One-hundred five-year-old Lydia Ann Garrison died this date, May 16th, in 1846 of “old age” and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. She had led a long life without leaving anything but a small documented trail. Ms. Garrison or her spouse Robin, who predeceased her, are not recorded in any local or federal censuses. They were not reported in any city directories that I could locate.
According to the Pennsylvania Abolition Act of 1780, if you were Black and lived in Pennsylvania before 1780, you remained enslaved. Ms. Garrison was already at least 40 years of age at that time. According to the law, your children would be enslaved until the age of twenty-eight. Therefore, it was only after 1810 that a substantial community of free Blacks gathered in Philadelphia.
Out of surviving records, Ms. Garrison was not the oldest person buried at Bethel Burying Ground. There were two women interred who were older – one a 110-year-old and another 113 years of age.
Surviving city death certificates do not show any family members of Ms. Garrison buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Lydia Ann Garrison was interred on a warm day (68°) in May. It can be assumed she was of strong character and spirit.
Forty-three-year-old Mary Ann Miller died this date, May 8th in 1843, of Tuberculosis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Ms. Miller was a dressmaker, according to the 1838 “Register of the Trades of Colored People in the City of Philadelphia and the Districts.” She worked out of her home at the corner of #1 Gray’s Alley and 2nd Street, near the Delaware River docks and the center of the city’s import/export business.
Gray’s Alley was a small narrow alleyway that contained twenty-five African American families totaling seventy-three individuals, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. The crowded underventilated lodgings were the perfect environment for the disease that killed Mary Ann Miller. The male members of the families on Gray’s Alley were laborers, usually working as porters at the Delaware docks, and the female family members were laundresses or domestics who worked in the homes of the wealthy merchants nearby. Families would live in one room in the two and three-storied brick homes that were built before the Revolution. The rooms were commonly 10’x10′ for which the rent was around $1 – $2 a week.
Ms. Miller would have lived through the thirteen years of mob violence against Philadelphia’s people of color prior to her death. In 1842, the year before she died, there was a three-day riot in August that saw white mobs loot and burn Black homes, churches and public buildings. Black men and women were assaulted and forced to flee the city. There was never an accurate accounting of murdered African Americans. No whites were held significantly accountable. The mayor criticized the African Americans of the city for being provocative by demanding their civil rights.
Fifty-year-old Sarah Medad Westwood died this date, April 5th, in 1853 of a stroke (Apoplexy) and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Her spouse, Keeling Westwood, worked as a confectioner earning $30 a month. A confectioner was a person selling and/or making candy or other sweets. Ms. Westwood was employed as a “baker,” according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. It appears that one of the older children worked in a store for $4 a week which was a good wage. It appears from that Census that the Westwoods had four children, two of whom were younger than two-years of age and two of whom were between two to fifteen years of age. Three were attending the Shiloh Baptist Church Infant School at South and Clifton Streets, now far from the Westwood home in Osborn’s Court, near 8th and Spruce. The photograph below is what the church infant school looks like currently. It is now an African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Ms. Westwood was born in Accomack County, Virginia in 1803 to Irving and Betty Medad. The 1820 Federal Census lists Ms. Betty Medad as a single free Black woman. Mr. Medad is not listed in the Census. It appears he was deceased prior to 1820. Accomack County, Virginia was a rarity in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Being located on the Eastern Shore, it did not have an agriculture economy that required the amount of slave labor that the plantations in the rest of the state required. In addition, the spread of Methodism and the influence of Quakerism in the county, plus the powerful personalities of several large landowners, created a unique social environment that fostered the emancipation of enslaved Black men and women. (Race and Liberty in the New Nation, pp. 61-62 by Eva Sheppard Wolf)
The Westwoods lived on a narrow back alley in one room for which they paid $2-$4 a week. Osborn’s Court was typical for the era with the water spigot and privy outdoors. Street cleaning was infrequent, if at all, and, consequently, trash, garbage, ash and animal waste would form piles that would block gutters and force rainwater back in the cellars. Interestingly, Osborn’s Court had a long history of one of the more notorious houses of prostitution in that area of the city. There are numerous newspaper reports over the era of brawls between the ladies and their clients. The more violent encounters were between the ladies themselves. All this in the shadow of a large Protestant Church!
