Only Bricks Remain

Week 1: #52 Ancestors – Foundations

By Eilene Lyon

This week’s theme brought to mind a 3rd great-granduncle, Isaac T. Bedford, who had a career as a bricklayer in 19th-century Philadelphia. Isaac’s parents were my 4th great-grandparents, Thomas and Jane (Thomson) Bedford. The parents belonged to the Society of Friends, but it wasn’t until after his marriage that Isaac joined the Society.

Isaac T. Bedford was born in Philadelphia about 1812, the second youngest child of eight, one of whom died in infancy. In 1837, he married Sarah Paxson, daughter of Isaiah and Elizabeth (Longstreth) Paxson.1

In the 1840 census, Isaac was listed as being in trade or manufacture.2 From then on, the census recorded him as a bricklayer. He and Sarah lived for many years at 321 Noble Street, though they did not own the property. In the 1850s, Isaac advertised his services in the Public Ledger. In addition to all types of brick work, he built and repaired ranges and heaters. There are undoubtedly buildings in Philadelphia standing to this day that incorporate Isaac’s bricklaying work.

Advertisement in the Public Ledger (Philadelphia), December 15, 1858 p.a – via Newspapers.com.

Isaac and Sarah may have had a genetic incompatibility. Poor Sarah suffered two stillbirths, three infant deaths, and two early childhood deaths. Only two sons lived to adulthood. Thomas L. Bedford died at 19 from consumption.3 Her and Isaac’s final remaining child was their firstborn, William Paxson Bedford.*

In the Civil War draft, William was living at home with his parents in the city, but he worked as a farmer, possibly in Bucks County.4 A year later, he married Anna M. Rogers and they moved to Delaware County where they had a daughter together, Sarah P. Bedford.5

This only grandchild of Isaac and Sarah was orphaned before she was two. Little Sarah went to live with maternal relatives (the Rogers family) and never married.6 She grew up to be a librarian and she traveled twice to her ancestral homeland of England in the early 1900s.

It’s probable that consumption (tuberculosis) took both William and Anna (Rogers) Bedford. Isaac Bedford’s niece, Clara J. Bedford, of Springboro, Ohio, visited Philadelphia in May 1865. In a letter to her aunt in Indiana, Clara remarked that William was suffering from bronchitis and also that he’d had two hemorrhaging incidents.7 He died in September 1866, at age 28, and Anna followed him to the grave just six months later.8

“Wm Uncles married son had the bronchitis when I was there but The doctor he consulted said he could cure him, and that his lungs were not affected. But since I left T says he has had two hemorrhages. Aunt Sarah was very much worried about him”

Thus it was that Isaac T. and Sarah Bedford outlived every one of their many children. And since their only grandchild had no children, they have no living descendants. Only Isaac’s brickwork remains as testament to his time here on earth.

Feature Image: Friends Housing Cooperative on N. 8th Street, Philadelphia. Built in 1852. (Wikimedia Commons) Though I have no record of buildings Isaac T. Bedford may have worked on, this is certainly a plausible possibility.

*Clarification: Thomas, twelve years younger than William, was the last child to pass, in 1870.


  1. Ancestry.com. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935> Pennsylvania> Chester> Birmingham Monthly Meeting> Records of Births, Deaths, Etc., 1724-1935> image 206. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. 
  2. Isaac T. Bedford. Year: 1840; Census Place: Northern Liberties Ward 6, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 485; Page: 174; Family History Library Film: 0020555 – via Ancestry.com. 
  3. Thomas Bedford. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Non-Population Census Schedules for Pennsylvania, 1850-1880: Mortality; Archive Collection: M1838; Archive Roll Number: 6; Census Year: 1870; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Page: 1 – via Ancestry.com. 
  4. William P. Bedford. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Consolidated Lists of Civil War Draft Registration Records (Provost Marshal General’s Bureau; Consolidated Enrollment Lists, 1863-1865); Record Group: 110, Records of the Provost Marshal General’s Bureau (Civil War); Collection Name: Consolidated Enrollment Lists, 1863-1865 (Civil War Union Draft Records); NAI: 4213514; Archive Volume Number: 1 of 1 – via Ancestry.com. 
  5. Agnes Longstreth Taylor. The Longstreth Family Records: Revised and Enlarged. (Philadelphia: Press of Ferris and Leach, 1909) p. 212; Sarah Paxson Bedford. Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, PA; Pennsylvania (State). Death Certificates, 1906-1968; Certificate Number Range: 040951-043500 – via Ancestry.com. 
  6. Sallie P. Bedford. Year: 1870; Census Place: Downingtown, Chester, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1323; Page: 77B – via Ancestry.com. 
  7. Bedford, Clara J. (Springboro, Ohio) to “Dear Aunt” [Abigail (Bedford) Jenkins]. Letter. 14 May 1865. Private collection of the author, Durango, Colorado. 2021. 
  8. William P. Bedford. “Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DZGQ-66?cc=1320976&wc=9F5X-SP8%3A1073109901 : 16 May 2014), 004000959 > image 320 of 416; Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (this record lists chronic bronchitis as the cause of death); https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/40312658/anna-m-bedford 

29 thoughts on “Only Bricks Remain

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  1. How very sad to have lost and outlived so many children. We are so fortunate to live in an era where, at least for those of us who are privileged to be able to enjoy modern medicine, child deaths are quite rare. I always wonder—was it easier back then to accept those losses because they were quite common? Or did parents grieve just as deeply then as they do now?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder the same thing. I think there is evidence pointing both directions. Inside, I’m sure it hurt just as much then as it would now. But the outward expression was much more stoic. It would be unseemly to be unduly grief-stricken when everyone else was in the same boat.

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    1. In all my years of research, I’ve never come across a family where ALL the children (9!) died so young and were outlived by both parents, too. Very sad. I had no idea until I specifically researched Isaac for this blog post.

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  2. That is a sad post Eilene. My grandmother had eight siblings and all but one died of heart disease … some lasted until their later years, but one died at age 18 of a leaky heart valve. One dropped dead of a heart attack on the dance floor while whirling around his “bride” on a milestone wedding anniversary. It was rumored my great grandfather died of tuberculosis, but no one had confirmation, except a story leaked out that he was driven to a sanitarium outside of the rural area where he lived.

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    1. That sounds like another case of a genetic issue. Certainly sad all around. One of my family lines has some sort of latent heart issue. My brother died suddenly at 55 and my dad’s uncle at only 43.

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      1. Those were both early deaths – also very sad. My mom had an irregular heartbeat and was on Nitroglycerin for it, but sepsis was her cause of death, not heart disease. Part of the reason I started walking was that I began working from home in 2010 and I felt I was not getting enough exercise.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I understand running is bad for your bones hitting the pavement with your feet so I figured this was best to give me exercise and it’s low impact. I used to have a garden, but after I started walking and after two back-to-back Polar Vortexes wiped out 75% of my butterfly garden, I gave that up. I do ride my exercise bike when I can’t walk … I do worry a little, but healthy eating helps too.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. We do live in an age of incredible medical advancement. They didn’t even have a clue about bacteria and viruses back then. How would you like to have a “doctor” come bleed you when you were ill? Don’t need none of those stinkin’ blood cells and T-cells. Yikes! Of course, some future society might find us to be rather unenlightened. Well, that’s almost a certainty.

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