Counting the people – since 1790

After Independence, it was important for Congress to know the total population of the fledgling nation, and know where its people lived.  It was one of the first things that the new Congress instructed the government to do, and they wanted it done every 10 years (which continues to this day).This information was needed to form a representative government and to make the states pay their fair share of the Independence war bill.

And so on August 2, 1790 – the first census day  – the brave counters – also known as enumerators – rode out on horseback to find the people of this country and count them for the first census.

The census listed the head of household and counted 1) The number of free white males age 16 and over (to get a handle on the number of men available for military service) 2) The number of free white females  and all other free persons & 3) Number of slaves

There was supposed to be a form for recording the answers, but most often the Marshals had to provide whatever paper they could find to record the information. The census of 1790 took 18 months to complete, and counted 3.9 million people.

Census 1790 – Newburyport, MA

Counting the People

What started in 1790 continues to this day in America. Today, April 2, 2020 is the 24th Census day, and the first that can be filled online.