Thirty-five-year-old Henrietta Anderson died this date, August 10th, in 1852 of unknown causes, according to the City Coroner. She was buried at Bethel Burying Ground.
I believe Ms. Anderson is the “Henrietta Anderson” recorded in the 1850 U.S. Census. The birth dates and birth location are good matches. The 1847 Philadelphia African American Census records her occupation as a domestic worker. In 1850, she was married to John Anderson, a forty-three-year-old chimney sweep. He was born in Pennsylvania, as was Ms. Anderson. The same census (1850) reported additional family members that included eleven-year-old John Anderson who was born in New Jersey, ten-year-old John Bowen who was born in Pennsylvania and an eight-year-old boy simply recorded as “Ballard.” He also was born in Pennsylvania.
Journeymen chimney sweeps would often obtain small young boys from the workhouse or almshouses as apprentices. Their diminutive size would allow them to fit in chimnies to do the backbreaking scraping and cleaning. The labor exposed the workers to deadly lung diseases and cancers.
Mr. Anderson was alive in early 1850 (census) and dead by his spouse’s death in 1852 when she was reported to be a widow. I am unable to locate a death certificate for Mr. Anderson. The majority of these documents for those buried at Bethel Burying Ground no longer exist. Mr. Anderson is last recorded in the 1851 City Directory.
The Anderson family lived in the rear of #11 St. Mary’s Street only a block from Bethel AME Church. St. Mary’s Street was a rat infected, disease-ridden alley where only the destitute would live because they couldn’t afford anything better. It was often the first address of those migrating to the city – both free and formerly enslaved. The Anderson family of five lived in a shack in the back of #11. Often, these structures were converted horse stalls or pig pens with dirt floors. They paid $0.75 to $1.00 a week in rent. That would be the equivalent of what Ms. Anderson might earn in a week.
No one chose to live like this.
‘Sankofa’ is a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates to “Go back and get it” and also refers to the Asante proverb “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.”
The Sankofa bird appears frequently in traditional Akan art and also has been adopted as an important symbol in an African-American and African Diaspora context to represent the need to reflect on the past to build a successful future.