Eighty-nine-year-old Hannah Richards died this day, September 9th, in 1852 of Apoplexy (stroke) and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Ms. Richards had been a widow since at least 1837 when she reported that fact to the census taker. At that point in time, she was the head of a family of ten. They ranged from three small children to seven adults. Three were not native to Pennsylvania and one was, who gained his or her freedom through manumission, was formerly enslaved. The 1840 City Directory lists Ms. Richards’ occupation as “washerwoman.” During this period, the family lived on Tammany Street below 3rd Street in the West Kensington section of the county.
By 1847, Ms. Richards resided at a house that she owned at Vernon Street above 10th Street in the Spring Garden section of the county. The red pin on the map below indicates the Richards’ home. The red arrow illustrates the location of Bethel A.M.E. where she reportedly worshiped. African Americans were not allowed on public transportation, so she walked approximately two miles to Bethel. As she grew older, she may have chosen to attend services at Zoar A.M.E. which was only six blocks away from her home at 4th and Brown Streets.
The 1847 African American Census also reveals that Ms. Richards resided at this time with three other adults – a male and two females in a four room house. The male labored as a porter, earning $5 a week. One of the women is employed as a washwoman, earning $3 a week. Only one is native to Pennsylvania. Two were born enslaved and one of the two’s freedom was purchased for $150. The family had a mortgage payment of $450 a year. They had $1,200 equity in the property. Their water bill was $5 a year and they paid $15 a year for taxes. (1)
The Vernon Street neighborhood was predominately white and dotted with carpenters’ shops. A block away was a large chemical factory where many of the local men were employed.
Ms. Richards was born in 1763, likely in Maryland or Virginia. She had seen many burial grounds for Blacks in her lifetime, including slave graveyards, potter’s fields, and small churchyards. However, she had never seen anything like Bethel Burying Ground. Owned by Blacks for Blacks, it was a place of reverence and dignity where generations could be buried together and honored. The creation of such a publicly recognized sacred space would also have served as a powerful symbol, reinforcing the notion that people of African descent were by that time no longer strangers in the city, but rather a permanent part of Philadelphia’s social and historical fabric.
Hannah Richards died on a day in early September 1852 and was buried by her family, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.
(1) In modern currency the equivalents are $450 = $14,218; $1,200 = $37,917; $5 = $158; $15 = $474