Obituary page of Philip White

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ID number: 1819717
Rhoda G. Freeman manuscript and research collectionm 1956-1985


Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations

This obituary of Philip White is in the Rhoda Freeman Collection at the Schomburg Center and the page it's pasted on is from the same the unidentified scrapbook as that of Peter Guignon. It appeared in the February 19, 1891 issue of the New York Age. The obituary states that Philip was born sixty-eight years ago which would mean in 1823. All it tells us about his parents is that “his father died when he was quite young and he was thrown upon his own resources.”

I found a lot more information about Philip and his family in a eulogy written by his longtime friend George Downing. According to Downing, Philip’s father, Thomas White, came from northern England, while his mother, Elizabeth Steele, was from Jamaica. I don’t know whether Elizabeth was born a slave or free; where she and Thomas White met; whether they were married; or how they ended up in the United States.

Significantly, however, and in contrast to most interracial relationships of the period, the White family lived as an intact household. The 1830 census lists them as living in Hoboken, New Jersey. There were six children, four daughters and two sons. By 1832 the family had moved to Manhattan where, according to the city directory, Thomas ran a grocery store at 102 Gold Street, on the corner of Frankfort Street, the very same location where Philip would estabish his drugstore some fifteen years later.

I’ve found virtually no information about Philip’s siblings. The 1850 census indicates that in addition to his mother, a sister, Sarah, lived with him. He had another sister, Mary, who married a man by the name of Richard Thompson.

Fascinatingly, the poems pasted to the left of Philip’s obituary on the scrapbook page all refer to the things Philip cared about most during his lifetime. "Why Johnny Failed, Good for a Boy to Read" underscores Philip’s commitment to education. "To Trinity" pays homage to the institution out of which his own church, St. Philips, grew. "References” praises the comforts of home life. A final poem, “If Only We Understood,” hints mysteriously at emotional burdens Philip took with him to the grave. The second stanza reads:

"Ah! We judge each other harshly,
Knowing not life’s hidden force;
Knowing not the fount of action
Is less turbid at its source
Seeing not amid the evil
All the golden grains of good
And we’d live each other better
If we only understood."


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“Obituary page of Philip White,” Black Gotham Archive, accessed July 10, 2018,