African Burial Site in Philadelphia: Besides the famous????

There was an article published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on November 10th, 2013 about a cemetery that was located in the Queen Village neighborhood of South Philadelphia.  The remains of at leas 5,000 people of African descent are interred there.  It is located in Weccacoe Playground and my interest is in the untold stories of the people whose final resting place this park represents.  How many of these citizens were born here?  How many struggled to find a way during this oppressive time for people of color?  I will try to dissect this into a couple of paragraphs but it might take two posts to complete this process.

What is the history of the present site of Weccacoe Playground?  An initial google search indicates that this
land was purchased by Rev. Richard Allen and his congregation in what was a major accomplishment at the
time.  If this effort was made in a Southern state, all hell would have broken loose:

 Now known as Weccacoe Playground, the plot was purchased by Reverend Richard
Allen and the trustees of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church on April
28, 1810 for $1,600. The Mother Bethel congregation had risen to 400 members in 1810 from its
original 40 members in 1794 and the need for burial space had out grown the very small amount
of land available around the church at 6th and Lombard Streets. Also adding to the immediate
need for land was the 1795 closing of the “Stranger’s Burial Ground” located in a corner of
Washington Square that had long been used as a burying ground for persons of color.

There were a number of free Africans living in Philadelphia at the time.  Reverend Richard Allen purchased his own freedom after his family was sold to a plantation owner in Delaware.  He founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816 when he and his friends felt unwelcome worshiping at St. George's Episcopal Church.  The tendency to worship with people of similar ancestry and gene pools is still evident today in the Catholic and Protestant churches.  The need to provide a proper burial place for one's relatives is strong.  I would have liked to know the circumstances surrounding the life of the following individuals:

6 Dec 1813: James Champion, 47, an original Mother Bethel trustee dies of
Tuberculosis and is buried at BBG. (PCDC)
 7 April 1814: Stephen Laws, 60, an original Mother Bethel trustee dies of Typhoid
Fever and is buried at BBG. (PCDC)
5 Oct 1814: Feticita Ardica, a 50-60 year old woman, dies of Dysentery and is buried
at BBG. She was born in Guinea, Africa. (PCDC)

What kind of food did they like?  What did they do for fun?  How hard was it to plan for success in a turbulent society.  What did they do on beautiful summer days?  To live to between 47 and sixty years old indicates that they saw many instances of truth, injustice and eye opening experiences.

I mentioned turbulence.  It was a fact of life for Africans at the time.  There were riots in Cincinnati in 1827 and 1829 that led to the emigration of Africans to Canada.  The Wilberforce Colony was a response to white Americans at the time being uncomfortable with a growing population of people of color.  A shocking instance here was recorded as follows:

1838 Pennsylvania Hall was constructed at the corner of 6th and Haines Street as a meeting place for abolitionist groups to discuss and debate slavery. Three days after it opened, the building was attacked by an anti-abolition mob and burned to the ground.

I can only estimate how long it took to plan the construction of Pennsylvania Hall.  The African Methodist Episcopal Church had been a stop on the Underground Railroad from 1797 - 1831.  Many slaves stopped there on their way to freedom somewhere up north.  The movie, 12 Years a Slave, tells what happened when slave owners got tired of Africans escaping to freedom.  The destruction of Pennsylvania Hall shows the anger inherent in the white population when Africans strove for independence in this society.

Some of the other famous names of people buried here are Ignatius Beck, a former slave who helped build the U.S. Capitol and died in Philadelphia in 1849.  Sarah Bass Allen, wife of Reverend Richard Allen was also buried there in the same year.  John Bliss, a musician and James Champion, a church trustee, also called this their eternal resting place.  The site is currently a playground.  In many societies, the need to reuse land is a priority.  I can imagine the untold stories of Native American tribes like the Lenni Lenape's who lived here for thousands of years before European settlers arrived and began their walk towards the formation of the United States.  History is meant to be kept alive and learned from.  I hope we can agree on the proper handling of the remains of our African ancestors in South Philadelphia.

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