Thirty-nine-year-old Catherine Lawson died this date, June 10th, in 1848 of Bronchitis and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. According to the 1847 Philadelphia African American Census, she struggled to make a living picking and cutting rags for 12 to 18 cents a day.* Her husband, James Lawson age thirty-eight, worked on the wharves along the Delaware River. They had two children under the age of fifteen. It’s documented that Mr. Lawson was born in Maryland. There is no such documentation for Ms. Lawson.
The Lawson family of four lived in a 10’x10′ room in the 600 block of Small Street for which they paid 50 cents a week. It appears that they lived in one of the few tenements on the street that was mostly occupied with shacks, sheds, and cellar dwellers. The Lawsons may have lived in the tenement that was mentioned in the summary of the 1847 Census that contained fifteen families of forty-two men, women, and children living in “miserable rooms.” They were all “raggers and boners.” The majority were not born in Pennsylvania which indicates they likely were formerly enslaved.
Ms. Catherine Lawson died on a rainy day in early June where the temperature rose to 73 degrees late in the afternoon. She was buried, with dignity, at Bethel Burying Ground.
*The 1847 Census tells us that Ms. Lawson was part of the “carpet rags” business. The first group of these women would scavage trash dumps for any clothing that was thrown out. The parts of the garment that could be salvaged were cut out, washed, and sold. Larger quantities of these rags would be sold by the pound to sweatshops where the second group of women would take the fabric and braid it to make rugs like the one in the below photograph.