1790 United States Census

Title page of 1790 United States Census

The United States Census of 1790 was the first census of the whole United States. It recorded the population of the United States as of Census Day, August 2, 1790, as mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution and applicable laws. In the first census, the population of the United States was enumerated to be 3,929,214.[1]

Congress assigned responsibility for the 1790 census to the marshals of United States judicial districts under an act which, with minor modifications and extensions, governed census taking through 1840. "The law required that every household be visited, that completed census schedules be posted in 'two of the most public places within [each jurisdiction], there to remain for the inspection of all concerned...' and that 'the aggregate amount of each description of persons' for every district be transmitted to the president."[2]

Loss of data

Although the Census was proved statistically factual, based on data collected, the records for several states (including: Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey, and Virginia) were lost sometime between 1790 and 1830.[3] Almost one third of the original census data have been lost or destroyed since their original documentation. These include the 1790 data from: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Vermont; however, the validity and existence of most of these data can be confirmed in many secondary sources pertaining to the first census.[4]


Census data included the name of the head of the family and categorized inhabitants as follows: free white males at least 16 years of age (to assess the country's industrial and military potential), free white males under 16 years of age, free white females, all other free persons (reported by sex and color), and slaves.[5] Under the direction of the current Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, marshals collected data from all thirteen states (Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia), from the Southwest Territory, which would later become the state of Tennessee, from the district of Maine, which was then a part of Massachusetts, and from the district of Kentucky, which was then a part of Virginia.[2] The census was not conducted in Vermont until 1791, after that state's admission to the Union as the 14th state on March 4 of that year. (From 1777 until early 1791, and hence during all of 1790, Vermont was a de facto independent country whose government took the position that Vermont was not then a part of the United States.)

District Free white males of 16 years and upward, including heads of families. Free white males under 16 years. Free white females, including heads of families. All other free persons. Slaves. Total.
Vermont 22,435 22,328 40,505 255 16[lower-alpha 1][6] 85,539[lower-alpha 2]
New Hampshire 36,086 34,851 70,160 630 158 141,885
Maine 24,384 24,748 46,870 538 0 96,540
Massachusetts 95,453 87,289 190,582 5,463 0 378,787
Rhode Island 16,019 15,799 32,652 3,407 948 68,825
Connecticut 60,523 54,403 117,448 2,808 2,764 237,946
New York 83,700 78,122 152,320 4,654 21,324 340,120
New Jersey 45,251 41,416 83,287 2,762 11,423 184,139
Pennsylvania 110,788 106,948 206,363 6,537 3,737 434,373
Delaware 11,783 12,143 22,384 3,899 8,887 59,094[lower-alpha 3]
Maryland 55,915 51,339 101,395 8,043 103,036 319,728
Virginia 110,936 116,135 215,046 12,866 292,627 747,610
Kentucky 15,154 17,057 28,922 114 12,430 73,677
North Carolina 69,988 77,506 140,710 4,975 100,572 393,751
South Carolina 35,576 37,722 66,880 1,801 107,094 249,073
Georgia 13,103 14,044 25,739 398 29,264 82,548
Total 807,094 791,850 1,541,263 59,150 694,280 3,893,635
  1. The census of 1790, published in 1791, reports 16 slaves in Vermont. Subsequently, and up to 1860, the number is given as 17. An examination of the original manuscript allegedly shows that there never were any slaves in Vermont. The original error occurred in preparing the results for publication, when 16 persons, returned as "Free colored", were classified as "Slave". But this claim is disputed by at least one historian.
  2. Corrected figures are 85,425, or 114 less than the figures published in 1790, due to an error of addition in the returns for each of the towns of Fairfield, Milton, Shelburne, and Williston, in the county of Chittenden; Brookfield, Newbury, Randolph, and Strafford, in the county of Orange; Castleton, Clarendon, Hubbardton, Poultney, Rutland, Shrewsburg, and Wallingford, in the county of Rutland; Dummerston, Guilford, Halifax, and Westminster, in the county of Windham; and Woodstock, in the county of Windsor.
  3. Corrected figures are 59,096, or 2 more than figures published in 1790, due to error in addition.

Effect on congressional apportionment

Based upon the population enumeration provided by the 1790 Census, the 2nd Congress passed legislation which increased the size of the United States House of Representatives from 69 seats in the 2nd Congress to 105 in the 3rd and apportioned those seats among the several states accordingly.

Contemporary perception

Commemorative pitcher with census results

Both Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and President George Washington expressed skepticism[7] over the results, believing that the true population had been undercounted. If there was indeed an undercount, possible explanations for it include dispersed population, poor transportation links, limitations of contemporary technology, and individual refusal to participate.

Data availability

No microdata from the 1790 population census are available, but aggregate data for small areas, together with compatible cartographic boundary files, can be downloaded from the National Historical Geographic Information System.

City rankings

Rank City State Population[8] Region (2016)[9]
01 New York New York 33,131 Northeast
02 Philadelphia Pennsylvania 28,522 Northeast
03 Boston Massachusetts 18,320 Northeast
04 Charleston South Carolina 16,359 South
05 Baltimore Maryland 13,503 South
06 Northern Liberties Pennsylvania 9,913 Northeast
07 Salem Massachusetts 7,921 Northeast
08 Newport Rhode Island 6,716 Northeast
09 Providence Rhode Island 6,380 Northeast
10 Marblehead Massachusetts 5,661 Northeast
10 Southwark Pennsylvania 5,661 Northeast
12 Gloucester Massachusetts 5,317 Northeast
13 Newburyport Massachusetts 4,837 Northeast
14 Portsmouth New Hampshire 4,720 Northeast
15 Sherburne Massachusetts 4,620 Northeast
16 Middleborough Massachusetts 4,526 Northeast
17 New Haven Connecticut 4,487 Northeast
18 Richmond Virginia 3,761 South
19 Albany New York 3,498 Northeast
20 Norfolk Virginia 2,959 South
21 Petersburg Virginia 2,828 South
22 Alexandria Virginia 2,748 South
23 Hartford Connecticut 2,683 Northeast
24 Hudson New York 2,584 Northeast


  1. "History: 1790 Fast Facts". U.S. Census Bureau.
  2. 1 2 "History: 1790 Overview". U.S. Census Bureau.
  3. Dollarhide, William (2001). The Census Book: A Genealogists Guide to Federal Census Facts, Schedules and Indexes. North Salt Lake, Utah: HeritageQuest. p. 7.
  4. "1790 Census". 1930 Census Resources for Genealogists.
  5. "1790 Census of Population and Housing". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on May 11, 2015.
  6. http://slavenorth.com/vermont.htm
  7. "1790 Overview". U.S. Census Bureau.
  8. Population of the 100 Largest Cities and Other Urban Places in the United States: 1790 to 1990, U.S. Census Bureau, 1998
  9. "Regions and Divisions". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved September 9, 2016.

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