Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Philadelphia and Its People in Maps:
The 1790s

African American Heads of Household

map showing homes with African American heads of household

Map Copyright 2012, Paul Sivitz and Billy G. Smith, published with permission.

Black Philadelphians congregated in two major groupings. A few blocks north of the State House (subsequently named Independence Hall), a sympathetic white Quaker was willing to rent housing to free black people. Another group settled on Fifth Street, in the city’s southwestern section. (Map Copyright 2012, Paul Sivitz and Billy G. Smith, published with permission.)

Most free black people lived in households containing between seven and fifteen people, as compared to the 6.2 average size of all households in Philadelphia. When given a choice, African Americans seemingly decided to live with others of their own race rather than in households headed by white men, who might expect to exercise control over their lives. During the 1790s, the expanding, vibrant community of black residents established the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first free black Christian church in the Western World. The original church was an old blacksmith’s shop, which they moved to Sixth Street, in the midst of where many black free householders resided. Their neighborhood concentration surely facilitated the establishment of the church.

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