Black Philadelphians in the Samuel George Morton Cranial Collection

Paul Wolff Mitchell [1]

 Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania

Affiliated Doctoral Fellow, Penn Medicine and the Afterlives of Slavery, PRSS

Provost’s Graduate Academic Engagement Fellow, Netter Center for Community Partnerships

Associate Editor, History of Anthropology Review

February 15, 2021




From the 1760s until the 1880s, bodies of Black Philadelphians were often graverobbed for dissection and anatomical study in medical schools and private collections. Many of these remains came from the potter’s field, or unmarked communal burial ground, of the Philadelphia almshouse, a free public hospital at which many Penn Medicine faculty worked and trained medical students. Among the few surviving nineteenth-century anatomical collections with documented remains from the Philadelphia almshouse is the Samuel George Morton cranial collection, now at the Penn Museum. The Penn Museum is built on the former grounds of the Philadelphia almshouse, facing and adjacent to the potter’s field, now under Penn’s Franklin Field and surrounding streets, where bodies of some of those Philadelphians whose skulls are now in the Penn Museum were interred. Records of the Black community in Philadelphia in this period suggest that some of the estimated fourteen Black Philadelphians whose skulls are now at the Penn Museum were individuals who were born enslaved. All of the more than thirty white and Black Philadelphians whose skulls were acquired by Morton demonstrate the racially and socioeconomically discriminatory aspects of anatomical collection in the nineteenth century, as well as Penn’s role in the long and intertwined afterlives of slavery, medical racism, and racial science.


Graverobbing in the American City of Medicine

 In 1732, a public almshouse opened in Philadelphia as the institution of last resort for the city’s orphans, indigent, and people with both physical and mental illnesses. A century later, Philadelphia’s swelling population and a cholera epidemic prompted relocation of the city’s almshouse from Center City to rural Blockley Township on the western bank of the Schuylkill River.[2] (See images 1 - 3 at the end of this report.) While the institution offered shelter and medical care to the city’s poorest and most vulnerable residents, conditions at the almshouse were frequently described as abysmal throughout the nineteenth century.[3]

The only physical remnant of the Blockley Almshouse, later known as the Philadelphia Hospital or Philadelphia General Hospital, is a brick and wrought iron fence extending along a few blocks near the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Remains of almshouse patients, oftener called and treated as “inmates” in the nineteenth century, also have had a long afterlife on Penn’s campus. Bodies of Philadelphia almshouse inmates were frequently used during life and after death for anatomical and pathological investigation. Medical students from Penn, Jefferson, the Eclectic Medical College, and the Medical Department of Pennsylvania College, among other schools, gained clinical experience and learned anatomy at the almshouse. Appropriation of the bodies of those they treated was not only useful for training physicians, but also for establishing the Philadelphia General Hospital and medical schools associated with it, especially the University of Pennsylvania and Jefferson Medical College, as premier sites for medicine in the mid-nineteenth century United States.

Much of the price for making Philadelphia the American “city of medicine” in the nineteenth century was paid in cadavers. Criminals and persons who had committed suicide had long been the legally sanctioned source of bodies for medical schools.[4] Remains of the enslaved were also a significant portion of the traffic of dead bodies in the antebellum period.[5] Overall, the bodies of poor, marginalized, and Black Americans were made into the objects of nineteenth-century anatomy.[6] As testament to the period’s socioeconomic and racial disparities in medical dissection, elaborate grave markers of physicians who dissected almshouse inmates can be found in Philadelphia’s most exclusive cemeteries, with intact remains interred undisturbed.

