Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

The 1790 U.S. Census and What It Reveals About Slavery in Pelham

In late 1790 and early 1791, the United States conducted its first national census, known today as the U.S. Census of 1790.  The population count was required by the first census act signed into law on March 1, 1790.  The census records provide a fascinating glimpse of life in Pelham only a few years after the Revolutionary War ended in 1783.  Records reflecting several states were destroyed when the British laid waste to Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812.  Thankfully, the New York census records survived.

I have written about the 1790 U.S. Census and some of what it reflected for the Town of Pelham.  See Tue., Mar. 22, 2005:  The 1790 U.S. Census Information for the Township of Pelham.  Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog addresses the 1790 census in more detail and focuses on what it reveals regarding the issue of slavery in Pelham.  

1790 U.S. Census Returns Reflecting
the Town of Pelham.  NOTE:  Click
on Image to Enlarge.

Times were vastly different in 1790, of course.  Marshals in each state employed assistant marshals to perform the census.  A total of 650 people performed the census at an aggregate cost of $44,377 (about $2,186,000 in today's currency).  Census returns were recorded on whatever paper the marshals and assistant marshals could find and some of the returns were even bound in wallpaper.  

According to the 1790 census, there were 3,231,533 persons in the United States at the time.  The State of New York had 340,120 persons.  North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia had populations larger than that of New York.  

The population of Westchester County in 1790 was 23,941 persons.  Significantly, there were 1,412 slaves (about 5.9% of the population).  The populations of the different towns, including the Town of Pelham, were as follows:  

Bedford, 2,470
Cortlandt, 1,932
Eastchester, 740
Greenburg, 1,450
Harrison, 1,004
Mamaroneck, 452
Morrisania, 133
Mount Pleasant, 1,924
New Rochelle, 692
North Castle, 2,478
North Salem, 1,053
Pelham, 199
Poundridge, 1,662
Rye, 986
Salem, 1,453
Scarsdale, 281
Stephen, 1,297
Westchester, 1,141
White Plains, 505
Yonkers, 1,125
York, 1,609

The Town of Pelham, with 199 persons, had the second smallest population in the County of Westchster.  The schedule of heads of families for the Town of Pelham indicates that only 32 families lived in Pelham at the time.  As one might expect, members of the Pell family dominated the population of the Town.  Pelham families were led by Philip Pell, Thomas Pell, John Pell, David J. Pell, and James Pell, among others.  Other notable Pelham heads of families included Abraham Archer, William Bailey (i.e., Bayley), John Devoor, Benjamin Guion, Isaiah Guion, William Landrine, James Augustine Frederick Prevost, and Charles Ward.

Among the most notable aspects of the U.S. Census of 1790 as it relates to our community is what it reveals about slavery in the Town of Pelham at the time.  The 1790 census reveals that there were 38 slaves in Pelham.  It seems to have included all slaves regardless of age and did not break the numbers down between men and women.  Slave holders and the number of slaves they kept were reflected as follows:

William Bailey (i.e., Bayley):  6 slaves
John Devoor:  1 slave
Benjamin Guion:  3 slaves
Isaiah Guion:  1 slave
William Landrine:  4 slaves
David J. Pell:  5 slaves
James Pell:  7 slaves
John Pell:  1 slave
Philip Pell:  3 slaves
Thoas Pell:  3 slaves
Charles Ward:  4 slaves
Total Number of Slaves:  38

Members of the extended Pell family owned half the slaves in the Town of Pelham in 1790:  19 out of 38 slaves.  An analysis I performed for a paper I presented in 2007 to the Conference on New York State History indicated that Pelham's concentration of slaves (measured as a percentage of total population) remained nearly constant throughout the entire 18th century.  In 1712, twenty percent of the population of Pelham was held in slavery.  By 1790, seventy-eight years later, 19.10% of the population was held in slavery.  During the same period, the total population of Pelham had grown from 65 to 199 residents -- a 306% increase.  The number of slaves had increased from 13 to 38 -- a 292% increase.

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The article below, published in 1910, provides a little background regarding the U.S. Census of 1790.  The text is followed by a citation and link to its source.

Interesting Books at Local Library Giving Data of Nearby Towns.

Among books which the Mount Vernon Public Library has few will attract more attention or prove more valuable than twelve volumes, printed at the government printing office at Washington, which have lately been received.  Each one bears the title:  'Heads of Families"  First Census of the United States, 1790.'  They are copies of the official returns for the first Federal census ever held.

On March 1, 1790, the first census act was signed after it had been passed at the second session of the first congress.  It required the marshals in each state to take an enumeration of the inhabitants in their districts, employing such assistant marshals as were necessary to do the work.  On October 27, 1791, the census returns were made to congress.  The work consumed a year and two months, for the enumeration was not to begin until August 1, 1790.

The census was taken in seventeen states, but unfortunately the schedules for six states were destroyed by fire when the British burned the capitol at Washington during the War of 1812.  The schedules for the state census of Virginia for three years were substituted for the schedules of the census of 1790 in this state, but they are not complete.

