African American Burial Ground in Northeast Philadelphia
February 18, 2013
Digital Report by Joseph J. Menkevich
As a member of the research committee of the Historical Society of Frankford and as an independent researcher, I felt a moral obligation to personally contact a number of the area’s AME & Baptist Churches and inform them of this Historical Cemetery. Many members of the Black Community thanked me, as most had never heard about it before.
On the outskirts of Benjamin Rush State Park there is a small plot of ground that once belonged to the Byberry Preparative Meeting (Society of Friends).
In 1780, the Byberry Meeting established a cemetery for Free-Blacks & former Slaves. After 200 years of custodianship, & for reasons still unknown, the Byberry Friends sold the African American Cemetery to the City of Philadelphia.
Today – as Benjamin Rush State Park undergoes it’s final stages of development, the “[African Amerian] Historic Burial Ground Not To Be Disturbed” appears to be safely inside the Plan of the Park, however that may not be the case. It is presently unknown if the City still retains ownership or not.
Presently (no matter who “owns” it), there is no clarity on the fate of this cemetery and thus-far, there has not yet been any State or City Official speak on it’s inclusion to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places or for a ceremony & installation an Historical Marker.
On Thursday, January 27, 2013 – I met with State Park Manager Eric Ihlein at Benjamin Rush State Park and did we did a walk around the general area of African American Cemetery site.
Eric Ihlein explained many of the construction plans. What I understood from the conversation is that the Park has funding & a budget, but the African Cemetery is not included in that budget. The plan for now seems to be an ongoing study by several “historical groups.” Here are my findings:
Byberry Meeting African American Cemetery – Inventory & Reports
January 02, 2013, the Northeast Times carried an article highlighting a 220 year old African American Burial Ground on the corner of Benjamin Rush State Park. Link: A bit of history lies buried in Benjamin Rush State Park
August 26, 1993, Philadelphia Inquirer states that the African Burial ground was discovered due to a routine geological survey done for the General Services Administration. Link to story: Cemetery To Rest In Peace
One sixteen page research report done by the Byberry Librarian Helen File, undated. This report includes some GIS mapping done by Fred Moore of the Northeast Philadelphia History Network (NEPHN). Read or download this report here: colored cem4a.pdf
One eighteen page U.S. Government Phase II Archeological Study, dated September 16, 1993. It is a complete report containing maps, photos and recommendations. Read or download the .pdf here: Byberry Meeting African American Cemetery[Note – the GSA Report mis-cited deed WSV.813.4 & WSV.813.6 as WSV.513.4 and WSV.513.6]
Related Cemetery Deed (1872)
Related Cemetery Deed (1906)
April 14, 1806
The larger parcel bordering the cemetery – containing fifty-two acres and forty-two perches [excluding] “a lot of Burying Ground for the Black People”
April 2, 1849
The same large parcel bordering the cemetery –
“… along the middle of the said road by a burial ground for the colored people on one side and a lot formerly of Benjamin Adams on the other side … containing exclusive of the burial ground for the colored people, hereby expressly reserved and excepted, [containing] fifty acres and one-hundred-twenty-six perches …”
June 21, 1906
Larger parcel bordering the cemetery –
“All That Certain Messuage and Tract of Land … Bounded and described according to a Survey and Plan Thereof made by Clement B. Webster Esq., Surveyor of the Fourteenth Survey District May 24, 1906, as follows … to a point thence extending by Ground of Trustees of Byberry Preparative Meeting … sixty-two feet, eight & three-eights inches to a point … Thence extending still by the same ground … one-hundred-twenty feet, nine & three-eights inches to a point in the middle of Townsend Road …Containing Fifty-Two and 7494/10000th Acres”
City Atlas of Philadelphia, Vol. 3, 23rd Ward, 1876 – G. M. Hopkins
Thornton Stackhouse property in Upper left Corner Plate Q
Atlas of the City of Philadelphia, 35th Ward, 1927
Geo. W. and Walter S. Bromley,
Harry N. Simons property in Upper Right Corner, Plate 25
Joseph C. Martindale indicated that when it came to paying taxes, many were taxed double for refusal to comply or answer to the tax collector.
In 1767, the tax on having a servant was £1. 10s, while it was £4.0 for every negro, so there may have been an incentive to in just paying double as opposed to being truthful. See Philadelphia County (Pa.). Commissioners – The particulars of each person’s estate, as appears by the township and ward assessors’ returns as follows.