Both newspaper accounts and almshouse records indicate that Philadelphians were concerned about the disposition of their bodies after death. Protests about medical body snatching in Philadelphia trace to at least 1765, when Penn’s first anatomy professor, William Shippen, was mobbed for taking bodies from a potter’s field, or communal, public burial ground, in what is now Washington Square. The Black community responded to the ongoing pillaging of their corner of the same potter’s field in the 1780s.[7] But the practice continued, especially at the almshouse. In 1845, the almshouse board was petitioned by some of its members to prevent graverobbing in its designated potter’s field: “that it occasions dread and anxiety in the minds of some of the inmates of this House, is a well known fact” and “to be buried elsewhere is sometimes asked as the last and greatest favor.” The board denied the request, claiming that “the colleges must have subjects,” and surmising that private cemeteries would be plundered if the potter’s field were unavailable to graverobbing “resurrectionists.”[8] Following newspaper reports of a Schuylkill river ferryman selling almshouse corpses to medical students, in 1861 the board began to change its stance and instituted barriers to graverobbing, particularly in the form of a vault in which corpses would be secured until they were sufficiently decomposed to be useless for anatomical study.[9] All the while, resurrectionists raided private cemeteries, especially Black ones. In 1882, hundreds of graves in the African American Lebanon Cemetery in South Philadelphia were found empty after years of systematic depredations of medical graverobbers associated with Jefferson Medical School.[10] Public outcry against these thefts instigated the Pennsylvania Anatomy Act of 1883, providing legal, although still racially and socioeconomically discriminatory, avenues by which medical schools could be supplied with cadavers.[11]


Bodies to Specimens to Collections

 In a 2004 excavation at the site of the Center City almshouse burial ground, archaeologists found the headless but otherwise intact skeletal remains of three children. These remains are a stark reminder that physicians and students did not always return everything to the ground after dissection.[12] Blockley housed a pathological museum filled with bones, preserved soft tissues, and other anatomical preparations made from its inmates.[13] Bodies from the almshouse were also made into specimens for medical school anatomical museums and private collections. Given that access to bodies was crucial for many aspects of nineteenth century medical education, anatomical collections and medical museums flourished in this period: the pathological and anatomical collections of the Pennsylvania Hospital, the Wistar and Horner Anatomical Museum, and the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia are examples that span the century, as are the private cranial collection (ca. 1820-1839) of Dr. Richard Harlan, or the cranial collection (ca. 1839-1861) of Philadelphia Central High School’s anatomy professor, Dr. Henry McMurtrie.[14]

To demonstrate the size and scope of their holdings, many of these collections produced published “catalogues” or inventories of their specimens, some of which explicitly note the provenience of remains from the city almshouse.[15] More commonly, entries are not explicit about the sourcing of a particular bone or piece of preserved soft tissue. Given the prevalence of body snatching at the almshouse, and the many physicians donating to Philadelphia anatomical collections who were trained or worked at the almshouse, it is warranted to assume that remains in these catalogues may derive from the Philadelphia Hospital when no other provenience is given.

Due to the 1883 Anatomy Act, legal avenues for acquiring bodies for dissection in Pennsylvania were ample enough and punishments for graverobbing severe enough that motivation for body snatching from the almshouse potter’s field had ceased.[16] In the following decades, although specimens were still collected from dissected bodies, medical museums and anatomical collections faded from their mid-nineteenth century prominence. Specimens or entire collections disappeared, were privately sold, or were destroyed. Richard Harlan’s comparative anatomy collection of a few hundred pieces was destroyed in a fire in 1839.[17] The Wistar Institute’s anatomical and medical instruments collection was allegedly plundered in the mid-twentieth century by Penn Veterinary School anatomy professor Thomas Haviland; many human remains are still lost. Many remaining anatomical collections have lost much or all associated documentation, or identifying numbers or descriptions were never written on jars, bones, or affixed tags to match a particular specimen with its inventory description.

