Thirty-year-old Harriet Edwards died this date February 22nd in 1851 of hemorrhaging of her lungs. Ms. Edwards reported to the 1850 federal census taker that she was thirty-years-old and stated the correct spelling of her name. The city coroner also errored in the date of her death. It was in 1851 not 1850.
Ms. Edwards collapsed at the corner of 5th and Spruce Streets in center city. The location was a block away from her home on Union Street. Her body was transported to the coroner’s office. Her husband Daniel was employed as a seaman and may not have been in the city. There is no record of the couple having children.
The 1847 Philadelphia African American Census reports that either Harriet or Daniel Edwards was formerly enslaved. It did not indicate which one. Both were born in Maryland. Ms. Edwards was self-employed as a laundress which was very strenuous work and dangerous to someone who had a serious illness. Mr. Edwards received $23 a month or $770 a month in modern currency as a “seaman.” The couple paid $3.50 a month or approximately $118.00 in modern currency for a room on Union Street. They belonged to a beneficial society that likely helped with the burial expenses.
The above photograph is of the intersection where Ms. Edwards collapsed and died. It was taken in 1859, almost eight years to the day of her death. Ms. Edwards, a “respectable” woman, died on a clear day where the temperature rose to 40 degrees. Her husband buried her, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.
Three-year-old Peter Proctor died this date, February 11th, in 1843 of Marasmus and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. “Withering” is the Greek translation of ‘Marasmus.’ Like many diagnoses by early 19th Century physicians, they only could declare a symptom as the cause of death and not the underlying pathology. The wasting of the child’s body could have been from pneumonia, meningitis, or any disease that would cause chronic diarrhea. On tragic occasions, the child of a destitute family could starve to death from lack of food. This was likely not the case in this instance.
Young Peter was the son of Mary Ann LeCount Proctor and Rev. Walter Proctor. Ms. Proctor was forty-two-years old at the time of her son’s death. She was born in Kent County, Delaware and was a member of the LeCount family which was one of the most significant pillars of the 19th Century Philadelphia Black community. Ms. Proctor was self-employed as a dressmaker. Ms. Proctor gave birth to at least thirteen children. Only seven reached adulthood. For more information on the children please go to: https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/portrait/L1L8-MSC
Rev. Proctor was fifty years old at the time of his son’s death. He was born in Port Tobacco, Charles County, Maryland. Like many Black ministers of the 19th century, he also had additional employment to make financial ends meet. Rev. Proctor was a successful shoemaker who also ran a barbering business, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census.
Rev. Proctor was a long time friend and colleague of Bishop Richard Allen and he was called Allen’s “eyes and ears.” Rev. Proctor was known to be a popular choice to perform baptisms, weddings, and burial services at Bethel Church and Bethel Burying Ground. Rev. Proctor also had a history of marrying interracial couples. Not all Black ministers would do that and, certainly, no white ministers would perform the ceremony. Their churches would be burned down by white mobs and the clergymen would be lucky to get away with only a crippling assault. (1)
Rev. Proctor and Ms. Proctor were active members of the Vigilance Association of Philadelphia, popularly referred to as the ‘Vigilance Committee.’ Over the decades, the organization assisted thousands of Black women, men, and children fleeing their southern enslavement. They were provided protection, housing, food, cash, and, if needed, transportation to New England and Canada. Lawyers were provided to the unfortunate who were kidnapped by slave catchers. The Committee also could organize a flash mob to try to physically remove the arrested fugitive from the kidnappers and the police. Click on the followingfor further info: https://journals.psu.edu/pmhb/article/view/42412/42133.
According to the 1843 Philadelphia City Directory, the Proctor family lived at #34 Blackberry Alley illustrated by the red circle on the above map. Only a block west of Washington Square, it was known in the press as a “notorious haunt of iniquity” for its numerous and often rowdy houses of prostitution. The Proctors would be on the move every several years, finally settling on Bonsall Street (now Rodman), living next to Ms. Proctor’s family. (2)
Young Peter Proctor died on a day where the temperature rose to 40 degrees with clear skies. He was buried by his family, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground. It is very likely that Rev. Proctor performed the burial service for his son.
