Eighty-two- year-old Julia Hollis died this date, May 18, in 1849 of “old age” and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. She was born enslaved and gained her freedom by manumission, according to the 1838 Philadelphia African American Census. At the time of her death, her household contained the following family members.
This large family lived in what appears to be one room, likely only 12’x12′. It is hard to believe the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census that reported the family paid $5 a month in rent. This was the going rate for a large room in a working-class neighborhood. According to the 1847 Census, the Hollis family were the only African Americans on Mark’s Lane.
On election day, October 9th in 1849, the Irish gangs in the southern district of Moyamensing went hunting for Blacks and for whites that comingled with them. The racist mob burned down dozens of Black homes, businesses, and churches. Scores of African Americans and whites were badly injured. The violence went on for a night and day and, eventually, took militia troops to put down the white mob. It appears the Hollis family members escaped being injured because they were a considerable distance from the rampage.
Even though the members of this large family may not have been direct victims of the mob, the warning was clear. African American Philadelphians were not safe from harm day or night in their homes, churches, or on the street. The police were not going to protect them, and the militia only intervened after the assaults and arsons were well underway.
Eight-two-year-old Julia Hollis died on a mild, cloudy day in May. She was buried, with dignity, by her family at Bethel Burying Ground.
The five-month-old daughter of Liddney and Robert Kennedy died this date, May 15th in 1842 of Marasmus and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. The baby starved to death because of a lack of food or a disease that damaged her digestive system. Baby Kennedy was one of the one hundred forty-nine children in 1842 to die of Marasmus, according to Philadelphia Board of Health records.
Liddney Kennedy was twenty-two-years old when her daughter was born. Ms. Kennedy was born in Delaware and was self-employed as a dressmaker. Mr. Kennedy also was twenty-two-years old, born in Maryland, and employed as a musician, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. It appears that the baby was their only child. However, the 1850 U.S. Census reports that by then the couple had three children. They were John R. who was six-years-old, Elizabeth who was five-years-old, and Robert who was fifteen months.
The Kennedy family lived at #7 Guilelumina Place. It was a short narrow thoroughfare that was home to ninety-five Black men, women, and children, according to the 1847 Census. They were employed as porters, cooks, dressmakers, laundresses, seamen, and white washers. They even had their own herb doctor, Henry Gleeve. Their children went to the school in Raspberry Alley.
The Kennedy family paid $8 a month for their one room on the alley. In modern currency that would be approximately $242. According to the 1847 Census, they owned $500 in “personal property” or approximately $15,000 in modern currency. This was a considerable amount and may have included Mr. Kennedy’s muscial instruments.
Mr. Kennedy may have been a musician in the Frank Johnson Orchestra. Francis “Frank” Johnson was an African American musician, maestro, and composer. He directed military bands and society dance orchestras, taught music, and performed on the violin and keyed bugle. His early career consisted of performing for balls, parades, and dancing schools. The Orchestra performed arrangements of “fashionable” music for most of the major dance functions in Philadelphia. Upon Mr. Johnson’s death in 1844, the Orchestra became known by the name of its new director Joseph Anderson, Jr. for further information on Mr. Johnson please go to —-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Johnson_(composer).
The five-month-old daughter of Liddney and Robert Kennedy died on a unseasonably cold, rainy day in May and was buried with dignity by her parents at Bethel Burying Ground.
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)
One year and nine month old William Augustus died this date, April 22nd, in 1846 of Pneumonia and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Although the attending physician wrote the family name as ‘Augustine,’ there is census and city directory evidence that the family’s name was actually ‘Augustus.’ The child’s parents were Samuel, age thirty-six, and Mary Augustus, age twenty-nine. He worked as a porter and Ms. Augustus as a laundress. They had a one-year-old daughter Elizabeth. It also appears that Ms. Augustus was pregnant with her son George, according to the 1850 U.S. Census.
All the members of the family were born in Philadelphia with the exception of Ms. Augustus who was born in the West Indies. She was born to an enslaved mother on one of the many islands that used kidnapped Africans to grind away their lives harvesting sugar cane. The life expectancy of someone working in these killing fields was three years.
We may never know how Ms. Augustus came to Philadelphia. In the 1850 U.S. Census, she declined to answer any questions concerning her enslaved past. She was born in 1817 and, curiously, that was the same year when all the Caribbean islands, large and small, were devastated by a powerful hurricane. The sugarcane fields were destroyed along with all structures including “negro houses.” (1)
A possibility is that Mary’s enslaver fled the island they lived on and resettled in Philadelphia. The city was a haven for French refugees because of Stephen Girard’s presence and the subsequent French community near the Delaware River waterfront. Any enslaved Blacks would be freed once they landed in the city. They might have to do several years of an indentureship but eventually would be liberated. The 1850 U.S. Census shows that Ms. Augustus was one of 254 city residents born in the “West Indies.”