Perhaps the largest intact Philadelphia anatomical collection with the documented remains of almshouse inmates is the cranial collection of Dr. Samuel George Morton.[18] Morton – a preceptor at Penn Medicine, physician, naturalist and professor of anatomy at the Medical Department of Pennsylvania College - recorded details about each of the nearly one thousand human skulls that he amassed and measured at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia between 1830-1851. Morton collected skulls and measured them to argue for Anglo-Saxon, white supremacy and to naturalize settler colonialism and the enslavement of Black people.[19] While Morton’s racist claims linking brain size, intelligence, and racial inequality were not unique, the size and scope of Morton’s collection and the masses of measurements he produced were unparalleled in his lifetime. Although colleagues across the world sent the majority of the skulls in his collection, Morton personally acquired the remains of at least fourteen white and Black Philadelphians in the same period that he worked as a resident physician at the Philadelphia almshouse, marking “S.G.M.” next to their entries in the first edition (1840) of his Catalogue of Skulls.[20] Some skulls sent from his colleagues (eg. #1319) are explicitly identified as deriving from the almshouse. Other entries contain highly suggestive clues, such as donation from physicians who were earning their medical degrees at Penn (which trained students at the almshouse) or who worked at the almshouse when the skulls were taken (eg. #74, #458). In total, the number of those who died in Philadelphia in the collection is more than thirty, with about half of them listed as belonging to Black people.[21]

By 1840, when Morton published his first Catalogue of Skulls, only a tiny fraction of Black people in Pennsylvania were enslaved.[22] Pennsylvania’s gradual abolition law banned the importation of slaves and freed Black people born in the state after 1780, but it kept those born before enslaved for life. (It also kept the children of those born before 1780 bound as indentured servants to their mother’s master until the age of 28.) Notably, records from the 1840s indicate that the total fraction of Black Philadelphians who were born into slavery was between one quarter or one third, and that about half of the Black inmates at the almshouse were born enslaved. The majority were born in slave states and immigrated to Philadelphia, which, despite recurrent anti-abolition and anti-Black riots in the 1830s-40s, was a haven for fugitive slaves and the Northern city with the largest Black population in the first half of the nineteenth century. While the fourteen skulls of Black Philadelphians that Morton collected – save for that of one individual, John Voorhees – have been divorced from their names, and tracing personal histories is likely impossible, it is nearly certain that some of these were acquired from people who were born enslaved and had gained their freedom in Philadelphia.

In the period of 1870-1882, the city sold large portions of the Blockley Almshouse grounds to the University of Pennsylvania, which began moving from Center City to West Philadelphia in 1872. Former almshouse grounds comprise the majority of the southern portion of Penn’s current campus. The Penn Museum was built at the edge of the almshouse potter’s field in 1899; Penn Medicine and associated hospitals and research centers were built around, and eventually in place of, central almshouse buildings. By 1895, the old almshouse potter’s field was used for athletics; it is now Franklin Field, directly across South Street from the Penn Museum. Excavations later revealed stacked burials descending twenty feet below the field; the connection of 33rd to Spruce Street yielded “many skulls and other ghastly osseous reminders.”[23] In 1966, Morton’s collection of skulls was transported from the Academy of Natural Sciences to the Penn Museum, across the street from the grounds into which the bodies of Philadelphians whose skulls were taken by Morton were discarded. (See images 2 – 6 below.)


Historic Anatomical Collections and the Afterlives of Slavery

 The Penn and Slavery Project’s April 2019 public symposium drew attention to over 50 individuals enslaved in Cuba and the United States whose remains are in the Morton cranial collection.[24] In the summer of 2020, following calls both in and outside of Penn, the Penn Museum removed the Morton collection from display in glass-fronted cabinets in a museum classroom, and has stated its intention to repatriate or rebury the remains of enslaved individuals in its collection. While this shift is significant, tracing the ways in which slavery structured the composition of anatomical collections in the nineteenth century necessarily extends beyond the work of identifying those who died while enslaved and were made into medical or anthropological objects. Black Philadelphians in Morton’s collection were not accounted for in this initial survey of the remains of enslaved people in the museum.