The 1769 Tax does not list Negroes or Servants as being different, see:
In 1779 most Byberry residents or estates paid double taxes, see:
Records not always to be relied upon
In Early Quaker education in Pennsylvania by Thomas Woody, 1920, on Education of Negroes and Indians:
‘Byberry Preparative Meeting makes no reference during the early years to the status of the Negro in its limits. Martindale, in a History of Byberry and Moreland, states that slavery came into Byberry about 1721, the slaves being employed by the more opulent class to do the roughest work. The inventory of a Friends’ property (1727) showed that he possessed “one negro girl, £20, and one negro boy, £30. Of their intervening history little is recorded, though the Negroes were set free by many members of Friends, and in 1779 the meeting authorized Silas Walmsley and William Walmsley to provide a suitable burying ground for the use of Negroes who had been freed. What was done for their education is not known.
It is noticeable that in the earliest answers to the query concerning Negroes (about 1756) the majority of the monthly meetings usually answered in an offhand manner that they were “clear” or there were “none to be charged with that breech,” or something to that effect.’
The Byberry Friends Report and the GSA Report have some overlap. Each citing similar sources & deeds. Each report also contains information missing from the other.
The GSA Report was rather complete, with a neutral bias, relying upon several records at Swarthmore College.
It also relied heavily on Joseph C. Martindale to be an highly credible & accomplished historian of his time period. The report also took notice to the “little mounds,” giving credence to a possibility of many burials.
Martindale proved there were several negroes present in Byberry as he cited a Petition against A Tavern to be kept by Richard Carver, June 2, 1746
“…The inhabitants signed a remonstrance against granting this application, in which it was stated that it would be an injury to the neighborhood; that there was no need of a tavern in the place, as three were already within three miles, and that it would only be a resort for idle persons, servants, and negroes.”
December 01, 1755
“Petition against A Tavern proposed to be Kept By one Buskerk at the Sign of the 3 Sticks: Jacob Buskirk … hath Erected a Little house in the sd: township of bybury in order as we have heard to Keep A Tavern provided he can obtain license for the purpose …”
see: Petitions for Tavern Licenses, Society Miscellaneous Collection, box 4a, which confirms both Martaindale’s tavern accounts. (1755 extract is from HSP collection).
According to one of the deeds, Watson C. Martindale was the Trustee for the African Burial Ground, and he was also Joseph’s brother. Another brother, Isaac C Martindale, helped him collect historical documents & publish his book.
His father Charles Martindale purchased from Edward Parry 72 1/4 acres in 1836. It was located on Black Run Lake. see: J.C. Sydney, Surveyor, 1849 Plan of the townships of Byberry and Moreland View map.
In 1843, his father also made a purchase from Robert Comfort. It was Trust Deed for the lands of Silas Titus. This deed involved several people including Robert Purvis.
I believe that Joseph C. Martindale should be considered an expert witness on Byberry History, having spent his childhood living on his father’s farm.
I place negative bias on the January 02, 2013 Northeast Times Article for minimizing & downplaying the importance of the African Cemetery, citing “no records of any kind” & being “only aware of one burial.”
The August 26, 1993, Philadelphia Inquirer was key in proving that the State & City has had long standing knowledge of the Cemetery, but has failed to follow the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s recommendations for fencing and an historic marker.
Finding the 1993 GSA Report
Acknowledgment to Stuart Paul Dixon, the principal investigator for research of former African-American graveyard. He also worked in the Department of Park Planning, the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks, and was on the Advisory Council of Historic Preservation for General Services Administration. Mr. Dixon passed away in 2008.
If We The People are the government – then We have the authority to demand preservation and respect for this burial site. – Fiñus
This compilation may contain copyrighted materials, however, as it is being used for educational purposes & not for profit, it falls under FAIR USE.
Materials on hyperlinked web sites is the property or responsibility of their respective owners.
All deeds were obtained from the web based Historic Records in the City of Philadelphia’s microfilm collection.
The were in a raw numerical format, research was necessary to find them. I assigned the names, book pages, numbers and names – as well as altered or rotated the image and therefor consider myself the author and copyright owner. Please cite my name when reusing the numbered deed images and corresponding affixed information.
Joseph J. Menkevich © 2013 all rights reserved