Burrell, William H.

Title

Burrell, William H.

Description

William Burrell, a clergyman, performed weddings for couples seeking to evade license requirements in Philadelphia.

Biographical Text

For about 20 years, from c. 1888 until 1908, the Reverend William H. Burrell performed marriages for couples who presented themselves at his home at 43 Cooper Street. He was among a group of Camden clergymen described in newspapers as operating "marriage mills," which offered swift weddings in contrast to more burdensome marriage licensing requirements implemented across the river in Pennsylvania in 1885.

Burrell, a Methodist Episcopal minister who served at least three congregations in Philadelphia before moving to Camden c. 1888, proved especially successful in the marriage market. The Camden Courier-Post reported in October 1888 that Camden registered between 400 and 500 marriages per month, with Burrell performing an average of five marriages a day for a fee of $2.50 each. Burrell may have benefited from the downfall of Joseph J. Sleeper, 51 Cooper Street, whose qualifications to perform marriages came into question during an 1888 bigamy case. In addition to the close proximity to the Camden ferries, which Sleeper had advertised, Burrell differed from some of his pastoral colleagues by not insisting on personally knowing the bride and groom or having an acquaintance to vouch for them. He also would perform weddings on Sundays, which others did not. In all, the Courier-Post estimated that Burrell's yearly income from weddings could total about four times what he would have earned by serving a congregation.

Burrell, about 66 years old when he moved to Camden, owned his three-story row house at 43 Cooper Street (between Front and Delaware) and headed a household consisting of his wife, Elizabeth, and adult daughter, Alma. His daughter Margaret and son-in-law Charles W. Boyle, a telegrapher, owned the row house next door at 41 Cooper Street. The marriage business brought occasional drama to 43 Cooper Street. In 1891, two already-married reporters from the Philadelphia Press launched a personal investigation and found they were able to get married in Camden under different aliases five times in the space of two days by Burrell and others. At other times, enraged parents of allegedly under-aged brides and grooms appeared to protest the nuptials.

Burrell lived at 43 Cooper Street until his death in 1909. He and his wife, Elizabeth (who died in 1903), were buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Time period on Cooper Street

c. 1888-1909

Location(s) - Cooper Street

43 Cooper Street

Location(s) - Other

Cochranville, West Fallowfield, Chester County (1870 Census)
79 N. 13th Street, Philadelphia (1880 Census)
Waynesburg Methodist Episcopal Church, Chester County
Twentieth Street Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia
Hancock Street Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia
Cookman Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia
Ocean City, New Jersey (preacher at camp meeting, operated W.H. Burrell & Son general merchandise business with son Harry G. Burrell until 1883)
Bethany Methodist Episcopal Church, Camden, (guest preacher April 1888)
Camden Home for Women, 527 S. Fifth Street (to speak about temperance, April 1888)

Occupation

Clergyman (Methodist Episcopal)

Birth Date

1822

Birthplace

New Jersey (both parents born in Pennsylvania)

Death Date

October 14, 1909, buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery, Philadelphia

Associated Individuals

Elizabeth A. Burrell (wife)
Margaret Burrell Boyle (daughter)
Lilly Burrell (daughter)
Harry Burrell (son)
William Burrell (son, became funeral director in Camden)
Alma Burrell (daughter)
Lottie Staples (niece)
Charles W. Boyle (son-in-law, married to daughter Margaret, 41 Cooper Street)
Lillian Boyle (granddaughter)
William E. Boyle (grandson)
Joseph J. Sleeper (neighbor, 51 Cooper Street)

Sources

Camden City Directories (Ancestry.com)
"A Month's Marriages," Camden Courier-Post, October 17, 1888, and additional news stories in the Camden Daily Telegraph, Morning Post, and Courier-Post, and Philadelphia Inquirer (Newspapers.com)
U.S. Census (Ancestry.com)

Research by

Charlene Mires
Lucy Davis

Posted by

Charlene Mires

Collection

Citation

“Burrell, William H.,” Learning From Cooper Street, accessed October 1, 2022, https://omeka.camden.rutgers.edu/items/show/34.

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