Reconstructing the 1790 Census of Tennessee

The official “Census Report Returned to the United States Congress” by William Blount, dated 19 Sept 1791, is all that appears to survive of the original schedules submitted by the local militia captains.  It is a summary of the total population in 7 counties (Washington, Greene, Sullivan, Hawkins, Davidson, Sumner, and Tennessee) and 1 district (South of  French Broad River)–35, 691:

  1. Free white males of 21 years and upwards, including heads of families–6,271
  2. Free white males under 21 years–10,277
  3. Free white females, including heads of families–15,365
  4. All other free persons, 361
  5. Slaves, 3,417

Blount noted that there were several captains who had not yet returned their schedules–three in Greene County, one in Davidson County, and one district from South of the French Broad River*.  (See Territorial Papers of the United States, Volume IV:  Territory South of the River Ohio, 1790-1796, compiled and edited by Clarence Edwin Carter.  US Government Printing Office, 1936, p. 81.)

To reconstruct the missing census entries, we use contemporary lists–tax lists, militia rolls, land grants and deeds, claims for pre-emption lands, names recorded in diaries and journals.  And numerous histories compiled by local historians from records that we have not seen or read ourselves.

There are many pitfalls in using name lists as evidence of residence.

Tennessee in 1790 was on the frontier’s edge:

__Indians were literally fighting for their lives against the encroachments of new settlers, as well as their lands.

__Politicians, at odds with each other, tried to merge the pressures of special interests, highly positioned men juggling for preferment, and specific agendas of their own.

__Organized groups of speculators petitioned for lands to uncertain jurisdictions, often re-granting and re-selling lands they had not legally received title to– some speculators had NEVER lived there and had no intention of ever settling those lands. And those they sold their lands to may NOT ever locate on those lands.

__Military installations included soldiers and paid mercenaries who served and then went home.   Local men and volunteers also served tours within a day’s ride of the fort–it was their day job.  Were they enumerated at all?

__Trading posts and inns were maintained by agents for absentee owners.  Serving travelers and emigrants on their way to someplace else.

__Stations, established for the protection of settlers were established, wiped out or abandoned during Indian uprisings, re-activated over and over.

__Long Hunters came for furs and skins, foraged in the rich wilderness for 6-8 months at a time, then returned to their homes in other states.

__Men dominate these lists–males under 21 may be referenced, women rarely.  Widows caught between marriages may also be referenced without naming any of their husbands.

So I am wrestling with all these quantifiers as I amass a “census” of persons residing in Tennessee, 1787-1791.  With the additional difficulty of determining where in all this Western Country they actually lived.  And I have chosen to exclude 1786 and before as well as 1792 and later.  Although, persons recorded in lists and records of these dates may very well be present from 1787 to 1791 too.

Each source contributing to the “census” is fully cited by code number, sometimes with comments about the records on which each one is based.  That way, you can know where to place the blame if the name is fake.

Fake settlers in the Western Country–

Names of persons who do not exist at all can be found in petitions for government preferment where a specific number of signatures or marks is required to qualify for statehood, for a representative in government, for election of local officials, for a full jury.

Names of persons who do exist, they just did not settle in Tennessee during those dates.  Although, they may have been residents at other times.  Leaving them off a specific list seems wrong.

Names of persons not eligible to sign or to be included because of age, gender, origin, actual place of residence, or length of residence.  These names are written in to pad the totes.  Absentee owners of land or local commercial interests were often included.

In the words of the inhabitants themselves:

The Petition of Sundry Inhabitants of Greene County Humbly Sheweth That We labour under Great Disadvantages and Difficulties by Reason of the great distance we lie from the Courthouse it being att least Ninety Miles from our lower Settlements and no civil Officer Residing in less than forty miles by Which means viliany often Goes unpunished and the Honest and Good Citizens Wronged–of their Right.

It is therefore our Earnest Request that your Honourable body would take into consideration our Distressed Situation and Grant us Relief by laying us off a County and Appointing Officers for the Administration of Justice…

We your Petitioners are now Sufferers by a most Cruel and unhapy War with the Cherokee Indians  We have been Closely Confind in forts these six months past and many of our people Barbarously Massacred our farms not Attended our Horses and Cattle Drove from our Stations and often we not able to do more than Defend ourselves from our Walls under these our distressed We have been Without Assistance from the more Secure ports of the Districts, the Divisions and controversy Among the people Renderd it often out of the power of the Militia officers to Assist us.  And also Some of your petitioners are Settled on unapropriated land and it is our honnest Desire to be Conformable to your Government and laws.  We have Defended our Country as far as in our power.  Att the Risque of Both life and property…  Preamble to Petition from the Inhabitants of Greene County, 20 Nov 1788, To the Honourable the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina, Jay Haywoods

*Note:  In all of the historical accounts of settlement in Tennessee that I have read or copied, there is no mention of the population “south of French Broad” River–who are these people?  And where do they fit into the scheme?

Your favorite Tennessee Genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  Sorry for this big gap in posting on my Tennessee Blog.  My time has been concentrated on generating the “census.”  Please stay tuned for updates, as I expand the master list from reliable records and sources.  You will want to be kept posted regularly about this progress.

PPS  Tennessee Research by Afton Reintjes is nearing publication.  The holdup was our decision to add a preliminary version of the Reconstructed 1790 “Census” as an Appendix to the book .  We are finishing the typing on that version of the list now.  Don’t give up on us–the result is magnificent!

PPSS The delay gives you an excellent opportunity to be among the first to get the “census.”  If you haven’t ordered your copy of Tennessee Research, you can still do so at the pre-pub price of $25.00 plus $4.00 postage.  Once printed and shipped, the regular price will be $40.00 plus $7.00 postage.  You can add your request to all of those who have already ordered–by phone (435-579-1743–call early or late, I am at the library doing genealogy research during the day), by FAX (435-553-4585), or by postal mail (PO Box 129, Tremonton UT 84337-0129).

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