Today Senator Kamala Devi Harris will stand in the Capitol Building and she will take the oath of office for the Vice President of the United States. I hope you will take a moment to remember Ignatius Beck. In 1798 he was one of the four hundred enslaved Black men that were “rented” to the United States government to work on the erection of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
After his liberation, Mr. Beck eventually came to Philadelphia and became a valuable member of Mother Bethel and a significant conductor on the Underground Railroad. After a very full life he was buried by his family, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.
As we watch the glorious moment Vice President Harris is sworn in, maybe take a moment to remember that two hundred twenty-three years ago a Black man lifted that stone that VP Harris is standing on.
Ms. Sarah Bacon gave birth to a stillborn female child on this date, January 9th, in 1848 who was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. According to a combination of the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census and the 1850 U.S. Census, Ms. Bacon was forty-one-year old at the time of her daughter’s birth. She had been born in Maryland and was self-employed as a laundress. The baby’s father was Dennis Bacon, forty-three years old, who was employed as a “hog carrier” or brick carrier. He also was born in Maryland. It appears that the couple did not have any children.
Ms. Bacon was one of four hundred fifty seven Philadelphia women who suffered a stillbirth in 1848, according to Board of Health records. Malnutrition robbed poor pregnant women of the necessary diet to carry healthy babies to term. Winters especially were harsh and the winter of 1848 in Philadelphia was exceptionally so. The Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers had frozen over earlier than usual, halting ship traffic and the work that comes with loading and unloading the giant sailing ships. Snow and rain made the roads a quagmire that buried delivery wagons up to their axles. (1) Any outdoor construction work would have been difficult, if not impossible. It is likely that Mr. Bacon was out of work and the couple may have been relying on charity soup kitchens for their one meal a day. Hopefully, they were able to receive relief from the beneficial societies to which they belonged through their church. (2)
Mary and Dennis Bacon lived in a room at #2 Eagle Court located near the intersection of 10th and Locust Streets, illustrated by the red pin on the above map. The red arrow indicates the location and proximity of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church at 6th and Lombard Streets. In 1847 Eagle Court was a small, dead end alley. It was home to thirty-seven Black families with a total of one hundred thirty four men, women, and children. The women were employed as dressmakers, laundresses, and domestic workers. The men were employed as waiters, porters, and white washers (painters). These quarters were perfectly designed to spread deadly diseases, such as tuberculosis and small pox.
On a bitterly cold day in January, Ms. Sarah Bacon suffered the delivery of her stillborn daughter who was buried, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.
The sixteen-month-old daughter of Mary and Isaac Beckett died this date, January 3rd, in 1848 of Hydrocephalous (1) and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The Becketts are an example of a family that would flip flop between working poor and desperately poor. The census taker for the 1847 African American Census noted the intemperance of Mr. Beckett and its effect on his inability to keep a steady job.
In the 1847 Census, the family lived in a room or two at #2 Warren Street. Mary Beckett was 26 years old at the time of her daughter’s death. Tragically, Ms. Beckett would die six months later of Tuberculosis. Horribly, five days before her death, she and her husband would lose a three month old daughter to a “fever.”
The 1850 U.S. Census (below ) shows the twenty-eight year old widower and father of nine-year-old Julia and six-year-old Isaac, Jr. working as a porter. Ms. Ann Armstrong, 49, who now is taking care of the children, is possibly Mary Beckett’s mother.
Warren Street was a narrow two-block thoroughfare near the intersection of 12th and Spruce Streets in center city. In 1847, it was home to fifteen Black families with a total of sixty-two men, women, and children. The women were employed as teacher, shirt maker, and domestic. The men labored as wood sawyer, brick carrier, brick maker, and coal hauler.
Baby Beckett died on a clear January day where the temperature rose to fifty degrees. She was buried by her family at Bethel Burying Ground. She would should be joined by her mother and a sister.
(1) Hydrocephalus literally means water or fluid on the brain. The condition could have been caused by many neurological diseases including meningitis, malaria, or scarlet fever. It also could have been congenital. The Philadelphia Board of Health recorded that the Beckett baby was one of two hundred thirteen children to die of the disease in 1848.
Margaret Cutchins* died this date, December 31st, in 1853 of Marasmus** and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Ms. Cutchins was visiting Camden, New Jersey when she passed away. The local attending physician placed her age at fifty-six years old. In the self reported censuses of 1847 and 1850, she would have been only forty-three years old. Her spouse, Miles Cutchins, was forty-seven years old at the time of her death. He was employed as a porter, making $25 a month (“sometimes”). Ms. Cutchins was self-employed as a laundress and seamstress. Both Margaret and Miles were born enslaved in Virginia. In addition, there was a fifteen year old girl, Maria F. Cutchins, residing in the home. She was born in Tennessee, according to the 1850 U.S. Census, and she was a student at David Ware’s school.
