Until the 19th century this was often a sorrowful place. Many people knew it as a potters field, a "publick burying place for all strangers," for soldiers, sailors, convicts, and the "destitute whose remains are walked over." A lonely Acadian refugee found eternal rest here, along with epidemic victims, Catholics, and African Americans.
Only free and enslaved African Americans brought a measure of mirth to this Square which, according to oral tradition, they called "Congo Square." One 19th century historian recorded that during fairs and holidays perhaps as many as a thousand Black Philadelphians came here to dance "after the manner of their several nations in Africa, speaking and singing in their native dialects...over the sleeping dust below." He also wrote of those from Guinea (a term once used to encompass several African areas) "going to the graves of their friends early in the morning, and there leaving them victuals and rum."