Tag Archives: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

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!



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


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!



1847 Census of African Americans in Philadelphia


While doing some research this morning, I notice that Ancestry.com has a promotion and portal for Quaker records. I’d recently become aware of the Quaker census of African American in Philadelphia. I’ve not had the opportunity to track this down at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania but I’m pleased to learn that the documents are available online via Ancestry. So if you have ancestors who may have lived in Philadelphia in 1847, let me know. If I can find some information for you, I will share if you do not have an Ancestry subscription.

Here is a description:

About Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, African-American Census, 1847

The Philadelphia Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends (Quakers) commissioned this census of thousands of free African American families and individuals living in six areas of the Philadelphia. This was done in order to further their efforts to help the African-American population of the city.

The census includes information on a variety of social variables. Included for each family: Name of head of household, household size by gender and age; street address; employment and compensation of everyone working in the home; children’s schools; value of personal property; whether members were born in Pennsylvania, debts, taxes, ability to read and write, how many family members were born as slaves and how much they paid for their freedom (and to whom, when known).

Although this census excludes the substantial number of African Americans living in white households, they provide data not found in the federal population schedules. When combined with the information on African Americans taken from federal censuses, it offers researchers a richly detailed view of Philadelphia’s African American community in 1847.


I hope I find some ancestors in this file as I’ve often suspected I would. I’ll spend some time combing through these documents.

I’ve been a little busy with other projects but I must finish the census of Free Philadelphians with trades.  I hope someone is finding this information useful. As always, I’m looking for other genealogists who have an interest in this time period. If you know of anyone, please let me know.