When Baby Augustus died, he was living with his parents and sister in one room on Centre Street. The family paid $3.50 a month for rent. Mr. Augustus was employed as a porter earning $5 per week. Ms. Augustus, who was pregnant, was self-employed as a laundress, likely earning around $.50 a week. The Augustus family neighbors on Centre Street were Black men and women employed as waiters, barbers, dressmakers, shirt makers, seamen, and a “travelling preacher,” according to the 1847 Census. Their very young children 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. The last school listed in the previous sentence also had a evening school for adults that taught reading, writing, and math.
Baby Augustus died on a cloudy April day where the temperature rose to a high of 63 degrees. His parents buried him, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.
(1) Daily National Intelligence, Washington, DC, 26 November 1817, p. 2; Vermont Gazette, 2 December 1817, p. 3; Boston Commercial Gazette, 8 December 1817, p. 3.
Twenty-seven-year-old John Murphy died this date, April 8th, in 1845 of Tuberculosis (Phthisis) and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. He passed away at his mother’s house, according to Dr. Samuel S. Hollingsworth, the attending physician. Mr. Murphy was one of 1,633 Philadelphians to die of TB from 1844 to 1845. There is no mention of his occupation in census records or city directories. His mother, Emmaretta Murphy, was a widow and the head of the family at least since the 1838 Philadelphia African American Census. Ms. Murphy was a self-employed laundress, according to census records.
A snapshot of the Murphy family in the 1838 Census shows that there were a total of seven members in the household, four of whom were not born in Pennsylvania. Two were children in school and two members worshiped at Bethel A.M.E. Church. These individuals could have been family members or just boarders.
Two years after John’s death, the family consisted of Ms. Murphy and two males, one of which was under fifteen years old and and the other was under the age of fifty. The names and the relationships of the two males were not provided.
On the night of Tuesday, February 24th in 1845, as Mr. Murphy lay on his bed gasping for air in the last stages of his illness, his street erupted into violence. A white mob of “thirty to forty” men invaded the neighborhood and went on a rampage assaulting any African American they saw on the street. Two city watchmen tried to halt the gang and were severely beaten for their efforts. The rioters were members of the Moyamensing Hose Company, according to one newspaper report. The newspapers did not carry any details concerning the wounded African Americans. Sadly this was not an unusual event in the Philadelphia Black community. The newspapers called the mob members “rowdies.” (1)
On the April day that John Murphy died, the weather turned “cold, raw, windy” with snow flurries that gave the day “the appearance of the depth of winter.” He was buried, with dignity, by his mother at Bethel Burying Ground.
(1) Public Ledger, 25 February 1845, p.2.; North American, 25 February 1845, p. 2.
Forty-seven-year-old Gideon Miller died this date, March 10th, in 1846 of a non-specific brain disease and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. At the time of his death, he was too ill to be employed, according to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census. He had formerly worked as a waiter. His spouse, Mary Miller, was thirty-four years old and was self-employed as a laundress. Both were born enslaved in Maryland, according to the 1840 and 1850 U.S. Censuses. Mr. Miller’s death left Mary Miller the sole caretaker of her five children.
The family lived in one 10′ x 10′ room on Bedford Street for which they paid $0.50 a month. The census taker for the 1847 Census remarked that the building the Millers lived in was “a very old frame building not worth half the money – these persons are very poor from sickness in family,- one child a girl [is] Consumptive.” There were numerous alleys and streets in 19th Century Philadelphia that were not fit for humans to reside. Bedford Street was one of them. In 1846 it was a place of mayhem, squalor, disease, and home to the destitute. “Poverty is the worst kind of violence.” (Mahatma Ghandi)
The red circle above shows the heart of the “negro quarters” on Bedford Street. The black circle illustrates the location and proximity of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
In 1846 all of the city and county of Philadelphia were an active battleground for the dozens of volunteer fire companies that were nothing more than dens of murderous white racist thugs. On the night of Sunday April 2nd in 1845, Mr. Miller, although an invalid, would still have been aware of the awful noises coming from the streets in the neighborhood. Over 500 white boys and men were on a rampage trying to kill each other with guns, knives, bats, and stones. The Weccacoe Hose Company, led by their gang the “Bouncers,” and the Moyamensing Hose Company, spearheaded by their gang “Killers,” engaged in a battle to murder each other for the sake of false religious pride. These riots had become so frequent that a local newspaper said it was concerned that the public was becoming “accustomed to the violence.” In a rare and dangerous condemnation the journalist stated that the police and courts had “failed” the citizens of the city. (1) It is impossible to imagine the anger and fear experienced by the Miller family as they huddled around their sick husband and father.
Mr. Miller died on a clear day in March where the temperature rose to a seasonable 50 degrees. He was buried by his family, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.
(1) Daily Chronicle, 24 April 1845, p.2. The Weccacoe Company members were Protestant Nativists and the “Boys of Moya” were Roman Catholic. The majority of both were Irish immigrants.
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.