Slavery not only made bodies available to white anatomists who benefitted professionally and financially from them; it also motivated the development of racial sciences as a means to naturalize enslavement and white supremacy. In the collection of those bodies, remains were stripped of their personhood and histories: age, sex, and, of course, race are usually the only dimensions of identity that adhere to the remains listed in Morton’s Catalogue. The bones in the Wistar Institute’s collection, which were transferred to the Penn Museum after the Morton collection, have even sparser and more elliptical documentation. The holes and ambiguities in these records mean that it is likely impossible to determine if the remains of any particular Black person in these collections, whether taken by Morton or others, were those of a person born enslaved and died free. The demography of the Black community in Philadelphia in the 1830s-40s makes it highly likely that this is the case for at least some among that number. What is certain about the histories of these Philadelphians is that whatever the nature of the freedom they experienced in life, it did not vouchsafe dignity in death. Blackness, along with poverty, criminalization, and institutionalization, could void claims to bodily autonomy, especially in the carceral space of the nineteenth century almshouse.

The history of Blackness as object of medical and anthropological study cannot be made discrete from the history of slavery, just as Blackness and enslavement cannot be separated in accounting for the remains of Black Philadelphians in Morton’s skull collection. Any commitment to addressing Penn’s historical complicity in the institution of slavery must address itself to all aspects of anti-Black racism, which extends to all Black bodies in historic anatomical collections.[25] 


[1] With grateful acknowledgement to the contributions of Elana Evans, Louis Lozzi, and the “Histories of Race and Science Research Group” at Paul Robeson High School, including Davionne Belle, Eunice Darius, Danielle Edwards, Jadyn Kirton, Tiara Milas-Starks, and Aaliyah Reeves, and to the contributions of undergraduates enrolled in the fall 2020 Academically Based Community Service class “Histories of Race and Science in Philadelphia” (Anthropology 140), made possible by the Provost’s Graduate Academic Engagement Fellowship and the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, including Isabella Andreozzi, Christopher Carlson, Adriana Discher, Kyla Downs, Yendi Guindo, Christopher Jean, Bekezela Mbofana, Luna Moskal, Renee Osagiede, Jahnvi Patel, Sophia Walsh, and Susan Zare. With additional thanks to undergraduates Carson Eckhard and Gabriela Portillo Alvarado, who also assisted with this research, to Terry Buckalew, Jed Levin, Douglas Mooney, and Mike Zuckerman, who advised on the history and archaeology of Philadelphia, and to Kathy Brown, Adriana Petryna, Deborah Thomas, and Ezelle Sanford III, who provided valuable comments and improved the report.

[2] Charles Lawrence, History of the Philadelphia Almshouses and Hospitals, Philadelphia: Charles Lawrence, 1905, p. 116; John Welsh Croskey (editor), History of Blockley: A History of the Philadelphia General Hospital From Its Inception, 1731-1928. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company, 1929, p. 57.

[3]Croskey, History of Blockley; Charles Rosenberg, “From Almshouse to Hospital: The Shaping of Philadelphia General Hospital,” The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 60, no. 1 (1982), pp. 108-154.

[4] Michael Sappol, A Traffic of Dead Bodies: Anatomy and Embodied Social Identity in Nineteenth-Century America, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.

[5] Daina Ramey Berry, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation, New York: Penguin Random House, 2017.

[6] Megan Highet, “Body Snatching and Grave Robbing: Bodies for Science,” History and Anthropology 16, no. 4 (2005): 415-440; Edward Halperin. “The poor, the Black, and the marginalized as the source of cadavers in United States anatomical education,” Clinical Anatomy 20, no. 5 (2007), pp. 489-495.

[7] Jubilee Marshall, “Race, Death, and Public Health in Early Philadelphia, 1750–1793,” Pennsylvania History 87, no. 2 (2020), pp. 364-389.

[8] D.C. Humphrey, “Dissection and discrimination: the social origins of cadavers in America, 1760-1915,” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 49, no. 9, 1973, pp. 819–827.

[9] Charles Lawrence, History of the Philadelphia Almshouses and Hospitals, pp. 252-264.

