Race, Death, and Public Health in Early Philadelphia

Records of Philadelphia’s early congregations are used by researchers to better understand issues surrounding race and public health in early America. Historian Jubilee Marshall wrote “Race, Death, and Public Health in Early Philadelphia, 1750-1793,” which was published in the Spring 2020 edition of Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies. Her paper draws upon many of the sources that are available on our website.

From the article’s abstract: “The recent discovery of burial sites associated with Philadelphia’s early black community has raised questions about their historical context. This article situates Philadelphia’s African American burials against the backdrop of public health in the 1700s. Public health concerns were omnipresent in Philadelphia as it developed and expanded, and its inhabitants sought to navigate the complex challenges that accompanied such growth. For the black residents of Philadelphia, contending with these public health challenges was especially difficult given the added burden of their disempowerment in the institutional structure of the city. Thus, before the emergence of African American churches and their accompanying cemeteries in the 1790s, white burial grounds, including churchyards and public lots, functioned as an arena of racial contestation, where members of the black community sought to exercise power within the city. The Free African Society and Yellow Fever epidemic of the 1790s are also considered.”

Read the paper on JStor.

The article is free to many University users; $19 to purchase for individual researchers. You might also be able to talk the author into providing a complementary copy for a good cause. Visit Jubilee Marshall’s website.

Black Burials in Philadelphia: An Audio Walking Tour

From our friend Jubilee Marshall, a fascinating glimpse into the history of black burials in Philadelphia, via an audio walking tour.

“Philadelphia is a city of graveyards. A simple google search will reveal dozens, if not hundreds, of incidents of construction workers and developers breaking soil only to discover that what they thought was untouched ground was actually a resting place for Philadelphians of days past.

“Frequently, these resting places are specifically connected to the history of the Black community in Philadelphia — a sharp contrast to the many white churchyards and burial places that constitute a huge part of tourism in today’s Old City.

“What is the history of these burial grounds? Why are they important? And how did so many come to be hidden around the city, under public parks and parking lots? Take this self-guided walking tour to find out.”

Visit the Black Burials in Philadelphia website.