How Coffins Became Her Weapon Of Liberation

front of the house
Tremain Prioleau II
October 11, 2023

Henrietta Bowers Duterte was born free in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Duterte  worked as a tailor making clothes for the city’s middle and upper classes. However her true calling came after meeting her husband.

In 1852, Henrietta married Francis Duterte. He was a Haitian coffin maker, and he was heavily into abolitionists politics. Francis was a member of the Moral Reform Retreat, an organization dedicated to abolishing slavery and creating equal rights for women​​

Henrietta shared the passion for abolition that her husband had. So when Francis passed in 1858, Henrietta took over his funeral business and became the first woman undertaker in the country. But she did much more than plan funerals.

Duterte used her funeral home as the perfect cover to free enslaved people right under the noses of enslavers. The last place they’d look for runaways was the grave. So Duterte hid runaways in coffins and disguised many of their escapes in funeral processions so they could get out of the city safely.

Like Duterte, we can look to the resources around us and play a role in the fight for liberation. How can we all use where we are today to help Black people around us?