The property upon which the meetinghouse was built is the site of the first burial ground in Philadelphia. Although the plot of land was officially given to the Society of Friends by William Penn in 1701, burials had been taking place here since as early as 1683.
It is important to note that Quaker burial grounds in Philadelphia were not limited to members of the Religious Society of Friends. According to reports, Quakers were buried here alongside of “Indians, Blacks and strangers.” As space became limited at the site became, there was a greater emphasis on accepting only Quaker burials.
When visiting you may notice that the property doesn’t look the way other burial grounds look. Quakers were discouraged from using headstones or grave markers and didn’t begin to do so until the late 1800s. It was thought to draw excessive attention to oneself and seen as “inconsistent with the plainness of our Principles and Practice.”
There are as many as 20,000 bodies buried on the Arch Street Meeting House property. When the Yellow Fever epidemic swept through Philadelphia in 1793, the meetinghouse burial ground was nearly full—plots were already two or three deep.