Remarks by the census bureau on the 1850 Census after its completion

Following the completion of the 1850 Census, the Census Bureau in Washington compiled the information into a volume entitled Seventh Census of the United States: 1850, Embracing a Statistical View of Each of the States and Territories, arranged by Counties, Towns, etc., under the following divisions..." (Washington: Robert Armstong, public printer, 1853). The volume itself breaks down all the information gathered in the census--not just in the population schedules, which are the part of the census transcribed on this site, but also the other five schedules--by state, county and town.The volume is prefaced with some remarks of a general nature, which are interesting in that they reveal the goals of the census bureau, the obstacles that they came across in trying to reach those goals, and some thoughts about improving the census process. This excerpt is from page iv. of the volume:


The present Census system of the United States is, in many respects, defective. It is very difficult to obtain, upon short notice, and for a brief period, able statistical talent in Washington. By the time an office has acquired experience it is disbanded. The persons selected as enumerators are often proved, by the returns, to be entirely incompetent for which, perhaps, the low rate of compensation or the mode of appointment may be assigned as reasons. The districts embraced by each enumerator are too large; if practicable, for accuracy, they should be as small as the districts in Great Britain. In this case, the permanent State and county officers ought to form a part of the machinery. It would be well for Congress to recommend the establishment of State Bureaus of Statistics, and rely upon them for all other information than the decennial enumerations of the people. These State Institutions, adopting the machinery at present in operation for assessment purposes, might greatly economise the expense and, upon condition of their collecting information according to certain forms to he prescribed by the Federal Government, be aided in some shape from the treasury, or at least their reports, annually or biannually, might be condensed and published with those of the Departments at Washington. The reports of foreign consuls could be embraced in the same volume. Information of this sort is indispensable to the National Legislature, and is every day called for in its deliberations. The States would very soon adopt the suggestion, and a beginning is recommended with such as first adopt it. Ever since the origin of the Government, Congress has been in the habit of collecting and publishing information relating to the industry and progress of the people, as will be seen in the collection of schedules in this volume.

The schedules which were adopted for 1850 seem to require some remarks. They were framed under the superintendency of a Census Board, with the advice of some of the first statisticians of the country-Mr. Shattuck, Dr. Chickering, Dr. Jarvis, Mr. Capen, and others. At another time the suggestions of each of these gentlemen will be referred to, and the points indicated in which their views were adopted or rejected. This experience will be valuable for another Census.

The kind of errors upon the face of the schedules are here noted:

Schedule 1. [note: these are the population schedules transcribed on this website] -Names, dwellings, and families are sometimes found to be duplicated. The name of a male is occasionally checked in the column for females, &C The occupations are not distinguished in a manner calculated to result in any correct conclusions, as will be seen in the notes to the text and in the Appendix. The English system is the only true one. The value of real estate is taken loosely, and induces no confidence. Blanks in the nativity column sometimes extend to whole pages. These blanks were considered in the office to mean that the person was born in the State, as the only probable construction. Frequently, after naming a dozen or more persons born in the State, a person is mentioned born in another State; then a dozen follow with the usual check, (") though it is evident that the last belonged to the State of the first mentioned.

In regard to ages the assistant marshals are often remiss with infants. They omit fractions, and show all to be of one year of age, instead of noting the parts of the year, etc. On this account some counties include no births within the year.

A few domesticated or taxed Indians are noted in some of the sheets, and are included in the tables of the whites.

It is to be regretted that instructions were not given to separate minutely upon the schedules every village, town, or urban aggregation whatever, as the information thus obtained would have been very valuable. This ought to be done hereafter. In the present work many towns of importance are mixed up with the counties, and could not be separated. The smaller towns at the South are generally neglected in this way by the enumerators.

Under the head of "Married," a straight mark (|) is placed opposite the name of the parties. The mark is often put after only one of the names, in such a manner as to produce a doubt if it were not intended for the column of the illiterate, or was not an error of the assistant in noting the marriage instead if the persons married. The difficulties in the " Deaf, dumb," etc., blank, are explained in the remarks upon those tables.