The Cutchins family lived on one floor of a two-story wood frame house at #15 Gaskill Street near the Delaware River wharves in the southern part of the city. They paid $5 a month in rent or approximately $170 in modern currency. In 1847, the value of the family’s personal property was estimated at $1,100 or approximately $32,500 in modern currency. The family belonged to two beneficial societies and attended church services on a regular basis, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census.
An 1847 census taker noted: “After being freed by his (Mr. Cutchins) master, he bought his wife for $250 and he has paid $875.00 for three other persons to save them all within 20 years.”
Mr. and Ms. Cutchins obviously were active in the abolition movement and cared for newly liberated Black men, women and children in their home. It is very likely the Cutchins residence was a stop on the Underground Railroad, helping those being tracked by fugitive slave catchers. Ms. Cutchins may have been on an Underground-related trip to Camden when she suddenly died. Surely an unsung heroine!
Margaret Cutchins died on New Years Eve in 1853 where it snowed heavily all day. She was buried, with dignity, by her family at Bethel Burying Ground .
*The physician incorrectly spelled the family’s last name. All census and city directories have the “s” on the end.
**Marasmus was more of an observation than a cause of death. Ms. Cutchins looked debilitated or “wasting.” She could have been suffering a period of time from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.
Sixteen-year-old Ann Eliza Oliver died this date, December 29th in 1850 of Typhoid Fever and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. She was born in Philadelphia. Three years before her death, she was a student at the 6th and Lombard School. The following is a combination of information from the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census and the 1850 U.S. Census on Ann Eliza’s family.
Mr. Oliver, on occasion, also would be listed as an oyster seller. In 1847, he reported his yearly income as a whitewasher as $350. This would be approximately $11,984 in modern currency.
The Oliver family lived on Eutaw Street near Franklin Square. Originally named North East Publick Square by William Penn, it was renamed in 1812 to honor Benjamin Franklin. It currently is located in the Center City area, between North 6th and 7th Streets, and between Race Street and the Vine Street Expressway. Eutaw Street no longer exists.
The 1847 Census reports that the Oliver family paid the sum of $8.00 a month in rent or approximately $240 in modern currency. This is double the price that would be paid for a couple of rooms or even an entire two-story house. The Olivers likely took in boarders. Mr. Oliver reported $350 in personal property or approximately $11,984 in modern currency. It also was reported that the family owned property in Wilmington, Delaware, valued at $400 or approximately $13,735.
Living on Eutaw Street, in addition to the Oliver family, were thirteen other Black families with a total of sixty-four men, women, and children. The men worked as coachmen, teachers, seamen, and porters. The women were employed as cake bakers, domestics, and laundresses.
Ms. Oliver’s fatal illness, Typhoid, was caused by a Salmonella bacteria she consumed in contaminated food or water. She would have suffered a high fever, fatigue, headache, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. After approximately a month of suffering, the intestines perforate and septicemia take the victim’s life. Ann Eliza was one of 107 Philadelphians to die of Typhoid in 1850, according to Board of Health records.
Ann Eliza Oliver died on a cold clear day in late December where the temperature only rose to 34 degrees. She was buried at Bethel Burying Ground, with dignity, by her family.
Six-year-old Monneacem Rigby died this date, December 26th, in 1851 of Peritonitis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. A ruptured appendix or a wound could have caused the septic infection. He was the son of Nathan (24 years old), Kuria his mother (21 y/o), and his two-year-old brother Francis F. Rigby. All the family members were born in Pennsylvania, according to the 1850 U.S. Census.
In the 1850, Census Nathan Rigby reported his occupation as “Docteur” which is French for doctor. He worked out of his home at #188 Shippen Street (now Bainbridge Street) where he used herbs to create powder, pills, and potions for some of the ailments listed below. He was one of ten Black men in the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census that are listed as an “herb doctor.” Ms. Rigby was a homemaker and was pregnant at the time of her son’s death.(1)
According to the 1847 Census, the Rigby family were boarders at #118 Shippen. The family of three (pre-Francis’s birth) lived in one room or only part of a room. They likely paid ~ $0.50 a week in rent. Mr. Rigby reported his annual income as $200/ ~$3.85 a week. (2) They lived with five other boarders, possibly on the first floor of a house that consisted of three rooms.
