Black families in the records of Christ Church, 1749-1825

Performing genealogical research on black families in America can be difficult; black Americans weren’t even included by name in the U.S. Census until 1870. However, by combing through the detailed sacramental records that were digitized for this project, we can start to piece together a small number of black families, some enslaved and some not, who lived in colonial Philadelphia.

All the records in this entry come from these five volumes, cited by volume number:

Vol. 29: Baptisms, marriages, and burials, Christ Church, 1719-1750

Vol. 30: Baptisms, marriages, and burials, Christ Church, 1750-1762

Vol. 31: Baptisms, Christ Church and St. Peter’s Church, 1763-1810

Vol. 32: Baptisms, Christ Church, St. Peter’s Church, and Saint James’s Church, 1811-1831

Vol. 36: Marriages, Christ Church and St. Peter’s Church, 1763-1836

Family 1

Quako and Hannah were married 2/2/1749. No last names are noted for bride or bridegroom, and both are recorded as “negroes slaves of Mr. Allen.” (Vol. 29, image 69.)

The records show Quako and Hannah had four children: Samuel, born 4/21/1749 and baptized 5/21/1749; Joseph, born 6/13/1751 and baptized 7/14/1751; James, born 10/29/1752 and baptized 12/3/1752; and Hanah, born 3/7/1755 and baptized 4/13/1755. (Volume 29, image 148 and Volume 30, images 5, 7, 9.)

Family 2 

Emanual Woodbee and Jane Linkhorn, both noted as “free Negroes,” were married on 12/19/1756. (Vol 30, image 32.) The records show they had five children: Jane, born 2/20/1762 and baptized 3/27/1763; Joshua, born 6/16/1765 and baptized 8/21/1765; Abraham, born 7/26/1766 and baptized 8/24/1766; Elizabeth, born 7/17/1770 and baptized 9/2/1770; and Charlotte Hannah, born 8/16/1772 and baptized 8/16/1772. Note that the last name Woodbee is later spelled Woodby, several children are listed with no last name, and in one case only the father’s name is listed. (Vol 31, images 6, 21, 31, 71, 89.)

Family 3

William Keen and Cornelia Ray, both “free negroes,” were married on 10/3/1757. (Vol. 30, image 33.) According to our records, “Will & Cornelia, free negroes” had a daughter named Philip, born 1/22/1759 and baptized 3/4/1759. (It is possible the name was misspelled and should be Philis or Philippa.) Although no last name is listed for Philip, Cornelia is not a common name in the records and the dates fit. (Vol. 30, image 15.)

Family 4

Polydore and Rose were married on 12/31/1767. No last names listed; both noted as slaves. (Vol. 36, image 25.) They had a daughter named Sarah, born Sept. 1771, baptized 3/10/1772. (Vol. 31, image 86.)

Family 5

Fortune, “negro slave of Mr. Brown,” and Lucy, “negro slave of Mr. Philips” were married on 2/5/1771. (Vol. 36, image 38.) They appear to have had three children: George, born 3/31/1771 and baptized 5/1/1771; John, born 4/30/1778 and baptized 5/16/1779; and Ann, born 5/2/1783 and baptized 8/2/1783. (Vol. 31, images 77, 150, 196.)

Family 6

Thomas Frederick, “a free Negroe,” married Elizabeth, a slave, on 3/27/1782. (Vol. 36, image 71.) They had two children: John Francis Frederick, born 12/16/1782 and baptized 5/4/1783, and Catherine, born 1/13/1785 and baptized 8/7/1785. (Vol. 31, image 217.)

Family 7

Emanuel De Sylva married Judith Jones on 8/3/1783. They are noted as “Free Mulattos.” (Vol. 36, image 77.) It looks like Emanuel and Judith had a daughter named Mary Desylvas -such variations in spelling are common in the records- born 1/13/1785 and baptized 9/24/1786. (Vol 31, image 229,)

Family 8

John Williams married Hager (no last name listed) on 7/14/1784. Both are listed as “negroes.” (Vol. 36, image 80.) Their daughter, Rachel, was born in August of 1782, which is prior to their marriage date. However, Rachel was baptized on the same date as the marriage, which makes the familial relationship very likely. (Vol. 31, image 205.)

