and the other two were born in Pennsylvania where Ms. Anderson also was born. There was no delineation between male or female or a recording of their ages.
Ms. Anderson reported in 1836, at fifty-eight-years-old, that she worked as a day worker, performing domestic duties when she could get the work. The family lived on the 1200 block of Bedford Street in a room for which they paid $1.65 a month. This was an extreme poverty existence.
No one lived like this out of choice. Being bitten by rats at night and living half dead during the day, near starvation, seeing your children suffer and die are nightmares, not dreams. Enduring arduous working conditions, chronic medical conditions, and infections and daily threats of physical violence were a horrible part of these Black citizens’ everyday life. Every day.
In 1836, Ms. Anderson lived on Bedford Street (now Kater St.), a block and a half over the southern boundary of the city into the district of Moyamensing. The red arrow above indicates the approximate location of the Anderson home. “Moyamensing became known for its penitentiary, violent hose company [volunteer firemen], cemeteries, wretchedly poor inhabitants, and crime. ” (Harry C. Silcox, author of Philadelphia From the Bottom Up.)
The undated photo above shows 1242 Kater Street with outhouses and the water spigot for the block. Notice how close the raw sewage pits or “sinks” (as they were called) are to the water source. If the sinks were not built properly and lined with brick or concrete, the sewage could leak into the water supply and likely cause deadly illnesses such as Cholera.
Ms. Anderson died on a “cold and clear” day in late January with light snow falling. The city was in the middle of a deep freeze that led to the death from exposure of a significant number of the poor.
Twenty-four-year-old William Sewell* died this date, January 27th, in 1850 of Tuberculosis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. He was employed as a seaman while Ms. Sewell was employed as a wash woman. Her first name is not recorded. They lived in a 13’x13′ room at 45 Quince Street for which they paid $2.25 a month for rent. The Sewells reported they owned $250 in personal property, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census.
Mr. Sewell could have been a river seaman/sailor. Perhaps he was working on a ferry, excursion boat or the different types of fishing or oyster boats that were seen up and down the Delaware River. Or he could have been a “Black Jack,” a “blue water” sailor that traveled the globe working as an able-bodied seaman aboard the big three-masted ships that carried merchants goods around the world and back to Philadelphia docks. The 1847 Philadelphia African American Census shows that 192 Black men reported their occupation as “seaman.”**
The map above shows the approximate location of the Sewells’ home at 45 Quince Street located between Lombard and Walnut Streets and 11th and 12th Streets in center city Philadelphia.
In 1847, there were forty-three African American families on Quince Street with a total of one hundred thirty-six members. There were two other Black men on Quince Street that also reported their occupation as seamen.
Mr. Sewell was buried at Bethel Burying Ground on a “clear and very fine” day where the temperature reached a high of 59 degrees.
*The spelling of the last name also has appeared as “Seawall.”
* *For further information on African American sailors and seamen see Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail, by W. Jeffrey Bolster.