Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Question of Race: The U.S. Census - Part 1

Roy Wilhelm wrote a newspaper column the other day called “Slavery Brought Blacks to Area.”

It was a nice piece and I enjoyed reading it. I love a good historical story and I was particularly interested in the first African-American born in Sandusky County, Mary Jane Curtis. According to Wilhelm, Curtis was born Oct. 2, 1833. Her husband Thomas George Reese voted in 1867 which was three years prior to the 15th Amendment being ratified.

The genealogist in me couldn't resist taking a couple quick peeks at the couple in the U.S. Census, so I logged onto Ancestry.com and found Mary J. Curtis listed with her parents in the 1850 census. They were living in Rice Township, family number 1538.

Vincent Curtis Age 47
Jane Curtis Age 46
Charles Curtis Age 23
Mary J. Curtis Age 16
Ellen L. Curtis Age 15
William E. Curtis Age 8
Peter Thompson Age 7

Vincent was listed as a farmer and his birthplace given as Delaware. His wife, Jane, was born in Pennsylvania. When I searched for them in Sandusky County in the 1840 census, the family was indeed living in Sandusky County but the last name was spelled “Curtice.”

They were not living in Sandusky County for the 1830 census, but a Vincent Curtis of the correct age and listed under “Free Colored Persons” was found living in Chillicothe, Ohio. I could not locate the family prior to 1830.

Thomas George Reese is not found in any census until he shows up in the 1860 census in Sandusky County as a barber. Thomas was born in Mississippi and though I looked for him in the 1850 enumeration, I was unable to find him. For the record, in the 1850 census Mississippi enumerated 295,718 whites, 930 “free colored” and 309,878 slaves.

Mary Jane and her family were listed as mulattoes in the 1850 census, she and Thomas were both listed as such in the 1860 and 1870 census. In the 1880 census, and thereafter until Thomas's death on September 13, 1911 the family is listed as black. (The death certificate, however gives the race as mulatto.)

The mulatto status was important distinction because two separate cases before the Ohio Supreme Court in 1842 held that if a man was more than 50 percent white and less than 50 percent black, he was considered white and therefore had the right to vote in Ohio. This was repealed in 1859 by a statute that held in part, “That the judge or judges of any election … shall reject the vote of any person offering to vote at such elections, and claiming to be a white male citizen of the United States, whenever it shall appear to such judge or judges that the person so offering to vote has a distinct and visible admixture of African blood.” This statute is what makes Thomas Reese's vote in 1867 an impressive occurrence in the state of Ohio.

The whole mulatto/black issue made me wonder about the criteria for enumerating race. Below are the instructions given to the enumerators for each census 1850 through 1880.

1850 and 1860 census
Under heading 6, “Color,” in all cases where the person is white, leave the space blank; In all cases where the person is black, insert the letter B; If mulatto, insert M. It is very desirable that these particulars be carefully regarded.

1870 census
“Indians not taxed” are not to be enumerated on schedule 1. Indians out of their tribal relations, and exercising the rights of citizens under state or Territorial laws, will be included. In all cases, write “Ind.” in the column for “Color.” Although no provision is made for the enumeration of “Indians not taxed,” it is highly desirable, for statistical purposes, that the number of such persons not living upon reservations should be known.

It must not be assumed that, where nothing is written in this column, “White” is to be understood. The column is always to be filled. Be particularly careful in reporting the class Mulatto. The word is here generic, and includes quadroons, octoroons, and all persons having any perceptible trace of African blood. Important scientific results depend upon the correct determination of this case in schedules 1 and 2.

1880 census
By the phrase “Indians not taxed” is meant Indians living on reservations under the care of Government agents, or roaming individually, or in bands, over unsettled tracts of country. Indians not in tribal relations, whether full-bloods or half-breeds, who are found mingled with the white population, residing in white families, engaged as servants or living in huts or wigwams on the outskirts of towns or settlements are to be regarded as a part of the ordinary population of the country for the constitutional purpose of the apportionment of Representatives among the states, and are to be embraced in the enumeration.

It must not be assumed that where nothing is written in this column “white” is to be understood. The column is always to be filled. Be particularly careful in reporting the class mulatto. The word is here generic, and includes quadroons, octoroons, and all persons having any perceptible trace of African blood. Important scientific results dup upon the correct determination of this class schedules 1 and 5.

Tomorrow's post will have the instructions for enumerators of the 1890 through 1940 census.

Until Next Time!

Note this post first published online, February 19, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online http://www.thenews-messenger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=BLOGS02

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