Family 9

Scipio married Elizabeth on 8/27/1784; no last names given, bride and groom listed as “blacks.” (Vol. 36, image 80). Peter Moore, son of Scipio and Betsy Moore (“negroes”), was born 8/31/1781 and baptized 9/23/1781. (Vol. 31, image 172.) Peter was born before the marriage of Scipio and Elizabeth, and Betsy is a variant of Elizabeth, but Scipio is a unique name in the records.

Family 10

William married Hannah on 12/1/1787. No last names given, bride and bridegroom noted as “negroes.” (Vol. 36, image 92). Elizabeth Scot, daughter of William and Hannah, “blacks”, was born 10/12/1792 and baptized 5/31/1793. (Volume 36, image 267) This match might be tenuous given the common first names and lack of last names in the marriage record. I talk more about such difficulties at the end of this blog entry.

Family 11

James Cole married Sarah Douglas (“blacks”), 5/16/1788. (Vol. 36, image 93.) They had a daughter named Sarah, born 7/1/1789 and baptized 7/26/1789. (Vol. 31, image 248.)

Family 12

Anthony Smith married Hannah Bean on 12/4/1788. (Vol. 36, image 94.) They had a son, Anthony, born 6/8/1791 and baptized 10/28/1791, and a daughter, Margaret, born 11/15/1795 and baptized 3/28/1796. (Vol. 31, images 259 and 285.)

Family 13

Peter B. Haines and Sarah Hickes were married on 10/23/1821. (Vol 36, image 239.) Stewart Douglas Haynes (again, such variations in spelling are common) was born to Sarah and Peter on 4/4/1825, and baptized on 4/14/1825. (Vol. 32, image 114)

Family 14

James Alsep married Sarah Stockton on 5/23/1822. (Vol 36, image 242.) The “(c)” marking, as seen in this record, serves as shorthand for “coloured” in these records, and is in fact expanded to “col” in their son’s record. Charles Alsop, son of James and Sarah, was born 6/2/1824 and baptized on 3/8/1825. (Vol 32, image 114.)

There are more possible family connections to be explored in these records, allowing for all the complications of handwritten records of the colonial era.

For example, Jacob and Easter married on 10/7/1770. No last names listed, “Jacob slave of Mr. Rogers, Easter slave of Mr. Casdrop.” (Vol 36, image 36.) A couple named Jacob and Esther, identified as “negroes,” had a daughter named Juliet, born 4/3/1771 and baptized 8/26/1771 (Vol. 31, image 81.) Is it possible the name Easter (or Esther) was written down incorrectly, and these are the same person – wife and mother?

Sometimes the names of bride and groom in a wedding record match the names of mother and father in a baptism record, but the child was born before the wedding. This could mean that there are two different couples, or that the couple married after having a child. Furthermore, if there are no last names listed and the first names are common, it is hard to determine relationships with accuracy.

Some more examples of difficulty discerning familial ties in these records:

Example 1) Hagar and William, “Negro slaves of Judge Laurence” were married on 9/7/1774. (Vol. 36, image 52.) William Maclain, born 9/22/1761 and baptized 11/18/1768, is listed as the “Natural Son of William Maclain & Hagar Jones, Molattoes.” (Vol 31, image 53.) “Natural” here means born out of wedlock, which would explain the discrepancy in dates; however, would a couple described as “molattoes” in one record then be described as “negro slaves” in another?

Example 2) Thomas, negroe slave of Paul Oxe, and Chloe, negroe slave of I. Solter, were married “by consent of their owners” on 12/31/1775. (Vol. 36, image 56.) A son named Thomas was born to John & CloeNagroe Slaves of Mr. Cross” only seven months previously, on 5/1/1755 (Vol. 30, image 3.) Is it possible the bride and groom were sold by Mr. Cross to separate owners, after they had a child? Although heartbreaking, family separation was a common enough cruelty inflicted on enslaved people at that time.

Example 3) Sarah Fletcher and Isaac Richardson married as “Free negroes” on 10/13/1777. (Vol 36, image 61). Less than three years prior, twin sons named Samuel and Isaac were born to Isaac and Sarah, “negroe Slaves of James Tilghman, Esqr.” and baptized on 7/17/1774 at two months of age. (Volume 31, image 112.) It is possible there were simply two couples with the names Sarah and Isaac; it is also possible that Sarah Fletcher and Isaac Richardson started their family while enslaved, and were not able to marry until they were later freed.

