The 1850 US Census

The 1850 US census was taken as of June 1, 1850.

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

People and Issues in the 1850s

During the 1850s, in the time period leading up to the American Civil War, the following men were US Presidents.

Zachary Taylor (1784 - 1850) was the 12th President of the U.S. His term lasted 16 months (1849 - 1850). He died in office.

Millard Fillmore (1800 - 1874), Vice-President during President Taylor's regime, became the 13th President of the U.S., upon Mr. Taylor's demise. His term lasted from 1850 to 1853.

Franklin Pierce (1804 - 1869) was the 14th President of the U.S. He was President from 1853 to 1857.

During this decade, the US nation was becoming more and more polarized, on a north/south basis, regarding the issue of slavery.

The north, being more industrialized and not requiring large amounts of inexpensive labour, was against slavery, while the south had traditionally used slaves and indentured servants for the labour-intensive activities related to their plantations and the planting and harvesting of various crops, such as cotton, hemp, and rice.

See my page on African Americans and the US Census for more details.

The California Gold Rush (1848 - 1955) continued, bringing a total of 300,000 people to the area from other parts of the US, Australia, Latin America, and many other parts of the world.

Queen Victoria.  Pubic Domai

Queen Victoria.

Public Domain

On the international stage, Queen Victoria (1819 - 1901) was the reigning monarch in Britain, from 1839 to her death in 1901.

Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (20 April 1808 – 9 January 1873), elected President of France in 1848, staged a coup in 1852, and became the ruler of the Second French Empire. He ruled as Napoleon III from 2 December 1852 to 4 September 1870.

Queen Isabella II was monarch in Spain, from 1843 to 1868.

The Great Irish Famine, which began in 1845, continued into this decade, from 1850 to 1852. The Famine saw 1 million die from starvation, and another million emigrate to various parts of the world, including England, Scotland, Canada, the U.S., and Australia.

The Crimean War (1853 - 1856) was fought in Europe, between Russia and England, France, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia-Piedmont.

What States were Included in the Census?

The following 36 states and territories were included in the 1850 US census enumeration.  As the map reveals, much of the West was still divided into territories:

Alabama Mississippi
Arkansas Missouri
California New Hampshire
Connecticut New Jersey
Delaware New Mexico
District of Columbia New York
Florida North Carolina
Georgia Ohio
Illinois Oregon
Indiana Pennsylvania
Iowa Rhode Island
Kentucky South Carolina
Louisiana Tennessee
Maine Texas
Maryland Utah
Massachusetts Vermont
Michigan Virginia
Minnesota Wisconsin

US map - 1850
US map - 1850

The usual name, age, gender, and occupation questions were asked. There were also questions regarding education and literacy.

And, of course, the familiar deaf and dumb/blind question asked in earlier censuses was again present, but this time it was coupled with “insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict” – all of them lumped into one category! I wonder how many of the answers to that question were truthful! </p>

What Questions were asked on the Census?

The actual detail of the questions in the 1850 US census was as follows:

  • name of every person whose regular abode on June 1, 1850 / 1860 was in this family;
  • age;
  • gender;
  • color (white, black, mulatto);
  • profession, occupation, or trade of all males over age 15;
  • value of real estate;
  • place of birth (state, territory, or country);
  • whether married within the year;
  • whether attended school within the year;
  • persons over 20 years of age who cannot read or write;
  • Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper or convict.

The 1850 standard US census form was accompanied by a schedule of slaves. However, those schedules did not name the slaves; rather, they listed the names of the slave owners!

The slaves were described in a number of categories, but they were anonymous. An exception to this rule was slaves who were 100 years old or older. In that case, they could be named, and their background and a short biography could be given.

The following list details the contents of the forms:

  • names of slave owners;
  • number of slaves;
  • description - age, sex, color;
  • fugitives from the state;
  • number manumitted; and
  • deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic

To see a blank sample of the 1850 US census, click here.

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