218 Arch Street is now a residential condo building. If you are at the site, walk east and turn right down Little Boy's Court. The condo has a sunken courtyard. That is the location of the bulk of the human remains excavated at this site.
In 2016 during the construction of a 25-unit residential housing complex at 218 Arch Street, human remains were uncovered. It was determined that this was a burial ground of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia (founded 1698), and eventually about 500 remains were uncovered. Despite several historic preservation regulations, including: the historic preservation ordinance of 1955, the Old City Historic District designation, and the Historic Burial Places Preservation Act of 1994, none applied. As such, it was up to the developer to decide what to do. Authorities simply told PMC that they needed to retain the bones for reburial when excavation was complete.
In 1707, the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia moved into a former Quaker meeting house that fronted Second Street. Behind the meeting house was a burial ground. The First Baptist Church of Philadelphia was a well-connected congregation. When it took over the meeting house and burial ground, it opened up the cemetery to different sects and faiths. In 1855, the church moved again to a new location at Arch and Broad streets, and the cemetery fell into disrepair. The church applied for a license from the city Board of Health to move the graves to Mount Moriah cemetery south of the city. Approval came in December 1859. The move to Mount Moriah was to be made in haste. But by that point, perhaps 3,000 or more people had been buried at the First Baptist burial ground, according to Dr. Nicholas Bonneau, principal historian of the Arch Street Project. “They only had three months, from January 1st to April 1st, in the middle of winter, to move what we now know are thousands of bodies,” Dr. Bonneau said.
Newspaper articles indicate some relocation work occurred. An article on March 8th,1860, in The Public Ledger recounted how relatives of the dead, asked to identify their ancestors, were shocked to find many barely decomposed in their coffins. Some headstones at Mount Moriah predate 1859, but it is likely at least some of the bodies were left behind.
The human remains recovered from 218 Arch Street form "The Arch Street Project", a multi-institutional research effort led by Rutgers University-Camden, the College of New Jersey, and the Mutter Research Institute. The remains will be reburied in September 2023 at Mount Moriah cemetery in section 112, the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia plot where they were intended to go in 1860.
--compiled by Milosz Krupinski
Sources & More Information
- The Arch St Project
- A Colonial-Era Cemetery Resurfaces in Philadelphia
- Unearthing stories hidden in the bones of a forgotten burial ground
- Old bones found - and nobody's in charge
- Colonial Cemetery Accidentally Unearthed in Philadelphia
- Yellow fever Philadelphia July 1797: list of the dead
- First Baptist Church Removals
- The Public Ledger, 8 March 1860