Example 4) Phillis and John, slaves of Edward Milne and Jonas Phillips, were married on 8/25/1779. (Vol. 36, image 65.) No last names were listed. The previous year, a daughter named Frances was born to John and Phillis Williams, “negroes.” (Vol. 31, image 148). (Frances was baptized 3/21/1779). Was she born to a different John and Phillis, or was she what was then called a “natural child,” although not noted as such?

Clearly, this kind of research can be very complicated and messy. However, with these records online and available to the public, the tracing of black American families in colonial Philadelphia has become a more promising endeavor.

Two emergency burials?

by Jean Craig

In the course of transcribing lists of names and dates to expand their usefulness locally and throughout the world of research, aspects recorded in otherwise repetitive information wakes up curiosity, and these details evoke yet other questions. 

From volume 4 of the Burial Records of the Second Presbyterian Church, p. 48: February 20th, 1819 records the burial of “a child of a stranger at the furlgate in the Old York Road.”  Wikipedia says that the Old York Road was built in the 18th century to connect Philadelphia and New York City.  Its beginning (or one end) was at 4th and Vine, not far from Second Presbyterian Church, or from a fair number of other Philadelphia churches.  What was the connection to this church? 

What was a furlgate?  The Internet pointed to the English word falgate, derived from the Middle English “fold gate”; this was an entryway to an enclosure, possibly for cattle or sheep. Were the people drovers who made the request for burial?  The word came to mean an inn-yard.  Various inns of England have the name Falgate; were the people in Pennsylvania traveling by the Swift Sure Stage Coach Line which covered the York Road route and perhaps had stopped somewhere still known as the falgate to deal with a four-year old child in distress? 

The time of year would have meant penetrating cold and precipitation.  Were the travelers near enough to Philadelphia to hope they’d arrive soon enough to get help for the child?    Whoever sought burial for the child had to come up with $8 for the cost of interment.   

 From Vol.6, p. 8 of the same church’s Burial Records for 1837-1850:  Burial entry 590 for October 28, 1845, records the death of Susan Jackson Bancroft, daughter of the Secretary of the Navy.  He was George Bancroft, a wonderfully energetic and broad-minded man who took full advantage of every opportunity given him for education and making a social contribution.  He was appointed Secretary to the Navy by President James K. Polk.  His appointment was political, and his time in office was brief, but long enough for him to establish the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis to provide structured learning for midshipmen awaiting assignment to ships. Little Susan was 6 years old, from Bancroft’s second marriage to a Bostonian, Elizabeth Davis Bliss; Susan’s middle name was for Andrew Jackson; her father was a staunch Democrat.

By this time, but before the coming of medical examiners, churches were recording causes of death where possible.  The church record states that Susan Bancroft died of “marasmus,” usually interpreted as starvation, this unbelievable given the Bancrofts’ prosperity and sophistication.  Susan may have been a fragile child, and her cause of death “failure to thrive” because of her body’s inability to assimilate certain proteins.   Again, why this church?  Bancroft then worked in Washington, D.C. Was the couple or family traveling or visiting here when their child descended into her final illness?   Her remains were placed in the vault of the Leiper family, in the Arch St. burial ground, for no charge.   In vol. 6 p. 14 [addenda], ten years later, on Oct. 22, 1856, during the great migration to what were then roomier suburban cemeteries outside of city limits, Order no. 708 requests the removal of her remains from that vault, to go to South Laurel Hill Cemetery, but her name is not on the records there.  The Bancrofts were New Englanders.  George was born and buried in Worcester, Mass.  Might she have been taken there? 

Call for Proposals: A Symposium on the Digitized Records of Philadelphia’s Historic Congregations

Date: November 2, 2022

Hybrid conference, virtual and in-person at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia

After five years of digitizing and harvesting the records of Philadelphia’s historic congregations, we have more than 80,000 scanned documents reflecting faith traditions, family celebrations and liturgical changes as well as political and social issues of the 18th and early to mid 19th century. The project brings these records together with transcriptions, lesson plans, a digital map, and recordings of talks given over the course of the project.

