Uncovering a Historic African American Burial Ground in Philadelphia

May 21, 2013


Map of Bethel Burying Ground - Philadelphia

While consulting on another research project, Philadelphia historian Terry Buckalew “came across the name of a 19th century African American burial ground in the 400 block of Queen Street in a southern neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.” Intrigued, he began doing research and discovered the ground for The Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was purchased in 1810 by the trustees of the church, among them prominent historical figure Reverend Richard Allen. For many years now the grounds have been in use as a municipal playground.




Mr. Buckalew currently has “an application in front of the Philadelphia Historical Commission to have the Bethel Burying Ground placed on their Register. If my application is successful it will mean that a vital layer of protection will be installed against any future disturbance of the remains that lie under the Weccaco Playground. There will be a hearing on the application on the 29th of May [2013]. At that time I will be able to present my case to the Commission.”



Letters of support can be sent directly to –


Jonathan E. Farnham, Ph.D.

Executive Director

Philadelphia Historical Commission

Room 576, City Hall

Philadelphia, PA 19107




18 June 2013 - Great News! An Update from Terry Buckalew:


"On June 14, 2013, the Philadelphia Historical Commission voted unanimously to place the Bethel Burial Ground on the City’s Register of Historic Places. The Commissioners ruled that the Bethel Burial Ground has yielded and will likely continue to yield information important to the City of Philadelphia and its citizens. Because of this ruling, the Bethel Burying Ground is now under the protection of the Historical Commission and will be covered by City preservation ordinances. The site is now eligible for a Historical Commission Plaque from the City.


Simultaneously, an archeological survey is being performed on the burial ground by order of The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission of the Commonwealth to determine the location and depths of the graves. The survey is ongoing and results will not be made public for several weeks. At the conclusion of this survey the Bethel Burying Ground will also be under the protection of Commonwealth preservation laws. The burial ground will also be eligible for a Pennsylvania State Historical Marker."



To read Terry Buckalew’s blog about the background of his work and what he has uncovered, please see –



To read a recent newspaper article (Philly.com, posted 9 December 2013), please see –



To read a timeline and historical sketch of the Bethel Burying Ground see –

Bethel Burying Ground Historical Sketch and Timeline


Terry Buckalew has created a list with the names of 1,405 persons interred in the Mother Bethel Burying Ground which can be viewed here – Bethel Burying Ground Name Directory (updated list, 10 November 2013)