Ghosts of Etting Street

Ghosts of Baltimore
Etting Street is the first block that we’ve done on the west side of town, so we’ll be dealing with different housing typologies from older eras, different builders, and a different set of folks who lived in these houses.
We’ve been working on the 1800 block of Etting Street, which appears to have been built around 1890. Before we get into the folks who lived there, it’s worth remembering the man whom the street is named after (many thanks to this Baltimore Heritage profile for info!)
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Solomon Etting. (Image courtesy of pafa.org)

Solomon Etting was a Jewish merchant and politician who moved to Baltimore from York, PA in 1791. Etting was a prominent citizen of Baltimore, a successful businessman who eventually joined as one of the founders of the B&O Railroad. Even with his successes and high standing, Etting was banned from holding office because of his faith. He thrice petitioned to be placed upon the same footing as other citizens, and was thrice denied. When the Jew Bill (yes, it was actually called that) was passed in 1826, it enabled Jews to hold public office, making Maryland the last state to grant these rights. Etting, thirty-five years after he arrived in Baltimore, won a City Council seat and was one of the first Jews to hold elected office in Maryland.
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A tombstone from the Etting Family Cemetery showing the “Etting” surname. (Image courtesy of http://explore.baltimoreheritage.org/items/show/507)

Etting created the Etting Family Cemetery when his daughter, Rebecca, died in 1799. This plot is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Baltimore. Among the burials is that of Zalman Rehine, who is reputed to be the first rabbi to come to America.
Now let’s discuss some of the folks who lived on the 1800 block. In 1910, it appears that all of the families living on this block were either listed as being Black or “mulatto.” Thus far, all of the blocks we’ve worked on have been in East Baltimore, and were originally built to house arriving European immigrants. The 1800 block of Etting is the first block that we’ve worked on that was built to house African-American Baltimoreans.

ettingmap1896

The 1800 block of Etting lies within the Upton neighborhood, which was one of the most affluent African-American neighborhoods in the country at the turn of the century. While many of the city’s prominent African-American citizens owned property in Upton, it was by no means exclusively wealthy. “The Bottom” referred to the southern and western portions of Upton, and it was here that many in the black working class lived. The 1800 block of Etting was within this region. A quick look at the jobs of inhabitants of that block confirms this: waiter, cook, laundress, seamstress pop up again and again.
Priscilla Burnette was a cook who lived at 1807 Etting Street in 1900. Ms. Burnette was 40 years old, widowed, and lived with her daughters Minnie and Berthe and her son William.  Ms. Burnette’s neighbors were also cooks, as was her daughter Minnie.
1807 etting

1807 Etting is the formstoned house to the left. (Image courtesy of Google)

Now here’s where it gets interesting. The 1900 census lists another Priscilla Burnett (no final ‘e’ in this surname), 44 yrs old, also widowed, who is listed as being a live-in “servant” and a cook for Israel Rosenfield and family. The Rosenfields lived at 2221 Eutaw Place, a large three-story brownstone in Reservoir Hill, just half a mile from 1803 Etting. This Priscilla Burnett, however, is listed as being white.

2221 eutaw.jpg

The two Priscilla Burnett(e)s have nearly identical names, similar ages, identical jobs, are both widowed, and live within a half mile radius of one another. We’re left with a couple options here: either there really were two people with insanely parallel lives, or it’s the same Priscilla Burnette listed as living in both places.
I think the second option is far more likely. But if that’s the case, why would her race be listed as “black” for one address and “white” for the other? This could be a simple clerical error, it could be that Ms. Burnette could “pass” for white, or it could be that the Rosenfields’, for some reason, declared to the census-taker that their servant was white. The 1910 census does not show a Ms. Burnette at either address, and it reveals that a new family had moved into 1807 Etting Street.
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The living room at 1807 Etting in its current state.

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