To celebrate the project’s conclusion we invite scholars, genealogists, teachers and all those interested to share their experiences in using religious records and what they’ve learned from them. Our focus is on the time period the project covers, 1680-1871, and may include topics such as biography, genealogy, reconciliation projects, and archival methodology. Talks can take the form of single papers or panel discussions.

Our keynote speaker is Julie P. Winch, Ph.D., Professor of History from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, who specializes in the history of African Americans, the Early Republic, maritime history and online research. Dr. Winch has written a number of books in these fields, including Between Slavery and Freedom: Free People of Color in America from Settlement to the Civil War (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).

To submit a proposal, please include a 250-word abstract with the resumes of your speakers, and send it to Carol Smith, Archivist for Christ Church and the Christ Church Preservation Trust, at

Deadline for submissions: August 15, 2022

Notification of acceptance: September 1, 2022

Contact for questions: Carol Smith, Archivist, Christ Church and Christ Church Preservation Trust and one of the project’s primary investigators.

About the project: “Digitizing the Records of Philadelphia’s Historic Congregations: Providing Documentation for the Political, Social and Cultural Developments in Philadelphia,” is a multi-year initiative supported by the Council on Library and Information Resources and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with supplemental funding by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the Connelly Foundation. It has brought together the records of 17 different congregations established in Philadelphia in the 18th century. Those manuscript materials include minutes, sacramental registers, sermons, correspondence, accounting records and more. The site can be viewed at

Shape-note music

Contributed by Jean Craig

When we choose a new set of documents or a ledger to transcribe, interesting material can appear in the pages outside of the formal texts or lists.  Sometimes there are sketches, short jottings, loose material inserted, or other writings that the contemporary person did not want to let slip away. Our mandate is to try and describe these addenda as carefully as we can, as what we supply may add important social or historical context and be of help to a researcher. And, sometimes, these addenda prove intriguing and fun.

One such find — historical, cultural, and intriguing — was on an endpaper at the close of the first volume of Burial Records for the Second Presbyterian Church, with records dating from 1785 to 1808.  On a page with a final few entries and other jottings, I saw what appeared to be a design of some sort running down the outside edge of the paper.  Upon rotating the image, the “design” proved to be a hymn written on an extended staff as shape-note music. 

Running down the right margin of this page [76]: the word Condolance [sic] written at the very edge of the page; below it is a hymn written as shape-note music; the first verse is written below the staff and reads:

Kind is the speech of Christ our Lord.
Affection sounds in every word
Lo thou art fair my love he cries
Not the young doves have sweeter eyes

Shape note music was a notation created in England in the late 18th century to allow people with little to no musical training to sing in churches or at social gatherings. The different shapes helped in finding pitches in major or minor scales, and became very popular in early America, especially in rural areas. Contemporaries sometimes called the shaped notes “dunce” notes, but they were easy to learn and made people without access to music lessons or money for musical instruments able to participate in singing. In this case, one of the church officials, perhaps the sexton or one of his helpers, appreciated this hymn enough to set it down and have it available, and shape notes allowed that to happen.

An internet search of the first line of this hymn went to, which gives the title of the hymn as The Completeness of Christ, and its author as Rev. Isaac Watts (1674-1748). also includes a chart showing the popularity of the hymn over time, and refers to a set of volumes Watts published around 1707, entitled Hymns and Spiritual Songs, a later edition of which has been published online by Project Gutenberg. In this edition, the title of the song is given as “The church’s beauty in the eyes of Christ.”

Second Presbyterian’s Session Minutes, vol. 1, 1744-1798, pp. 40-42, mention Watts’ paraphrases of the Psalms, because they caused a commotion when they were suddenly introduced to the congregation in that year. This was not because the music was inferior, but because conservative members wanted what they were used to, and had not been given enough notice of the change, even a change that had been OK’d by the Synod.  The church held a special meeting of the congregation with a vote to settle the matter; Watt’s work won the day.  The conservatives in the congregation wanted to mount an appeal to the Session, which was granted, but the Session notes don’t record any further action. Rev. Watts’s hymns were enormously popular in the 18th century and beyond. Congregations still sing some of them nowadays.