[10] Alan C. Braddock, “‘Jeff College Boys’: Thomas Eakins, Dr. Forbes, and Anatomical Fraternity in Postbellum Philadelphia,” American Quarterly 57, no. 2, 2005, pp. 355-383.

[11] W.S. Forbes, History of the Anatomy Act of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Medical Publishing Company, 1898.

[12]Thomas A Crist, Douglas B Mooney, and Kimberly A Morrell, “‘The Mangled Remains of What Had Been Humanity’: Evidence of Autopsy and Dissection at Philadelphia’s Blockley Almshouse, 1835–1895,” in The Bioarchaeology of Dissection and Autopsy in the United States, ed. Kenneth C Nystrom, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2017, pp. 259-278.

[13] James Tyson, Catalogue of the specimens in the Pathological Museum of the Philadelphia Hospital (Philadelphia: Collins, 1874).

[14] Ann Fabian, The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010, p. 20; W.S.W. Ruschenberger to Samuel George Morton, February 28, 1844, Samuel George Morton Papers, Library Company of Philadelphia; John Trevor Custis, The Public Schools of Philadelphia: Historical, Biographical, Statistical, Philadelphia: Burk and McFetridge and Co., 1897, p. 147.

[15] For example, see page 33 of the Wistar and Horner Anatomical Collection’s 1850 Catalogue: “Enlarged nymphae [labia minora], excised from a syphilitic patient at the Philadelphia Hospital, by Dr. Horner.”

[16] “Anatomical Law of the State of Pennsylvania, Enacted June 13, 1883,” Science 3, no. 55, 1896, pp. 84-86.

[17] Fabian, The Skull Collectors, p. 20.

[18] John S. Michael, “An ‘American Humboldt’?: Memorializing Philadelphia Physician and Race Supremacist Samuel George Morton,” Pennsylvania History 87, no. 2, 2020, pp. 279-312.

[19] Paul Wolff Mitchell, “The fault in his seeds: Lost notes to the case of bias in Samuel George Morton’s cranial race science,” PLoS Biology 16, no. 10, 2018, e2007008.

[20] Morton only signs his initials next to crania from the almshouse when he identifies them as “lunatic” or “idiot.” Morton was medical staff at the almshouse from 1827 until 1835, including “over the river” at Blockley, see Lawrence, History of the Philadelphia almshouses and hospitals, p. 116, p. 394. The potter’s field for the Center City almshouse location, on 10th and 11th Streets between Spruce and Pine, is located in the area of 11th and 12th Streets and Christian Street and Washington Avenue. Based on the published dates of death of individuals in Morton’s Catalogue (1840 and 1849 editions), some of the remains in the Morton collection were acquired when the almshouse was at its Center City location. See Appendix A, “Potter’s Fields and Almshouse Cemeteries in Philadelphia,” in Douglas Mooney and Kimberly Morrell’s “Phase IB Archaeological Investigations of the Mother Bethel Burying Ground, 1810 – Circa 1864,” prepared for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, October 11, 2013:

[21] The estimated number is 37, determining by which individuals in the published catalogues of Morton’s collection were indicated as being either white or Black and either described as coming from the almshouse, donated by Philadelphia physicians associated with the almshouse or by Morton himself, having a medical, including psychiatric, diagnosis, or having no donor indicated and likely coming from Philadelphia circa 1830-50 (including German and Irish immigrants). Among these, the fourteen Black individuals include, in Morton’s numeration, 1, 2, 9*, 17*, 55*, 63*, 64*, 69, 74, 900, 983, 984, 1234, 1319. The fifteen white individuals include 7*, 10*, 14*, 24, 36*, 42*, 45*, 57*,58*, 62*, 72, 88, 458, 724, 899. Seven are fetuses or infants for which no racial category is given: 65, 66, 419, 709, 1211, 1212, 1213. Those with * next to their number indicate entries next to which Morton marked his initials in the 1840 Catalogue of Skulls.

