The First U.S. Census ~ 1790
Following the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War, and the ratification of the United States Constitution, the new federal government decided that a census of the inhabitants was necessary to determine the size and makeup of the new nation. An Act Providing For The Enumeration Of The Inhabitants Of The United States was passed by the Congress and approved on 01 March, 1790 by George Washington, President of the United States.
The text of the Act Providing For The Enumeration Of The Inhabitants Of The United States is given below:
Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and Houテ of Repreテntatives of the United States of America, in Congreピ aャembled, That the Marドals of the テveral diフricts of the United States, ドall be, and they are hereby authorized and required to cauテ the number of the inhabitants within their reパective diフricts to be taken; omitting in ブch enumeration Indians not taxed; and diフinguiドing free perバns, including thoテ bound to テrvice for a term of years, from all others; diフinguiドing alバ the テxes and colours of free perバns, and the free males of ナxteen years and upwards, from thoテ under that age; for effecting which purpoテ, the Marドals ドall have power to appoint as many aャiフants within their reパective diフricts, as to them ドall appear neceャary; aャigning to each aャiフant a certain diviナon of his diフrict, which diviナon ドall conナフ of one or more counties, cities, towns, townドips or pariドes, or of a territory plainly and diフinctly bounded by water courテs, mountains or public roads. The Marドals, and their aャiフants ドall reパectively take and oath or affirmation, before バme Judge or Juフice of the Peace, reナdent within their reパective diフricts, previous to their entering on the diツharge of the duties by this Act required. The oath or affirmation of the Marドal ドall be, "I, A.B. Marドal of the diフrict of ____________ do バlemnly ヘear (or affirm) that I will, well and truly cauテ to be made, a juフ and perfect enumeration and deツription of all perバns reナdent within my diフrict, and return the ヂme to the Preピident of the United States, agreeably to the directions of an act of Congreピ, intituled, "An act providing for the enumeration of the inhabitants of the United States, according to the beフ of my ability." The oath or affirmation of an aャiフant ドall be, "I, A.B. do バlemnly ヘear (or affirm) that I will make a juフ and perfect enumeration and deツription of all perバns reナdent within the diviナon aャigned to me, by the Marドal of the diフrict of ________ and make due return thereof to the ヂid Marドal, agreeably to the directions of an Act of Congreピ, intituled. "An Act providing for the enumeration of the inhabitants of the United States," according to the beフ of my ability." The enumeration ドall commence on the firフ Monday in Auguフ next, and ドall cloテ within nine calendar months thereafter: The テveral aャiフants ドall, within the ヂid nine months, tranノit to the Marドals by whom they ドall be reパectively appointed, accurate returns of all perバns, except Indians not taxed, within their reパective diviナons, which returns ドall be made in a ツhelude (sic), diフinguiドing テveral families by the names of their maフer, miフreピ, フeward, overテer, or other principal perバn therein, in manner following, that is to ヂy:
The number of perバns within my diviナon, conナフing of ____________ appears in a ツhedule hereto annexed, ブbツribed by me this _______ day of 179__ A.B. Aャiフant to the Marドal of ________________.
SCHEDULE of the whole Number of Perバns within the Diviナon allotted to A.B.
Names of heads of families.
Free white Males of ナxteen years and upwards, including heads of families.
Free white Males under ナxteen years.
Free white Females including heads of families.
All other free Perバns.
Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That every aャiフant, failing to make return, or making a falテ return of the enumeration to the Marドal, within the time by this Act limited, ドall forfeit the ブm of two hundred dollars.
Sec. 3. And be it further enacted, That the Marドals ドall file the テveral returns aforeヂid, with the Clerks of their reパective Diフricts Courts, who are hereby directed to receive and carefully to preテrve the ヂme: And the Marドals reパectively ドall, on or before the firフ day of September, one thouヂnd テven hundred and ninety-one, tranノit to the Preナdent of the United States, the aggregate amount of each deツription of perバns within their reパective diフricts. And every Marドal failing to file the returns of his aャiフants, or any of them, with the Clerks of their reパective Diフrict Courts, or failing to return the aggregate amount of each deツription of perバns in their reパective diフricts, as the ヂme ドall appear from ヂid returns, to the Preナdent of the United States, within the time limited by this Act, ドall, for every ブch offence, forfeit the ブm of eight hundred dollars; all which forfeitures ドall be recoverable in the Courts of the diフricts where the offences ドall be committed, or in the Circuit Courts to be held within the ヂme, by action of debt, information or indictment; the one half thereof to the uテ of the United States, and the other half to the informer; but where the proテcution ドall be firフ inフituted on behalf of the United States, the whole ドall accrue to their uテ. And for the more effectual diツovery of offences, the Judges of the テveral Diフrict Courts at their next テャions, to be held after the expiration of the time allowed for making the returns of the enumeration hereby directed, to the Preナdent of the United States, ドall give this Act in charge to the grand juries, in their reパective Courts, and ドall cauテ the returns of the テveral aャiフants to be laid before them, for their inパection.
Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That every aャiフant ドall receive at the rate of one dollar for every one hundred and fifty perバns by him returned, where ブch perバns reナde in the country; and where ブch perバns reナde in a city, or town, containing more than five thouヂnd perバns, ブch aャiフant ドall receive at the rate of one dollar, for every three hundred perバns; but where, from the diパerテd ナtuation of the inhabitants in バme diviナons, one dollar for every one hundred and fifty perバns, ドall be inブfficient, the Marドals, with the approbation of the Judges of their reパective diフricts, may make ブch further allowance to the aャiフants in ブch diviナons as ドall be deemed an adequate compenヂtion, provided the ヂme does not exceed one dollar for every fifty perバns, by them returned. The テveral Marドals ドall receive as follows: The Marドal of the diフrict of Maine, two hundred dollars; the Marドal of the diフrict of New-Hampドire, two hundred dollars; the Marドal of the diフrict of Maャachuテtts, three hundred dollars; the Marドal of the diフrict of Connecticut, two hundred dollars; the Marドal of the diフrict of New York, three hundred dollars; the Marドal of the diフrict of New-Jerテy, two hundred dollars; the Marドal of the diフrict of Pennペlvania, three hundred dollars; the Marドal of the diフrict of Delaware, one hundred dollars; the Marドal of the diフrict of Maryland, three hundred dollars; the Marドal of the diフrict of Virginia, five hundred dollars; the Marドal of the diフrict of Kentucky, two hundred and fifty dollars; the Marドal of the diフrict of North-Carolina, three hundred dollars; the Marドal of the diフrict of South-Carolina, three hundred dollars; the Marドal of the diフrict of Georgia, two hundred and fifty dollars. And to obviate all doubts which may ariテ reパecting the perバns to be returned, and the manner of making returns,
Sec. 5. Be it enacted, That every perバn whoテ uブal place of abode ドall be in any family on the foreヂid firフ Monday in Auguフ next, ドall be returned as of ブch family; and the name of every perバn, who ドall be an inhabitant of any diフrict, but without a テttled place of reナdence, ドall be inテrted in the column of the aforeヂid ツhedule, which is allotted for the heads of families, in that diviナon where he or ドe ドall be on the ヂid firフ Monday in Auguフ next; and every perバn occaナonally abテnt at the time of the enumeration, as belonging to that place in which he uブally reナdes in the United States.
Sec. 6. And be it further enacted, That each and every perバn more than ナxteen years of age, whether heads of families or not, belonging to any family within any diviナon of a diフrict made or eフabliドed within the United States, ドall be, and hereby is obliged to render to ブch aャiフant of the diviナon, a true account if required, to the beフ of his or her knowledge, of every perバn belonging to ブch family reパectively, according to the テveral deツriptions aforeヂid, on pain of forfeiting twenty dollars, to be ブed for and recovered by ブch aャiフant, the one half for his own uテ, and the other half for the uテ of the United States.
Sec. 7. And be it further enacted, That each aャiフant ドall, previous to making his return to the Marドal, cauテ a correct copy, ナgned by himテlf, of the ツhedule, containing the number of inhabitants within his diviナon, to be テt up at two of of (sic) the moフ public places within the ヂme, there to remain for the inパection of all concerned; for each of which copies the ヂid aャiフant ドall be entitled to receive two dollars, provided proof of a copy of the ツhedule having been バ テt up and ブffered to remain, ドall be tranノitted to the Marドal, with the return of the number of perバns; and in caテ any aャiフant ドall fail to make ブch proof to the Marドal, he ドall forfeit the compenヂtion by this Act allowed him.
Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, Speaker of the Houテ of Repreテntatives
John Adams, Vice-Preナdent of the United States, and Preナdent of the Senate.
Approved, March the firフ, 1790. George Washington, Preナdent of the United States.
As noted in the text of the Act Providing For The Enumeration Of The Inhabitants Of The United States, the date that the census was to be started was the first Monday in August of that year (1790). Many history and genealogy researchers make the mistaken assumption that, because the First U.S. Census bears the date of 1790, it indicates the residents as of January 1, 1790. That assumption may not be correct in view of the fact that families tended to move when their land was exhausted or when they thought there were greener pastures further on. Although perhaps a majority of the residents listed on the 1790 Census were residing in the same place from the first of the year until the enumeration was taken in August, it is a well known fact that the late-1780s and early 1790s were a period of much movement from the coastal regions to the "frontier".
Another thing to be noted in the text of the Act Providing For The Enumeration Of The Inhabitants Of The United States was the fines to be imposed on the marshals and their assistants for their failure to obtain an accurate and complete count of the residents. Whether any marshal or assistant was ever charged and indicted with such a crime is not known. The legal incentive to provide an accurate count was nevertheless there.
