The 1840 US Census

The 1840 US census was taken as of June 1, 1840.  It revealed that the population had grown to 17 million people, which included about 2.5 million slaves.

This was the last US census to name only heads of households.  Other family members and slaves were counted and placed in various age categories. 

What was happening in the US in particular, and in the world in general, during this decade?

People and Issues in the 1840s

The 1840s were a very busy time in the US, with no fewer than 5 men holding the office of US President.

Martin van Buren (1782 - 1862) was the US President from 1837 - 1841. 

Prior to becoming President, he served as Vice-President under Andrew Jackson, from 1833 to 1837.

William Henry Harrison (1773 - 1841) was President from Mar 4, 1841 to April 4, 1841.  He was the first President to die in office. 

Prior to becoming President, he held various political positions.  He rose to national prominence after leading American forces against Native Americans at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811.

John Tyler (1790 - 1862) was President from April 4, 1841 to March 4, 1845.  He died of cholera, only three months after his term in office ended.

Prior to this, he had been Vice President under President Harrison.

James Polk (1795 - 1849) served as President from March 4, 1845 to March 4, 1849. 

Prior to becoming President, he was Governor of Tennessee (1839 - 1841).

Zachary Taylor (1784 - 1850) was President from March 4, 1849 - July 1, 1850.  A career military man, Taylor became a national hero after his successes in the American-Mexican war. 

Taylor died in 1850, the result of a stomach illness.

During the decade of the 1840 US census, among other important events, the following occurred:

  • In 1842 , the Webster-Ashburton Treaty was signed, settling a border dispute between Canada and the US with respect to Maine.
  • In 1843, the Oregon Trail was complete.  A 2,000-mile-long trail which had been used by fur traders and others travelling by foot or on horseback, parts of the trail were widened over time, making wagon train travel possible.  By 1843, the trail was open all the way through the mountains.  From 1843 to 1869, the years when the trail was at its zenith in terms of use, about 400,000 persons used it to cross the Rockies.   
  • In 1846, the US declared war on Mexico.  In the 2-year war that ensued, the US captured Mexico City.  The treaty ending the War in 1848 resulted in New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Texas, Wyoming, and California becoming part of the US, for which the US paid $15 million.
  • In 1849, gold was found in California, and the California Gold Rush began, with approximately 80,000 people migrating there.

Queen Victoria. Painting by Winterhalter, 1843.  Public Domain.

In the UK, Queen Victoria became queen in 1837, and reigned until 1901.

Prime Ministers during the 1840s were:

  • William Lamb - 1835 - 1841;
  • Sir Robert Peel - 1841 - 1846;  and
  • Lord John Russell - 1846 - 1852.

In France, King Louis-Philippe was on the throne.

Various revolutions, known together as "The 1848 Revolution", occurred in European countries during this decade.  There were mass waves of immigration to various countries as a result.

A cholera epidemic swept through Europe in the mid-1840s; in England, there was an outbreak in 1848, along with typhus and influenza.  Thousands died from these diseases.

What States were Included in the 1840 US Census?

The following states and territories were included in this enumeration.  The West of the country was still in territories, rather than states, with little settlement.





District of Columbia














New Hampshire

New Jersey

New York

North Carolina



Rhode Island

South Carolina





What Questions were asked on the 1840 US Census?

The 1840 US census asks the same questions as in 1830, with the same age divisions.

It adds questions regarding the number of persons who have military pensions, how many in the family are in various stages of schooling, and how many family members are employed in various types of industry.

It also asks how many whites and colored persons are deaf and dumb, blind, or insane. The “insane” category is subdivided into "insane" and "idiots", and asks for the number of each in public versus private care. (Presumably, the enumerators were given instruction in the difference between insane and idiotic!)

Here is the detail of the questions asked, in list form:

    1. names of heads of families;
    2. number of free white males, in 13 age categories
      (under 5, 5-9, 10-14, 15-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70-79, 80-89, 90-99, and 100+);
    3. number of free white females, in the same 13 age categories
      (under 5, 5-9, 10-14, 15-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70-79, 80-89, 90-99, and 100+);
    4. number of free colored males, in 7 age categories
      (under 10; 10-23, 24-35, 36-54, 55-99, and 100+);
    5. number of free colored females, in the same 7 age categories
      (under 10; 10-23, 24-35, 36-54, 55-99, and 100+);
    6. number of male slaves, in the same 7 age categories
      (under 10; 10-23, 24-35, 36-54, 55-99, and 100+);
    7. number of female slaves, in the same 7 age categories
      (under 10; 10-23, 24-35, 36-54, 55-99, and 100+);
    8. number of persons in each family employed in:
      1. mining;
      2. agriculture;
      3. commerce;
      4. manufacture and trade;
      5. navigating the oceans;
      6. navigation of canals, lakes, and rivers; or
      7. learned professional engineers.
    9. number of persons included in the foregoing who are:
      1. Pensioners for revolutionary or military services
        (give name and age);
      2. Deaf and dumb white persons, in 3 age categories
        (under 14, 14-24, and 25+);
      3. Blind white persons;
      4. Insane and idiotic white persons, at public charge;
      5. Insane and idiotic white persons, at private charge;
      6. Deaf and dumb colored persons, in 3 age categories
        (under 14, 14-24, and 25+);
      7. Blind colored persons;
      8. Insane and idiotic colored persons, at public charge;
      9. Insane and idiotic colored persons, at private charge;
      10. number of students in university or college;
      11. number of scholars in academies and grammar schools;
      12. number of scholars at public charge in primary and common schools; and
      13. number of white persons over 20 years of age who cannot read and write.

To see a blank sample of the 1840 US census, click here

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