[22] Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African American Slaves, 2003, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 276-78.

[23] John L. Cotter, Daniel G. Roberts, Michael Parrington, The buried past: an archaeological history of Philadelphia, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992, p. 201; Croskey, History of Blockley, p. 66, p. 132.

[24] Upon further review, there may be the remains of at least 60 individuals in the collection who were enslaved at the time of their death, including remains of individuals sent to the Academy of Natural Sciences after Morton’s death in 1851, from the United States, Cuba, and Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti).

[25] For a longer reflection on these and related issues, see Rachel Watkins, “An Alter(ed)native Perspective on Historical Bioarchaeology,” Historical Archaeology 53 no. 4, 2020, Rachel Watkins, “Anatomical Collections as Bioanthropological Other: Some Considerations,” in Bioarchaeological Analyses and Bodies: New ways of Knowing Anatomical and Skeletal Collections, ed. Pam Stone, New York: Springer, 2018, pp. 27-48.





ca. 1705 – Philadelphia establishes the “Overseers of the Poor” (later “Guardians of the Poor”) for “poor relief”

1732 – Philadelphia City Almshouse on 3rd/4th Streets and Spruce/Pine Streets opens, under management of “Overseers of the Poor”

1767 – City Almshouse (a.k.a. “Bettering House”) moves to 10th/11th Streets and Spruce/Pine Streets

1780 – Pennsylvania Law for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery

1820 – Samuel George Morton graduates from Penn Medicine

1827 – Morton listed as medical staff at City Almshouse

1830 – First dated entry in Morton’s Catalogue of Skulls of a skull he collects, of a “lunatic” likely from the almshouse

1832 – Cholera epidemic in Philadelphia, first movement of “inmates” from City Almshouse to the newly constructed Blockley Almshouse in West Philadelphia

1835 – City Almshouse closes, Blockley becomes primary public almshouse in Philadelphia; Morton ends tenure as medical staff at almshouse

1840 – Publication of Morton’s first edition of Catalogue of Skulls

1845 – Unsuccessful petition to Guardians of the Poor to prevent rampant graverobbing in its potter’s field; Morton begins working as preceptor at Penn Medicine

1846 – Last dated entry in Morton’s Catalogue of a skull from the almshouse

1851 – Morton dies, having amassed over 900 skulls in his collection

1854 – Morton’s cranial collection donated to Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia from donors who purchased it for $4000 (approximately $125,000 in 2021) from Morton’s widow

1856 – Publication of last catalogue of the cranial collection at the Academy of Natural Sciences, by James Aitken Meigs; cranial collection at ANSP continues to grow through donations

ca. 1860 – End of use of potter’s field under current Franklin Field; new potter’s field used on southwest corner of Blockley grounds; institution of measures to prevent graverobbing at almshouse

1866 – Last published research article by Meigs; no successor curator is appointed for the cranial collection at the ANSP, collection no longer actively increasing

1872 – University of Pennsylvania relocates from its Center City campus to buildings erected on former Blockley Almshouse grounds, purchased from the city

1882 – Penn acquires forty-seven more acres of former almshouse grounds from the city of Philadelphia, including land on which the Penn Museum and Franklin Field

1883 – Pennsylvania Anatomy Act of 1883 effectively ends medical graverobbing in Pennsylvania

1895 – Franklin Field opens for athletics over former Blockley potter’s field

1899 – Penn Museum opens on former Blockley Almshouse grounds, immediately south of and facing the former potter’s field

1966 – Penn Museum acquires Morton collection, and subsequently acquired human remains, from Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1966; formally accessions the collection in the 1990s

2014 – Classroom (CAAM 190) in museum opens displaying a few hundred skulls from the Morton collection, including those of enslaved individuals and Black Philadelphians, in glass-fronted cabinets

2019 – Penn and Slavery Project reports on findings of over 50 enslaved individuals in the Morton collection, from Cuba and the United States