President George Washington commented on the response to the census in a letter he sent to Gouverneur Morris from Philadelphia on 28 July, 1791. In that letter Washington stated that:
"Returns of the Cenブs have already been made from テveral of the States and a tolerably juフ eフimate has been formed now in others, by which it appears that we ドall hardly reach four millions; but one thing is certain our real numbers will exceed, greatly, the official returns of them; becauテ the religious ツruples of バme, would not allow them to give in their liフs; the fears of others that it was intended as the foundation of a tax induced them to conceal or diminiドed theirs, and thro' the indolence of the people, and the negligence of many of the Officers numbers are omitted. The authenticated number however is far greater, I believe, than has ever been allowed in Europe..."
Records indicate that there were seventeen marshals involved in administering the taking of the census. Although the records indicating the number of assistants who were employed in the project were destroyed in a fire when the British burned the Capitol during the War of 1812, the number has been estimated at 650.
The assistants were supposed to have made two copies of the returns. Whether they did so cannot be known. (The copy for Bedford County is not known to exist at the Bedford County Court House, nor is the copy for Huntingdon County known to exist in the Huntingdon County Court House.) One copy was intended to be kept in the court archives for the county in which the census was taken; the second copy was to be forwarded to the regional marshal, who, in turn, would forward it to the President. The President forwarded all of the returns to the Secretary of State.
One-third of the returns of the First U.S. Census of 1790 were lost, as noted above, in a fire when the Capitol was burned. Extant returns are available for the states of Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachu-setts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Vermont.
The total population of the United States, according to the returns delivered to the Secretary of State, amounted to 3,929,214.
The surviving original returns for the First Census have been bound into twenty-six volumes and are maintained in the Census Office in Washington, DC.
In regard to Pennsylvania, although essentially all of the returns have survived, certain of them are more useable than others. There was no uniformity in listing the location of the residents. As a result, the residents of certain county regions, including Bedford, were not separated according to their respective townships or boroughs.
Attempts have been made to compensate for the lack of township information for Bedford County, although not necessarily satisfactorily. A notable example is that of James D. Boor's publication, Bedford County, PA 1790 Cross-Matched Tax-Census Records. This attempt to identify the residents by township was, for the most part, successful. But it is not without certain errors. Mr. Boor compared names which were included on the 1790 U.S. Census with residents listed on the 1788, 1789 and 1791 tax assessment returns of Bedford County. The problem with this approach arises out of the fact that the census returns were not based strictly, nor at all consistently at least, on the tax assessment returns. The census takers may or may not have utilized the tax assessment returns for the basis of their information. There is no evidence that they either did or did not utilize the tax assessment returns. Therefore, it is possible that they moved up and down the various valleys and hills of the county gathering information as they went. An entry on one family residing on one side of the mountain (and in one township) might have been followed by an entry on another family residing on the other side of the mountain (and in a different township). Mr. Boor's groupings seem to ignore that possibility. As a result, he has assigned families, who were known to have been residing in one township, to another township. His was a noble effort, to be sure, but one which must be viewed as inaccurate and inconclusive for some of the households listed on the census.
A final point needs to be made regarding this, and all the subsequent census, before moving on. The information that appears on the census is the information provided to the census takers by the head of the household. Therefore the validity of that information must be taken at face value. To quote information from this 1790 or any other census as absolute truth may very well be scholarly suicide. The researcher should always make every effort to corroborate the information gleaned from a census record with other primary source information.
| Information recorded on the 1790 U.S. Census:
* Name of head of family.
* Number of free white males of sixteen years and upwards,
including heads of families.
* Number of free white males under sixteen years.
* Number of free white females, including heads of families.
* Number of all other free persons.
* Number of slaves.
The 1790 U.S. Census is available on microfilm, and can be purchased by check or money order from the National Archives at the following address: National Archives Trust Fund, P.O. Box 100793, Atlanta, GA, 30384-0793. The NATF will accept credit cards as payment. If paying by credit card, include the card number, expiration date and the cardholder's signature, and write to: National Archives Trust Fund, Cashier (NAT), 8601 Adelphi Road, Room 5100, College Park, MD 20740-6001. You can also place an order by phone to: (800) 234-8861 between the hours of 8:00am and 4:30pm est.
Pennsylvania returns are found on Microfilm Publication #M637. Bedford County is recorded on Roll #9. Huntingdon County is recorded on Roll #8.
Transcripts of the original returns are available in book form also. Pennsylvania returns can be found in the book, Heads Of Families At The First U.S. Census, Pennsylvania, 1790. The book, originally published in 1908, was available as a 1998 reprint from Family Line Publications. (Family Line Publications was sold to Willow Bend Books, a division of Heritage Books, Inc.) Willow Bend Books can be contacted at: 65 E. Main St., Westminster, MD 21157, or by phone at: (800)876-6103. Bedford County returns are found on pages 18 through 26. Huntingdon County returns are found on pages 122 through 126.