Cuff Douglas and the Birth of Philadelphia's Ethnic Communities


Grades 9-12


Students will use primary source material to familiarize themselves with geographical points in Philadelphia and to explore the evidence of community action among the African American residents of the city.


  • Petition to the Governor...Negroes burying ground. 1782 (see attachment 1, image of manuscript and transcription)
  • Order from Thomas Penn to Benjamin Easburn to survey the ground....Jewish burial ground. (attachment 2)
  • Easburn survey of Jewish burial ground (Mikveh Israel, attachment 3)
  • Easburn. Map of Philadelphia. 1776 (attachment 4)
  • Chart paper or SmartBoard technology


Before you begin:

  • Below is a copy of the 1782 petition and it's transcript from six men who were part of the growing community of free or partially independent blacks in Philadelphia.
  • Teacher will review the background information (see attachment 5, below).
  • Students will brainstorm ideas around what might be important for a community newly established. This may be done as a whole class or small groups.
  • Come together to share ideas gathered by groups. Have students organize the ideas into categories, i.e. shelter, food, religion, etc. with the teacher guiding the discussion towards the institutions and life events (life, death, marriage).
  • Students might list religion among the topics.

Ask them to consider:

  • In a new, unfamiliar place, toward whom would you gravitate?
  • Would you want to be with like-minded people?
  • Would you want to be part of an organized group?
  • What could a group accomplish that individuals might not?
  • What if that unfamiliar place was colonial Philadelphia?
  • What if you were not part of the dominant group? What might that be like?

Present the students with:

  • The petition for the "Negroes burying ground..." 1782
  • Order from John Penn to Benjamin Easburn for surveying the burial ground for the family of Nathan Levy. 1740
  • Surveyor's map of burial ground by Benjamin Easburn. 1740
  • Benjamin Easburn. "Map of Philadelphia." 1776

Ask the students to consider the above sources. 

"In your brainstorm, did you think that a burial ground would be a priority for a community?"

Discussion Points

  • Evidence suggests that both petitions were the first public acts of these groups.
  • Why do you think that may have been more important than a synagogue building for the Jewish community?
  • Why did the African-American community seek a burial ground before any other institution, i.e. church or benevolent organization?
  • Why do you think that Philadelphia would have been the place for the first African-American fraternal or benevolent organization?
  • Why do you think Philadelphia was the place for the founding of the first African-American church movement?

Using the surveyor's map for information, find the approximate location of the Jewish burial ground on the 1776 Easburn map.

Why do you think it was placed there?
Locate the southeast square or green space on the Easburn map (1776). This square was the Potter's Field?
Locate Pennsylvania Hospital on the 1776 Easburn map. Why do you think the hospital was so far from the center of things?

Noting the geographic placement of these institutions and remembering that Philadelphia was a planned city, have students write an opinion piece about:

  • How the free Blacks may have begun to form a community
  • How and why the Jews of 18th century Philadelphia may have begun to form a community
  • Why the locations of the potter's field and the Jewish burial ground may have been significant (or not) for the citizen's of Philadelphia


The "Background" section of this lesson is to enhance the teacher's knowledge of the subject. It may be incorporated into the lesson to the degree that the instructor desires. See background attachment, below.

PA history standards

 8.2 A,B,C,D; 8.3 A,B,C,D