The 1st Census and the Other 1st Census

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Posted by Goody Sandy on April 09, 2000 at 07:28:57:

Good Mornin' All:

Governor William Bradford of the Plimouth Colony held the country's first census in 1627. The census was held in anticipation of the colonists' split with the London Company, a group of investors who financed their journey.

The pilgrims understood they would work for the company or the "adventurers" as they called them for seven years and then be granted their own land and livestock. In 1627, the Governor announced he would be counting every man, woman, and child in the colony and the livestock in preparation for the division of cattle.

The colonists were excited about the division and impending separation from the company. It meant they were at last going to receive their own lands and begin their own lives.

The land was divided the following year, although colonists were taxed about 200 bushels of corn each year over the next nine years to pay off a $2,000 debt incurred in buying out the company that had sponsored their voyage.

The Pilgrim leaders did not want to divide the lands until a settlement was reached with the company. They needed to be able to raise money to pay off the company, but the colonists were eager to have their own lands and livestock. Dividing the cattle was a way to buy time with the settlers until a settlement was negotiated with the company.

In late 1790, the first official census took place. In the first census, 650 people did the counting in the 13 states, the districts of Maine, Vermont and Kentucky and the Southwest Territory, which later became the state of Tennessee.

In populous towns and cities, the pay was $1 for every 300 people counted; in the countryside it was $1 for every 150 people, but that was increased in sparsely settled areas to $1 for every 50.

The count was essential. It not only established the total population but also served as the basis of apportioning state delegations to the new House of Representatives.

Unlike the secrecy rules prevailing today, the 1790 census rules required that two copies of the final tallies be publicly displayed. Records show that copies went on display in such places as "in front of the Court House," in a local gristmill, and in one case, "Mr. Henry Eckhart's Tavern." A third tally sheet was sent to President Washington.

According to the formula established by the Constitution, slaves were counted as three-fifths of a whole person, free blacks were counted as a whole person as were indentured servants.

There were just six questions asked in 1790, of which two were basic: the name of the head of each family and the number of people in each household. One such family was that of patriot Paul Revere. Revere's name appears as head of a household that included three boys under age 16 and three white females. All except Revere were listed as numbers.

When all the adding of names and numbers was over, the result did not meet everyone's expectations. Washington and other government officials had hoped the count would show a population of significantly more than 4 million. It didn't. When the census was over, the population of the United States at the end of 1790 was certified at exactly 3,929,214.

Best wishes,
Goody Sandy

Source: "Historian: 1st Census in Plymouth" by Tamara Race, The Patriot Ledger and "Six Questions on First Census" by L. Knutson, Associated Press

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