Schedule 2.-- [Slave Schedule] Sometimes the names of owners of slaves are duplicated. Slaves resident in the towns are often not distinguishable from those merely owned there and resident in the county. This should be remedied in another Census. As the same person may own slaves in different counties or States, or in several parts of one county, the actual number of slaveholders cannot easily be ascertained, though they may all be given correctly in the general population sheets.

Schedule 3.- [Mortality Schedule: deaths within the previous year] In another place will be found remarks upon the mortality statistics. The blanks are not filled as generally as they should be by the assistant marshals, even in cases where the deaths are reported by them. Nevertheless, in the opinion of medical statisticians who have examined the tables, they have sufficient utility to be published. The Medical Convention of the United States appointed a committee to request the publication from Congress. Dr. Barton, of New Orleans, who has made the subject the study of his life, and has prepared many valuable charts illustrative of the mortality of the country, after examining the returns, says, in a letter to the office:

"The Mortality Statistics of the city of New Orleans are not correct, nor can they be expected to be correct for any large city, from their fluctuating population and frequent changes of tenants and habitations ; for these, the Cemetery Reports of these places could be advantageously substituted. But it is far different in the fixed and permanent population of the country ; and there the truth of the returns made by the deputy marshals depends upon the fidelity of the agent, &c.

"From these views my opinion is clearly deducible. The returns are necessarily imperfect. Such returns are always unavoidably so at first; but they are to be presumed as correct for one section of the country as another, and they therefore furnish a perfect system of comparison -- the condition of relative salubrity -- one of the most important objects to be attained by such information; but it not only does this--it furnishes a record of the more or less general salubrity. It also enters into detail ; it exposes the special liability of each section of our country to particular forms of disease," &c.

Dr. Jarvis, of Massachusetts, in some very valuable and able letters to the office during the past summer, remarks:

"The only use that can be legitimately made of the statistics of mortality is the comparison of diseases and ages in different conditions, and among different people. It seems probable that a fair average of all the actual diseases was reported, though they fall short of complete numbers."

Schedules 4, 5, and 6 are referred to in the text, or in the notes at the end of the volume. The sixth, entitled "Social Statistics," is in many respects so defective as to have required considerable correspondence with the marshals. On the subject of education much light, it is hoped, will soon be derived from a publication contemplated by the Pennsylvania Teachers' Association, who have sent out a circular to every part of the Union, asking for information upon the following points:

1. The provisions made for establishing a general system of common-school education, and the length of time the schools so established are kept open during the year.
2. The general character of incorporated and other private schools, academies, and seminaries.
3. Parochial or denominational schools.
4. Evening schools for the education of adults.
5. Colleges and universities.
6. Professional schools for the study of divinity, law, or medicine.
7. Peculiar kinds of educational institutions -- such as manual-labor schools, female colleges, schools for the blind, for the deaf and dumb, &c.
8. Normal schools, educational societies, and teachers' institutes.
9. Educational periodicals.

In regard to all kinds of institutions enumerated above, it is desirable to know their number, and also the number of their instructors and students, the average compensation received by the instructors, and the average expenses, if any, of the students.

At the close of the mortality returns of the counties, the assistant marshals, etc., have in most cases made some general remarks upon the topographical features of the section, its geology, healthfulness, etc. This information, whether valuable or not, has not been examined or used. In connexion with it there are on file in the office letters from most of the geologists of the United States, giving very interesting particulars in regard to surveys, etc. These letters were courteously written at the request of the present Superintendent, aud will be of great use should the mining statistics be published hereafter with the manufacturing.

If the statistics of mortality and of manufactures are published, it is recommended that the following items be included, which will require several tables: For the deaths, the county, disease, age, sex, color, and condition; nativity of the party; occupation; time of death ; and duration of sickness. For manufactures, the capital employed, the kind of power, the persons employed, and the product. Capital invested, material used, average wages were returned in such a manner as to lead to great confusion, and, being of less importance, might be omitted.

Return to the 1850 US Census of Aroostook County, Maine

Last revised 2 Apr 2002
2003 C. Gagnon