According to this census, which represents a complete list of the heads of families in the United States at the time of the adoption of the constitution, there were 3,231,533 persons in the country at the time, less than one twenty-sixth of the number of inhabitants at present.  These lists show the plain people, the 'common people,' as Lincoln called them, and they are consequently of very real interest.  The number of inhabitants mentioned is exclusive of slaves.

Families in those days averaged six persons, and as only the heads of families appear on the schedules, there were only about 540,000 names on these lists originally, or a little over half a million.  The schedules which were destroyed and not replaced contained 140,000 names, so that about 400,000 names appear on the schedules which have been published.

The gross area of the country then was 827,844 square miles, of which 29 per cent, or 239,935 square miles, was settled.  The schedules show the population of the different states to have been as follows:  Vermont, 85,539; New Hampshire, 141,885; Maine, 96,540; Rhode Island, 58,825; Connecticut, 237,946; New York, 340,120; New Jersey, 184,139; Pennsylvania, 434,373; Delaware, 59,094; Maryland, 319,728; Virginia, 474,610; Kentucky, 73,677; North Carolina, 393,751; South Carolina, 249,073; Georgia, 82,548.

The assistant marshals, it appears, were left pretty much to their own judgment as to the form in which they made their returns, except that a table was provided which they were required to follow.  It was made up of five columns, and the headings were as follows:  Names of heads of families; free white males of 16 years and up, including heads of families; free white males under 16 years; free white females, including heads of families; all other free persons; slaves.  Up to and including 1820 the assistant marshals used such paper as they had.  They usually employed merchants' account paper, and occasionally the returns were bound in wall paper.

The total cost of the census was $44,377, and it has been estimated that 650 persons were employed in taking it.  The returns were published in what is now a 'rare little volume.'  By comparison, the returns for the twelfth census fill ten large quarto volumes, containing a total of 10,400 pages.

The present publication of the first census is in response to repeated requests from patriotic societies and persons interested in genealogy, for the schedules form an admirable means of tracing genealogical history.  Congress provided for the publication of the schedules in 1907.  The work has just recently been completed.  

The schedules for each state are published in a separate volume.  In the front of each volume is a map of the state as it was at that tie.  The map of New York does not indicate Westchester county as such, as it has no designation of White Plains.  A town marked Westchester is in about the location of the old town of Westchester in the Bronx.  A town marked Eastchester is located evidently about where old St. Paul's now stands, for it is on the Boston Post Road, which passes only a short distance south of St. Paul's.  New Rochelle and Rye are marked, but no Yonkers.  Instead, the town of Phillipsburg appears evidently on the present site of Yonkers.  Altho not indicated on the map, both Yonkers and White Plains are included in the schedules, and their returns are listed with those of the other towns, as is the case with Westchester county.

The population of Westchester county in 1790 was 23,941, and there were 1,412 slaves.  The population of the different towns was as follows:  Bedford, 2,470; Cortlandt, 1,932; Eastchester, 740; Greenburg, 1,450; Harrison, 1,004; Mamaroneck, 452; Morrisania,, 133; Mount Pleasant, 1,924; New Rochelle, 692; North Castle, 2,478; North Salem, 1,053; Pelham, 199; Poundridge, 1,662; Rye, 986; Salem, 1,453; Scarsdale, 281; Stephen, 1,297; Westchester, 1,141; White Plains, 505; Yonkers, 1,125; York, 1,609.

All families which have sprung from true Revolutionary stock are represented in these lists, to scan which is something of an inspiration.  Among the names are recognizable many which have become more or less well known since.  The Pells are conspicuous in Pelham, which, by the way, contained just 32 families at that tie.  There is Philip Pell, Thomas Pell, John Pell, David J. Pell, and James Pell, and also James A. F. Prevost and Abraham Archer.

Yonkers, one of the largest of the towns, shows such old families as the Sherwoods, the Odells and the Valentines to have been represented very fully.  The Sherwoods included Moses, Abigail, Jeremiah, James and Thomas while the Odells were represented by Abraham, two Jonathans, Isaac, James Benjamin and Kessiah.  The Valentines consisted of Mary, Gilbert, Thomas, Frederick and Isaac, and there were also several families of Underhills, including those of Frederick and Nicholas.

In Eastchester,, there was the family of Elijah Purdy, and more Pell families:  Mary, Phoebe, Samuel and Caleb, as well as John Archer, farmer; Joseph Fredenburgh, Jonas Farrington, Anthony, Caleb, Abraham and Benjamin Valentine, John Flandreaux, John Archer, weaver, and five Hunt families, those of Moses, Jacob, Basil, Nehemiah and Gilbert.

It is easy to pick out the old Huguenot families in New Rochelle.  Some of the noticeable are Rancoud, Bayeaux, Coutant, Le Count, Ranoud, Rishe, Flandreau, Pintard, Badreau, Galladuett and a Gilbert Angevine.  There were also some families of Guions and Sherwoods.

There was Lewis Morris' family at Morrisania ,and four families of Merritts at Harrison -- Daniel, Mary Ann, Joseph and Underhill Merritt."

Source:  IN THE CENSUS OF A CENTURY AGO -- Interesting Books at Local Library Giving Data of Nearby Towns, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Jan. 24, 1910, p. 3, col. 1-2.  

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