Genealogy Find: Deaths Reported in Philadelphia Alms House

Americans have taken care of their vulnerable neighbors in different ways over the centuries.

For example, in Colonial Philadelphia there was established an “Alms House & House of Employment,” often called the Alms House for short. It was located on Spruce Street.

illustration of Philadelphia's Alms House, 1800

Credit: Independence Hall Association, Philadelphia: Birch’s View of Philadelphia in 1800

Back in Colonial and Early America, when families, the elderly, or those with needs couldn’t make it on their own, they turned to their neighbors for help. Communities responded by erecting alms houses like this one in Philadelphia.

Also called “work houses,” these public shelters—often run by local churches or groups—provided housing and food in exchange for work on various projects. People relied on these institutions for support until they were able to reestablish themselves.

Some residents could not manage to reestablish their independence, and ended up dying in the work houses—as in this list of 22 men, women and children that died at the Philadelphia Alms House in 1803.

deaths in Philadelphia's Alms House, Poulson's American Daily Advertiser newspaper article 9 September 1803

Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 9 September 1803, page 3

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