Category Archives: 1830s

1837 African American Census – Thomas Little


Today, after the torrential rain, I rushed down to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to find the 1837 African American Census. My $8.00 was well worth it although it started to seem as though I was going to go home empty-handed. No such luck!


I had been warned by someone ever so helpful at HSP that they did have the census but “it didn’t contain much information.” Thank goodness, I’d seen the 1847 African American Census and knew these documents were genealogy GOLD! I’m glad I’m not easily discouraged and you really can’t be when embarking on genealogy. Here is a list of what is contained in the census:

  • Name of family
  • Total number of residents
  • Number of residents who are natives of the state
  • Number of residents who are not natives of the state
  • Occupation of males
  • Occupation of females
  • Value of property
  • Real estate
  • Amount of incumbrance
  • Personal estate
  • Amount paid for ground rent
  • Amount paid for house rent
  • Amount paid for water rent
  • Number of children in day school
  • Number of children not in day school
  • Amount of tax paid
  • How freed and cost of freedom
  • If from another state, how much property brought to Philadelphia
  • Number of children in Sunday school
  • Number of children not in Sunday school
  • Number of household members belonging to beneficial societies
  • Name of the meeting attended by household members


At any rate, the first volume I reviewed listed a Tobias Little. I took photos and made copies just in case. One never knows where there will be an error or typo.

tobias little

I reviewed two other volumes and found no Hogans or Littles. As I’m rushing to leave, I review the last volume and three pages in at the bottom of the page – I found Thomas Little living in Sterling Alley with eight family members, seven natives to Pennsylvania and one not native. This sounds like my family.

The case supporting Thomas Little as my 5th great-grandfather is pretty compelling but it is indirect. There is a listing of Catherine Little (b 1788) as Thomas’ widow in the city directory.  Thomas Little, Jr (Jul 1817) stated his father was born in Pennsylvania while his mother was born in New Jersey. We know Catherine states multiple times that she was born in New Jersey. I found Thomas Little on the 1820 Census which is a good gauge for his age.

I’m pretty confident that 1) Thomas and Catherine married and 2) Thomas was born in Pennsylvania between 1780 and 1790. If so, this would mean that Thomas Little would be the key for his descendents to qualify for in the First Families of Pennsylvania – Colonies and Commonwealth – 1638 – 1790.  I plan to spend the next month trying to find additional information to support this contention  as the deadline to apply is May 30 for recognition in October.

But back to the 1837 Census.  So much for the census “not containing much information.”

thomas little 1

Add to the list of things I know about my ancestors the following:

  • Thomas worked as a sugar refiner or at a sugar refinery.
  • He had not amassed any real estate, renting his home for $70 per year. His personal wealth was $350.
  • Two of the children that lived with him (probably his children) attended school.
  • Confirmation again that none of the members of the household were manumitted, i.e. they were not born enslaved.
  • One member of the family belonged to Daughters of Ethiopia and the family attend The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas for religious worship.

thomas little 2

What’s interesting about the St. Thomas confirmation, my grandmother, Thomas’ 3rd great granddaughter was Episcopalian. I had a hunch I was going to find that her choice of faith went back very far. My instinct now has been confirmed.

Gee, I don’t know – qualifying for First Families of Pennsylvania, confirming they were not born enslaved AND ascertaining the church my ancestors attended in the 1830s  (which may lead to other documents) seems more than “nothing” to me! But maybe I’m not indifferent…eh…impartial.

This week has been a very good week in breakthroughs. As always, I’m interested in building a network of researchers for this time period. Please spread the word. Thanks!