Francis A. Duterte

Francis A. Duterte (1814-1859) was an important Philadelphia businessman, who served as one of the secretaries for the 1855 National Colored Convention.1 French-Caribbean by birth, Duterte established a mortuary in 1852 on Lombard Street.2 His experience with joinery as a cabinet-maker enabled him to produce quality coffins “without the use of nails.”3 As a skilled carpenter and an independent businessman, Duterte represented the type of upwardly mobile tradesman whose practical education the Colored Conventions sought to facilitate through plans for mechanical schools and scholarships.

While attending the 1855 National Colored Convention, Duterte, as a secretary, recorded the minutes and oversaw their later publication.4 This position exemplifies his standing as an active and literate member of the Black community. Socially, Duterte was well positioned for a prominent role in the community because of his work as an undertaker; his profession allowed Duterte to work closely with Black churches, a main hub for social networking. Consequently, Duterte was well connected with other prominent community members, including businessmen such as Stephen Smith and educators like Professor Charles L. Reason.5

Francis A. Duterte died suddenly on March 18th, 1859, at the age of 45 and was buried in Lebanon Cemetery. His funeral service at St. Thomas Episcopal Church was attended by numerous acquaintances, including individuals from the Masonic lodges of which he was a member.6 After his death, his wife Henrietta inherited his business, becoming the first woman in the country to own and operate a mortuary7. While recent scholarship has begun to reclaim Mrs. Duterte from obscurity, her husband has not received the same attention. Although Francis Duterte’s business history is recorded through newspaper advertisements, his specific social activities are largely undocumented. Due to these gaps in the archive, many questions concerning his personal history and community affiliations remain difficult to answer.

Above is a business ad put up by Francis Duterte's wife, Henrietta Duterte, after his death.


Submitted anonymously, University of Delaware. 

Edited by Carolyne King, English 641, Spring 2016. Taught by Garbrielle Foreman, University of Delaware. 

Edited by Samantha de Vera, University of Delaware


[1] “Francis A. Duterte” Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates Index, 1803-1912. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Web. 16 March, 2013.

[2] Davies, John. Class, Culture, and Color: Black Saint-Dominguan Refugees And African Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest, LLC, 2008:116. White, Charles Frederick. Who’s who in Philadelphia: A Collection of Thirty Biographical Sketches of Philadelphia Colored People. Philadelphia: A. M. E. Book Concern, 1912: 84.

[3] “Report of the First Exhibition of the ‘Colored American Institute of the State of Pennsylvania” Public Ledger. 22 May 1851: 2. America’s Historical Newspapers. Web. 17 March, 2013.   

[4] Proceedings of the Colored National Convention, Philadelphia, 1855. Salem, New Jersey: National Standard Office, 1856. Print.

[5] “Professor Charles L. Reason and the Colored Citizens of Philadelphia.” Frederick Douglass’ Paper 16 Nov. 1855. African American Newspapers. Web 16 March, 2013.

[6] “Large Funeral-Sudden Death.” The Liberator 25 March 1859: 2. America’s Historical Newspapers. Web. 17 March, 2013.

[7] Jackson, Millicent Lownes, and Linda T. Wynn. Encyclopedia of African American Business, Volume I. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006: 837.



"Prof. Chas. L. Reason, and the Colored Citizens of Philadelphia."

"Prof. Chas. L. Reason, and the Colored Citizens of Philadelphia." Frederick Douglass' Paper, 16 Nov. 1855. From Gale. 19th Century U.S. Newspapers. ©2008 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning, Inc.