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?