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The 1790 United States Census

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On March 1, 1790, the President of the United States George Washington, Vice President John Adams and Speaker of the House Frederick Muhlenberg, signed the census act into law. On August 2, 1790 all households in the 13 states were to be visited and the following information recorded according to the United States Census Bureau:

  • Free white males of 16 years and upward (to assess the country's industrial and military potential)
  • Free white males under16 years
  • Free white females
  • All other free persons
  • Slaves

In reality, the census took nine months to complete and by then, Vermont had become a state bringing the total to 14 states and the southwest territory which was comprised of the future state of Tennessee.

The states included in the 1790 census were Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Not all the records have survived, North Carolina, New Jersey, Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia and Delaware were lost but some of them have been reconstructed using other records.

The results showed that there were slightly less than four million people in the United States. The Director of the Census Bureau in 1790 was the future third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson.

If you have ancestors who may be on the 1790 census, where can you find that information? One of the easiest ways is on Ancestry.com but that requires that you join the site. You can get a two week membership for free but after that it is going to cost. Familysearch.com has an index of the 1790 census and it is free to search.

What may come as a surprise is what the largest urban areas in 1790 were. While the top three are quite obvious, New York City, Philadelphia and Boston, some of the others, Newport, R.I., Salem, Mass. and Charleston, S.C. may come as somewhat of a surprise.

While the information on the 1790 United States Census is somewhat limited, used in combination with what you may already know from more current census and other records it may help you place your ancestor in a given area during this very important time period.

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