Also within the black circle on the map was the Moyamensing Soup House, a charitable organization, where the destitute of the Moyamensing District could get a wholesome meal at least once a day. It appears that the Rigby family, given their financial situation, may have taken advantage of this service. Additionally, in the same block was the renowned school, the Institute for Colored Youth. Maybe Monneacem would have attended this school if his young life was not cut short.
The six-year-old son of Kuria and Nathan Rigby died on a day after a heavy snowfall and was buried, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground. The newspaper reported that the snow created excellent conditions for sleighing and that it appeared it was going to be “one of our old fashion winters.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, 27 December 1851, p.1.)
(1) Ms. Rigby lost a nine day old daughter on June 30, 1848 to an undiagnosed ailment. The infant was buried in the “Colored” section of Union Cemetery.
(2) Two hundred dollars equates to approximately $6,147 in modern currency.
Thirty-year-old Ann Thompson died this date, October 5th, in 1840 of Puerperal Peritonitis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. She was another victim of physicians and midwives not sterilizing their instruments and not washing their hands and, subsequently, infecting the genital area and uterus of a woman after she gives birth. It appears from Board of Health records that Ms. Thompson’s child lived.
Puerperal Peritonitis or “bed fever” was a quick, agonizing and devastating disease. It affected women within the first three days of giving birth and death occured only days later from sepsis or “blood poisoning.”
The yellow arrow indicates the approximate location of Ms. Thompson’s home on Prosperous Alley between 11th and 12th Streets and Locust and Spruce Streets. Prosperous Alley was in the middle of a cluster of streets, alleys, and dead end courts that mainly housed Black families. The majority of men worked as waiters and shoemakers, while the women were employed as laundresses and dressmakers. There were a significant number of widows and single women in the alley, according to city directories. The area was five blocks west of Bethel A.M.E. Church.
There is enough evidence from the 1838 Register of Trades of Colored People to suggest that Ms. Thompson’s spouse was Thomas Thompson. His occupation was listed as “Shoemaker.” The 1840 U.S. Census shows Ann and Thomas were already the parents of three girls, all under the age of ten. There were two other older adults listed at the same address who very well may have been Ann’s or Thomas’ parents.
The 1840 Philadelphia that Ms. Thompson left with her death was the most racist city in the north. African American men recently had lost the right to vote in Pennsylvania and street assaults on Black men and women were increasing. Just before Ms. Thompson’s death, the celebrated abolitionist Lucretia Mott, a white woman, was warned by the mayor of Philadelphia that she had been seen walking with Black people on the city’s streets and that her activity was inciting a “certain element” and should stop. She didn’t stop but in the end that “certain element” really didn’t need any incentive to continue their genocidal assault on the Black race.
Ms. Thompson died on a warm day in early October and was buried by her family at Bethel Burying Ground. I wasn’t able to find any further records on Mr. Thompson or the children.
Five-year-old David Ware died this date, September 19th, in 1843 of a brain inflammation and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. There are several diseases that can cause the inflammation. At David’s age, it could have been measles or mumps.
According to the 1850 U.S. Census, young David lived at #8 Acorn Alley with the following three single women: Eliza Ware, 33-years-old, who was born in Delaware; Sarah Ware, 29-years-old, who was born in New Jersey; Ann Ware, 21-years-old, who was born in Delaware. It is not clear which woman was David’s mother, if any of the three. None of the women was recorded as a widow.
The Ware women were employed as laundresses and whitewashers. Whitewashers were house painters. Colored wash (paint) was very costly and only used in wealthy homes. Whitewash was a mixture of water and quicklime and inexpensive to make.
The 1847 African American Census recorded the Ware family paid $4.50 a month for their room/s which is much higher than average. This sum equates to approximately $158 a month in modern currency. It also is reported that the family owned property in New Jersey worth $500 or approximately $17,560 in modern currency.
Young David Ware died on a clear hot day in September of 1843 and was buried, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.
(1) We Are Your Sisters: Black Woman in the Nineteenth Century,edited by Dorothy Sterling, p. 90.