2020 – Morton collection removed from CAAM 190 to closed storage, Penn Museum commits to reburial or repatriation of remains of enslaved individuals in the Morton collection





1. Philadelphia Almshouse (Center City) and potter’s fields: The Philadelphia Almshouse, shown on this 1830 map of Philadelphia, was located in Center City until 1835. This location, indicated by “1” in red square on the map, between Spruce and Pine on 11th and 10th Streets, was opened in 1767 and sold in 1835. The potter’s field associated with the Almshouse at this location is reported approximately south of Carpenter Street, to Washington Avenue, between 11th and 12th Streets, indicated by “2” on the map. Late nineteenth century construction and later excavation shows that these graves are intact, with private residences built above them. Another set of potter’s fields (separated by 10th street) near to the almshouse may also contain remains from almshouse inmates, reported south of Lombard Street, between 11th and 9th Streets, indicated by “3” on the map. Today this burial ground, which is presumed at least partially intact, is covered by grocery and drug stores, a public park, and private residences.[I]


 2. Blockley Almshouse and potter’s fields: The Blockley Almshouse (Philadelphia Hospital / Philadelphia General Hospital), shown on this 1862 atlas of Philadelphia, began operating in 1832 in Blockley Township, incorporated as West Philadelphia in 1854. The potter’s fields associated with the almshouse are approximately indicated by red stars on the map. “1” indicates the primary potter’s field, which operated circa 1832-1860. “2” indicates the secondary potter’s field, which operated circa 1860-1905. Structures in the red square, indicated as a barn and stables on the map, are shown in a photograph from 1891, image 4, below. These structures functioned as the children’s asylum in the late nineteenth century.[ii]


 3. Blockley Almshouse with contemporary streets overlay: from the Philadelphia Geohistory Network’s Interactive Map Viewer,, using Samuel L. Smedley’s 1862 Atlas of the City of Philadelphia overlain with modern street labels and sites from Google Maps.[iii]



4. Almshouse grounds and potter’s field, 1891: This 1891 photograph from a tower (now destroyed) of College Hall looks east, down South Street and toward the Schuylkill River. The potter’s field that would become Franklin Field is visible in a depression to the left (north) of South Street. The structures inside in the red square in the 1862 map of the almshouse property are visible in the center right of the image.[iv]



5. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum), 1907: This 1907 postcard of the Penn Museum looks south. The Blockley Almshouse is visible as the pink complex in the center right of the image, south of the museum. The Commercial Museum, built alongside the Penn Museum on former almshouse grounds in the late nineteenth century, is the white building in the center left, also south of the Penn Museum.[v]


 6. Franklin Field and Penn Museum, 1945: This 1945 photograph of Franklin Field from the south and west shows the westernmost extent of the Penn Museum in the bottom right of the photograph. The CAAM 190 classroom in which the crania from the Morton collection were in open storage between 2014-2020 is located at the ground level of the wing of the museum nearest to the bottom of the photograph, inside the rectangular window at street level nearest to South Street.[vi]


[i] Image source: Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. "Plan of the city of Philadelphia" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed February 6, 2021. information about potter’s field locations from Appendix A, “Potter’s Fields and Almshouse Cemeteries in Philadelphia,” in Douglas Mooney and Kimberly Morrell’s “Phase IB Archaeological Investigations of the Mother Bethel Burying Ground, 1810 – Circa 1864,” prepared for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, October 11, 2013:

[ii] Image source: Samuel L. Smedley, Atlas of the City of Philadelphia, Section 7 (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1862). Accessed on 5 Feb. 2021 via: Croskey, History of Blockley, p. 65.

[iii] Image source: Samuel L. Smedley, Atlas of the City of Philadelphia, Section 7 (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1862). Accessed on 5 Feb. 2021 via:

[iv] Images source: University of Pennsylvania Archives Digital Image Collection,

[v] Image source: University of Pennsylvania Archives Digital Image Collection,

[vi] Image source: University of Pennsylvania Archives Digital Image Collection,