Tag Archives: Friends Historical Library

Update on Catherine Little – 1847 African American Census – Philadelphia Completed by Quaker Society

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I’d been excited about this census since learning of its existence while reading “Forging Freedom: The Formation of Philadelphia’s Black Community, 1720-1840“, by Gary B. Nash. I knew it was accessible either at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania or the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College. I’m very pleased that Ancestry.com continues to add to content to their product. I’ve found so much in the last few months, including this census and previously unavailable death certificates.

To begin, the documents are very difficult to read on Ancestry.com. AND there is a wealth of information contained in this census. I was excited about it prior to getting my hands on it but when I realized the details of what is actually contained within this census, I’m floored, flabbergasted but grateful. I’ve had one nagging question about my 5th Great Grandmother, Catherine Little, born in 1788 in New Jersey. Since this time period was in such flux as it related to person-hood in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, I could not assume that she was born free, enslaved or served an apprenticeship. I’ve struggled with developing a research plan because I do not know which county she originated from in New Jersey.

The 1847 Census contains the following information where I’m assuming blank spaces are negative responses:

1 – Name

2 – Residence

3 – Number in family

4 – Males

5 – Females

6 – Under 5

7 – Under 15

8 – Under 50

9 – Over 50

10 – Natives of state

11 – Not natives

12 – Male intemperate

13 – Female intemperate

14 – Number insane

15 – Number helpless

16 – Receives public aid

17 – Orphans

18 – Not taken care of by parents

19 – Can read

20 – At service

21 – Not at service

22 – Can write

23 – Occupation of Males and compensation

24 – Occupation of Females and compensation

25 – Children under 20 and not at school how employed

26 – Number at school

27 – School attended

28 – Number occupying a room

29 – Size of rooms

30 – Whole number in house when rooms are occupied

31 – Value of real estate

32 – Incumbrances

33 – Personal property

34 – Cost of house or room

35 – Water rent (??)

36 – Taxes

37 – Born slaves

38 – Bought Freedom

39 – Amount paid for Freedom

40 – By whom manumitted

41 – Number belong to a beneficial societies

42 – Number attending religious meetings

43 – Number not attending religious meetings

44 – Belong to Temperance Society

45 – Remarks

IF you are fortunate enough to have an ancestor interviewed in this census, feel blessed because it is very rare for us to have this information, particularly during the antebellum period.  Thank you Friends Society!

What I’ve learned about Catherine

Catherine Little 1847 African American Census, Philadelphia

In 1847, Catherine Little lived with two other people in her household. She was the head of household living with one male and one female. Catherine was over 50 at the time and this is noted in the census. The other two people living with her were under 50 but I would assume over 15 as this is not marked on the census. All three of the members of Catherine’s household were born in Pennsylvania and none were intemperate. All three could read and write. The male worked as a waiter. At least one of the females worked twice a week but the occupation is not listed.

Other rich details include that two of the members of the family belong to a beneficial society (very common during this time), all three attended religious services and one of the household members belonged to the Temperance Society. These are wonderful details to help create a portrait of who Catherine was.

But to answer one of the most pressing questions I had regarding Catherine Little: according to this census, she was not born enslaved.

I can’t wait to absorb this all and bookend it with the 1840 and 1850 censuses for Catherine and her children. I need to also explore the Bass connection. The Bass brothers and my ancestors resided together for several years. What might I uncover following the Bass line of research, I wonder. What can proximity tell me, if anything?

As always, I’m looking for anyone who has ancestors to research who were African Americans in antebellum Philadelphia. Please spread the word. Thanks!