Thirty-five-year-old Sarah Golden died this date, April 30th, in 1853 of Tuberculosis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. She worked as a laundress earning $50 a year, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. Fifty dollars in the year 1847 is equivalent in purchasing power to $1,506.80 in 2018.
Ms. Golden was married to Samuel Golden who was employed as a waiter and, at one point, worked part-time in a stove store. The death of Ms. Golden left three children motherless – Joseph (16 y/o), Emeline (8) and Isabella (5), according to the 1850 Federal Census. The family moved a good deal. They lived in Atkinson Court, Smith’s Court and Hurst Street – all locations where the residents lived in extreme poverty and perfect environments for Tuberculosis to spread. The entire family likely would have lived in a 9’x9′ room for which they paid approximately $5 a month.
Mr. and Ms. Golden sent their children to local schools that were established by private institutions to educate Black children and, according to the 1847 Census, three members of the family regularly attended church services. A surviving Philadelphia Board of Health death certificate reports that Sarah’s son Joseph died at 25 years of age of a stroke while employed as a “mariner.”
One-year-old Lafillia Harrison died this date, April 28th, in 1840 of Convulsions and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Her parents, James and Lafillia Harrison, lived on Carpenter Street between 8th and 9th Streets in South Philadelphia. The 1847 Philadelphia African American Census reports Ms. Harrison’s occupation as “nurse” and Mr. Harrison as “in service,” most likely as a butler or a coach driver. There also is another female in the household who is reported to be between 15 and 50 years of age and employed as a seamstress.
The Harrisons’ Carpenter Street address is currently only a block away from what is now known as the “Italian Market.” The name for the market was coined in the early 1970s for an area of south Philadelphia featuring numerous grocery shops, cafes, restaurants, bakeries, cheese shops, and butcher shops. In 1840, the Harrisons would have shopped for food and dry goods at the Eleventh Street Market at 11th Street and Moyamensing Avenue, about a mile away to the west. The other close market would have been at 2nd and Pine Street, again about a mile away. The Harrisons would not have been able to use public transportation to go to the markets because of the color of their skin.
Above are two views of the South Street Market where the Harrisons may have frequented. The Moyamensing Market would have been very similar.
Ten-year-old Samuel Irvine died this date, April 23rd, in 1835 of Marasmus and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. An archaic term, ‘Marasmus’ stood for a variety of malnutrition, wasting and starvation illnesses. The condition has been characterized as a disease of the “extremely poor.” Often the infant or child was getting too many carbohydrates (cheaper) and little if any protein (more expensive).
The identity of young Samuel’s parents is a mystery at present. They do not appear in any city directories nor in local or federal censuses of the era. The family did lose another child, eighteen-month-old Sophia, due to Hydrocephalus, on July 6, 1841. The Irvines lived in Shield’s Alley at the time when both children passed away, according to their death certificates. It appears that the adults did not want their existence to be public knowledge. Perhaps one or both were escapees from enslavement. Slaves catchers roamed the cities of the North looking for liberated Black men and women.
Another interesting circumstance is that the children’s death certificates were both signed by the same physician whose first language was French. There is an indication that he may have practiced medicine in Haiti at one time.
Shield’s Alley was a dead end backstreet, only ten feet wide, lined with two-story wood frame buildings, split down the middle by grimy cobblestones. Located at the corner of 9th and Locust Streets in center city Philadephia, the Irvine home would have been a room, maybe 12’X12′, with no running water or indoor toilet, both of which would have been available in the backyard of the building. For this, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census, they would have paid from $2-$3 a month. The average weekly salary for an African American laborer was $3-$4 a week when they were able to find work.
And there is this union of trial and mercy in the removal of a young child. We cannot rebel against God for taking them to heaven, and yet we cannot but mourn over our loss; what can we do . . . (Rev. William Henry Lewis – 1857)