Connected \\ August 6, 2021

A federal census from Salem lost and found

Have you ever forgotten to properly file a report at work? Perhaps you spoke to a colleague in person and didn’t see the need to keep your original notes?

Well, our ancestors were no different.

For decades, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) believed that the official 1810 census for Salem, Massachusetts was missing — it being the only absent census for the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Remarkably, the census was rediscovered after an Instagram post by PEM’s Phillips Library staff this past February caught the eye of Jack Kabrel, an archives specialist with the federal National Archives at Boston. The census had been stored away in the Phillips Library collections for years, arriving sometime between 1810 and the 1940s.

Instagram image of the 1810 census page in a book


After careful consideration, it was determined that the census belonged in the National Archives and the item was officially transferred to the federal government. However, before the almost 100-page document was moved, PEM scanned the census notebook in full color, and partnered with American Ancestors/New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) to create a free searchable database of the images. The collection can be found at AmericanAncestors.org.

But it begs the question: Why did the Phillips Library have the census notebook in its collections, and not NARA? Well, the devil is in the details.

Salem, Mass., census, 1810

Salem, Mass., census cover, 1810.

When Assistant Marshal Ebenezer Burrell set out on August 6, 1810, to make a full and accurate count of the residents of Salem, Massachusetts, he was instructed to make a formal inquiry at each dwelling house, or with the head of household, regarding the number of free white males (under the age of 10, 10-15, 16-25, 26-44, and 45 years and older), free white females (under the age of 10, 10-15, 16-25, 26-44, and 45 years and older), and free persons of color (no gender or age designator) living at the residence. He was also told to make two copies of the enumeration, placing them both in two public places for verification. And after the enumerations were confirmed, one of the copies was sent to the district court for safekeeping, while a summary of the statistics was sent to the secretary of state.

The 1810 censuses remained at their respective court houses until 1830, when the courts were asked to forward their 1790-1820 census holdings to the U.S. Department of State. The Salem enumeration never made it. This likely means that Mr. Burrell never forwarded his original enumeration to the U.S. Marshal in Massachusetts and provided him only with the statistical information required. I am sure Mr. Burrell never realized the frustration he would cause genealogists — for centuries!

The truth is, many, MANY enumerations of the 1810 United States Federal Census are missing. For example, we don’t have surviving copies of population schedules taken in Washington, D.C., Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio (Washington County survives), and Tennessee (Rutherford and some of Grainger Counties do exist). These record losses were preventable! They are missing today due to a lack of diligence by the assistant marshals, like Mr. Burrell, or a mishandling of the material once it made its way to the courthouse (i.e. fire and flooding). But there is a third possibility. These records might be safely stored in local courthouses, archives, and libraries — one just needs to know where to look!

Therefore, I am urging all readers of this blog to research whether the 1790-1820 censuses survive for their town or county. If not, you might be able to reunite more of these lost censuses with the National Archives. I wish you happy hunting!

A note regarding today’s date, August 6. If you look at the first page of the census, on the top left the year is recorded with the census day, Aug 6, under it. Census Day is the day that determines who is counted in the census and where they are counted. In 1810 that day was August 6 (always the first Monday in August). Since 1930, Census Day has kicked off on April 1.

The first page also has a text description of each column and to the right, there is a separate column for free persons of color. Here are some of the more well-known persons counted in the 1810 Federal Census for Salem, Mass:

  • Charles Lenox Remond (born 1810), a notable abolitionist who helped recruit men for the MA 54th during the Civil War). He is one of the seven free persons of color listed in the household of John Remond, his father (page 15, last line).
    Unknown, [Portrait of John Remond], undated, Salem Streets Portrait Collection. FPH000040. Courtesy of Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA.

    Unknown, [Portrait of John Remond], undated, Salem Streets Portrait Collection. FPH000040. Courtesy of Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

    • Nathaniel Bowditch, a prominent 18th-century mariner who made great advances in navigation and helped bring European mathematics to America (page 48, 9th from bottom). In 1804, East India Marine Society members elected Bowditch to organize and manage its books, papers and charts.
    • Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (born 1804), a notable American educator who opened the first English-language kindergarten in the U.S.; Mary Tyler Peabody Mann (born 1806), a notable American educator and wife of Horace Mann; Sophia Amelia Peabody Hawthorne (born 1809), an American artist and wife of Nathaniel Hawthorne. These women are three of the four females enumerated in the column “to 10” in the household of their father, Nathaniel Peabody (page 54, 9th from bottom).
    • Nathaniel Hawthorne (born 1804), a notable American author, famous for the novel The House of the Seven Gables (1851). He is the one male child enumerated in the column “to 10” in the household of his mother, Elizabeth Hawthorne (page 76, 6th from top).
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