Approximately eighty-six-year-old Rebecca Miller died this date, April 28th, in 1846 of “mortification of the foot” and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. It is likely that gangrene set in from a wound and that Ms. Miller died of sepsis and subsequent organ failure. It appears that Ms. Miller lived at #8 Gray’s Alley with Keziah Miller. According to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census, Keziah was self-employed as a “day worker.” In 1847, she was reported between the ages of fifteen and forty-nine years old. In the Census, Keziah declined to answer whether she was born in Pennsylvania or in another state. The relationship between the two women is unknown.
The women lived in a single 12’x12′ room at #8 Gray’s Alley for which they paid $2 a month. The census taker commented that they were “poor, but respectable.”
Gray’s Alley was a narrow, block long thoroughfare within sight of the tall masted ships docked on the Delaware wharves. According to the 1847 Census, there were seventy-three Black men, women, and children living in the alley. Most of the adult men were laborers, working to load and unload freight from the large vessels. Many others were porters delivering the goods around the city. The majority of the women in the alley were self-employed as laundresses and day workers. The very young children of Gray’s Alley were cared for at the 6th and Lombard Street School, while the older children went to either the Adelphia School or the Raspberry Alley School. Raspberry also had an evening school for adults where reading, writing, and math were taught.
Ms. Miller was likely born to an enslaved mother and, consequently, she also was enslaved. Did she herself stand on that rickety platform, scared to death that she would be separated from her mother? What was she feeling when strange white men touched her, inspecting her body to determine her sale price? Was she freed by the British when they occupied the city during the American Revolutionary War?
Her home was very near the slave market. When she traveled to the Second Street market, buying food for her meals, did she travel a path so that she would circumvent the London Coffee House and the horrible memories that it would dredge up?
Ms. Miller died on an overcast day in April. Heavy black clouds filled the sky in the evening. Her friends buried her, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground. (1)
(1) Public Ledger, 2 May 1846, p.1.