A Glimpse of Philadelphia History at Mount Moriah

What Was Going On 150 Years Ago
 in August 1866….

150 years ago, August 1866, in the United States, the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 had just been enacted in April 1866 over President Andrew Johnson’s veto – this was the first United States federal law to define citizenship and affirm that all citizens are equally protected by the law.  Its main focus was to protect the civil rights of people of African descent (i.e., especially former slaves and their descendants) who came to this country, most of them against their will.

During the Civil War, African-Americans were forbidden from riding street cars during this time.  William Still (an abolitionist and often referred to as the Father of the Underground Railroad) formed a committee that in 1861 petitioned The Board of Presidents of the City Railways to end the segregation; after more than 1000 committee meetings, it took until 1865 for the railways’ presidents to do something – they left it up to their white passengers by polling them, in 1865, to either end segregation or maintain the status quo.  It wasn’t until when Senator Morrow B. Lowry introduced, for the third time a bill to end this segregation, a bill which finally passed in 1867 and ended the street car segregation in Philadelphia.

In June, the Chestnut Street Bridge was formally opened by the 27th “post-independence”  mayor of Philadelphia, Morton McMichael. a Republican who was serving a three year term at the time.

On July 4, in the “Grand Parade”  there were representatives from over one hundred veteran regiments, along with orphan children of soldiers and sailors killed during the “rebellion”. State flags carried by the regiment color-guards were restored to Governor Andrew G. Curtin. Ceremonies were conducted at Independence Square. A presentation was made by the mayor to General George G. Meade.

On August 4, Moyamensing Hall, Christian Street above 9th, was set on fire and totally destroyed – “The deed was committed by persons opposed to the use of the hall as a cholera hospital, cholera prevailing at this time.”

The National Union Convention was held Aug 14-16 in Philadelphia @ the “Wigwam”, located on Girard Ave between 19th and 20th Streets. The National Union was trying to form a new political party in support of President Andrew Johnson, who was considered by many to be too pro-Southern in the wake of the Civil War (his post-war plans provided no protection to the former slaves).  The new political party never emerged; Johnson was impeached on Feb 24,1868.

The Philly population was approximately 600,000 in 1860, which was good enough to be # 2 in the country – in 1840, the population was just 93,000.  Over 500,000 people were added in just twenty years (hard to imagine the opportunities, etc. during this period)

Major occupations in Philly at the time included shoemaker, blacksmith, cabinet maker,  stone mason, collector, baker, innkeeper, tailor, carman, potter, carpenter, harness maker, cooper, weaver, hatter, machinist, sailmaker, loftsman, to name just a few.

African-Americans and women were not allowed to vote.

There were 117 internments at Mount Moriah that month; sadly, 55 (55 – almost one half of the 117!) were children 2 years of age or younger.  The primary causes of the children’s deaths were cholera or marasmus; three were stillborn.  Cholera is a bacterial infection of the small intestine. The disease is characterized by extreme pain and dehydration from violent diarrhea and vomiting.  Marasmus is a form of severe malnutrition.

The cholera epidemics that struck Philadelphia in 1832, 1849, and 1866 provided a catalyst for transforming the health and hygiene standards of the city.

For the 62 others that were interred that month, death was primarily due to dysentery, marasmus, consumption, cholera, pneumonia.  One male’s death was due to a “bank vault falling on him.” One adult, who lived to be 90, died of “palsey” (sic).

Though a cursory review/investigation of those who were interred at Mount Moriah in August 1866 didn’t reveal anyone of notoriety, they were all somebody.  They might not have been successful businessmen, had developed any patents, or had been decorated by their country (heck, half of them were under 2 years old), but they are the people who are at the heart of Mount Moriah – all with a life, identified, as Paulette says, with the “—” between the birth date and the death date. The adults were just like us and we are just like them, fortunate enough to have some type of narrative behind the dash and living to realize what the date on the right is gonna be.

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