The African-American Census
[ A D D I T I O N A L . R E S O U R C E S ]

Primary Documentation Related to the African-American Census of 1838

Committee to Visit the Colored People. Census facts Collected by Benjamin C. Bacon and Charles Gardner. (Philadelphia, 1838).

Census facts Collected by Benjamin C. Bacon and Charles Gardner is the actual written record of the census compiled by Bacon and Gardner. The census in its entirety is composed of four volumes divided into the geographical areas "City," "Northern Liberties," "Kensington," "Spring Garden," "Southwark," and "Moyamensing." The original manuscripts are held on deposit at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

In addition to this manuscript, the census was also published on microfilm in 1975 as part of the collection of the Papers of the Abolition Society. The census and the accompanying "Analysis of Census Facts, 1838," may be found on Reel 26, miscellaneous of the microfilm publication. The microfilm is available at the Historical Society and at the Quaker and Special Collections of Haverford College.

Pennsylvania Abolition Society. The present state and condition of the free people of color, of the city of Philadelphia and adjoining districts, as exhibited by the report of a committee of the Pennsylvania society for promoting the abolition of slavery, &c. (Philadelphia, 1838).

The present state and condition of the free people of color, of the city of Philadelphia and adjoining districts is the printed report that followed the African-American Census conducted by the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1837. The document was published as a printed pamphlet, which is 40 pages in length. An original copy of the text is held on deposit at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. A digital copy of the text is available through the Library of Congress project entitled American Memory: Historical Collections for the National Digital Library. Through the American Memory site, the document is available scanned in its original formed and transcribed.

The first portion of the report was presented to the Abolition Society on January 5, 1838, while the second portion of the report was presented in April. The report provided a synthesized version of the major findings of the census. Some portions of the text include basic summaries of information, such as the finding that the average house rent per family was $44. However, a significant portion of the text also comments reflectively on the census findings, stating, for example, that it is not surprising that high numbers of blacks depend on public support given the types of discrimination they encounter, which may prevent them from learning higher skilled and better paid professions (12). At another point, the author discusses the monies spent by blacks on rent and notes, "These various items, then taken in the aggregate, form a very considerable amount, and show that this class of our population is of much value to the community" (11). Statements such as these reveal that the report, though a presentation of the largely statistical census findings, is nonetheless a highly politicized document that often aims to present a positive view of the black population.

Link to Report at Library of Congress In the American Memory Collection From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909.

Primary Documentation Related to the African-American Censuses of 1838, 1847, and 1856

Needles, Edward. Ten Years' Progress: A Comparison of the State and Condition of the Colored People in the City and County of Philadelphia from 1838 to 1847. (Philadelphia, 1849).

Pennsylvania Society For Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. Statistics of the colored people of Philadelphia. (Philadelphia, 1856).

Secondary Sources

Nash, Gary. “The Dream Deferred.” Forging Freedom: The Formation of Philadelphia’s Black Community, 1720-1840. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988. 246-281.

"The Dream Deferred" is the concluding chapter of Gary Nash's work Forging Freedom: The Formation of Philadelphia's Black Community, 1720-1840. This section of the text opens by examining the demographic make-up of the African-American population in the 1830's and draws extensively on the census conducted by the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1838 as a source of data. Following this detailed information specifically about the African-American population, Nash incorporates a discussion of race relations between blacks and whites living in Philadelphia during the 1830's and 1840's.

"The Dream Deferred" provides an example of how one scholar has utilized the data given in the African-American Census. Using statistical information from the census, Nash discusses such issues as economic stratification within the African-American population, prominent institutions (including churches and benevolent societies), living patterns of different economic classes, and the educational opportunities available to African-American children. The extensive detail found in the census allows Nash to give the reader a rich understanding of the experiences of the African-American population living in Philadelphia at this time.

Hershberg, Theodore. "Free Blacks in Antebellum Philadelphia: A Study of Ex-Slaves, Freeborn, and Socioeconomic Decline." African Americans in Pennsylvania: Shifting Historical Perspectives. Ed: Joe William Trotter Jr. and Eric Ledell Smith. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997. 123-147.

Theodore Hershberg's text offers another example of how the data contained in the African-American Census may be employed in scholarly projects. Hershberg's text is contained within the larger volume African Americans in Pennsylvania, which focuses on the presence of blacks in Pennsylvania from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century. Hershberg examines the population of free blacks in Philadelphia comparatively, considering demographic changes in the population between 1837 and 1880. To accomplish this, he relies heavily on the census of 1838 and 1856 taken by the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and the census taken by the Society of Friends in 1847. Hershberg contends that in attempting to argue that blacks were capable of functioning outside of the institution of slavery and that they in fact made valuable contributions to society, the census presented an overly optimistic picture of blacks' situations that "obscured a remarkable deterioration in the socioeconomic condition of blacks from 1830 to the Civil War" (126). He points to a variety of hardships black Philadelphians endured during this time, such as race riots and political disenfranchisement, and the largely negative effects these had on their socioeconomic circumstances (127). Hershberg employs the census data to document the destructiveness of the urban experience for blacks in nineteenth-century Philadelphia and to argue that for blacks, such forces as immigration, urbanization and industrialization unfolded within a context of structural inequality and racism, which made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to compete economically with either native- or foreign-born whites (141).


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