Title: Army Private, World War I, Purple Heart recipient
Birthdate: September 13, 1898
Death Date: May 17, 1943
Plot Location: Section 57, Lot J 10
John’s mother was his father’s second wife. Charles’ first wife died while delivering the last of seven children during their ten years of marriage. On top of that tragedy, five of her babies died before the age of 10 months. John’s mother, Margaret (“Maggie”), was also widowed from her first spouse and was raising her daughter, Elizabeth Black Smith.
Charles was 44 and Maggie was 30 in 1893 when they exchanged vows in front of “the Marrying Parson,” Rev. William Burrell of Camden, New Jersey. (He is buried here at Mount Moriah, and his own Notable life story can be found here.) Their first child, Jennie, was born in 1894, followed by James Black Rodgers in 1897, then John Black Rodgers, then Walter Black Rodgers in 1901. Their middle names were in honor of Maggie’s mother, whose maiden name was Black.
Maggie was widowed again when Charles died in July, 1901, three months before Walter was born. Raising four children under the age of 7 was impossible by herself, especially after Elizabeth got married the following year when she was 16.
The following facts help piece together how and where Maggie and her family lived for the next dozen years: Jennie got tuberculosis and died in 1909; Walter’s name was found in the 1910 census at the Presbyterian Orphanage at 58th and Chester Avenue; Maggie was living with and caring for her 81-year-old mother on Cemetery Avenue near Mount Moriah.
James and John were listed that year at St. John’s Catholic Boys Orphanage at 49th and Wyalusing Ave. (Their father was Catholic and was buried at Old Cathedral Cemetery). They may not have been there very long; they were baptized on March 26, 1911 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, which was across the street from Walter’s orphanage.
Hopefully, Maggie was able to reunite her family before long. Her mother died in 1914 and was buried at Mount Moriah. (Her name was Elizabeth Black Taylor, one of 19 women named Elizabeth Taylor who are buried here.) But it was less than four years later that Maggie died, after seeing her boys become men. The good news is that Lizzie and the boys remained close to each other for the rest of their lives.
John was the first to sign up to fight after the United States declared war on Germany. He enlisted on July 6, 1917 in Company M of the 109th Infantry Regiment and shipped out for France on May 3, 1918. His company was in the Second Battle of Marne in July. John had to be hospitalized in August after being wounded in the head and leg, but was back on duty in September. He remained in France until early 1919 when he was discharged and would later receive the Purple Heart.
(Another soldier from Company M who is buried at Mount Moriah also received the Purple Heart. Read the Notable life story of George Henry Hoffman here.)
James joined the Army in September of 1918 and was with the 49th Evac Hospital in France through August of 1919. Walter was also in the service, but proof of that was not discovered until the 1920 census listed him in the Navy with the crew of the USS Proteus, a transport ship in the Caribbean.
The next record for John was the 1930 census showing him living in Ridley Township in Delaware County working in a machine shop. He had just married 17-year-old Sarah Edna Patton in late 1929 and they were living with her parents. The enumerator that knocked on their door on April 4 wasn’t told that Edna had given birth to Robert Walter Rodgers the day before.
The couple had their first daughter, Rita, four years later, followed by Florence in 1935, John Black Jr. in 1936, Bill in 1940, and Edward in 1942. But these were the Depression years. Jobs were hard to find. John found work as a longshoreman as part of a federal “New Deal” employment program called the Works Progress Administration.
In 1940 President Roosevelt delivered a fireside chat to the American people about “the approaching storm” of another world war. Shortly after that, John got a job at the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company’s South Philadelphia Works (although it was located west of the airport in Delaware County).
The typical customers of the company’s Steam Turbine Division were electric utilities, but attention shifted toward military contracts. The plant began manufacturing marine propulsion equipment for Navy carriers, and John was part of that.
It came to an unexpected end in 1943, just nine months after his last child, Edward, was born. John had arteriosclerosis that led to a fatal heart attack. Edna was faced with the same horrendous decisions John’s mother faced forty years earlier, except with six children. She made the difficult, loving decision to let Edward be placed for adoption. Fifty years later he got the chance to be reunited with his biological family, which meant a lot to him and his siblings.
Both of John’s brothers enjoyed careers with Westinghouse starting in the 1930s. (In 1945 the South Philadelphia Works employed a staggering 15,000 workers.) Walter had the same coronary occlusion as John, which took his life in 1950, but James was able to retire from the plant around 1960.
Edna remarried and died in Chester County in 2000. James and his wife and children were the only relatives to join John and sister Jennie at Mount Moriah’s wooded southwestern corner in section 57. Maggie’s grave is not far but in the heavily overgrown section 66. His grandmother, Elizabeth, was buried across the creek in Section 121.
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