Evolution of the Census The Census as Historical Source The Aggregated Censuses

Using the Manuscript Slaveowner Census

Census enumerators collected data on slaves and slaveowners in the manuscript schedule of the Census of Slave Inhabitants. This census schedule, however, is more accurately called the slaveowner census because while it offers only general information on slaves, it provides specific data on slaveowners. Most significantly, census takers only recorded the names of the slaveowners and not their slaves. Each page of the manuscript slaveowner census lists the name of a slaveowner and then provides data on each slave owned. All of the slaves owned by one person or family are assigned a number and then listed sequentially; that is, numbers have been substituted for names of slaves in the census. The manuscript census contains nine fields of data, six of which focus directly on the slaves: assigned number, age, sex, color (black or mulatto), whether the slave is a fugitive, and whether the slave is "deaf, dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic." Three of the fields provide information on the slaveowners: name, number of slaves manumitted, and number of slave houses owned. The manuscript census also notes the subdistrict or county (if not Augusta, in this case) in which the slaveowner resides and provides the name and place of residence of the slave's employer, if different from the slaveowner. Users will find searching the manuscript slaveowner census helpful in locating specific information about individual slaveowners and in discerning trends and patterns in slaveowning in the county. For those who wish to use the aggregate data on slaveholding in Augusta County, we suggest that they consult the Statistical Tables Compiled from the Census Records.

History of the Slaveowner Census

Counting slaves, or even slaveowners, was a deeply charged political act in antebellum America. By 1850 the heated national debate over slavery infused the congressional debate over what information, if any, census-takers should collect on Southern chattels. The slave census was first conducted in 1820 when enumerators collected rudimentary information on bondsmen, such as age and sex. For the 1850 census, Northern representatives in Congress proposed that enumerators collect as much detailed information on slaves as they did on free persons. Southern congressmen staunchly opposed such revisions, and instead sought to limit inquiries on slaves so as to prevent the collection of data which would allow for comparisons between free and slave labor or between the quality of black and white life. Their fears of such investigations were justified, for, as New York congressman and slavery opponent William Seward explained, new census data would reveal "how rapid[ly]" blacks had "progress[ed]" living as slaves.

To that end, Seward and his colleagues proposed that the 1850 questionnaire used by census-takers inquire into a slave's name, age, sex, color, and place of birth. It also sought information on the number of children borne by slave women. Southern congressmen revolted against such proposals, and they successfully offered amendments which removed from the forms questions regarding slaves' names, place of birth, and number of children born to slave women. As a result, the 1850 census only noted the age, sex, and color of each slave. The 1860 census followed suit.

How to Search the Manuscript Slaveowner Census

To begin searching the manuscript population census, go to the Slaveowner Search Page. This page offers the categories, or fields, from the manuscript slaveowner census which the user can search. Click in the box of the field you want to search, and then enter the words or numbers you want to find. You can search on as few or as many variables at one time as desired. You can also use the Tab or Return key to move from one field to the next. When ready to begin the search, click the Initiate Search button. The search engine will return a results page listing all the entries (individuals) which meet the criteria selected on the search page. Results are returned in pages of 50 records each; subsequent pages can be reached using the "next" and "previous" buttons on the bottom of the page. In addition to the selected fields, the results page displays data for all searchable fields, as well as some of the other fields on the census form--place of residence of the slaveowners (and employers), gender of slaves, and color of slaves. This data is provided in aggregated form for each owner/employer. A listing of individual records is available through the link of the owner's last name. Note that at the bottom of the results page is a link to statistical information for the records returned as well as for all records in the database. To begin a new search, use the Back button to return to the search page and click on the Clear button to reset the search form.

For tips on searching, go to Tips for Searching Valley Databases.

Explanation of Fields

Name: On the census form, enumerators recorded the slaveowner's name followed by the data on the slaves owned. The name of the slaveowner is only recorded once on the manuscript schedule. For individuals who owned more than one slave, enumerators first transcribed the slaveowner's name and then recorded the information on each of his (or her) slaves, listed sequentially. Census-takers collected data on slave employers in the same manner, though they also listed the name of the employed slaves' owners in addition to that of the employer. When one individual employed several slaves, each owned by a different person, enumerators listed the employer's name anew each time they recorded the name of a new slaveowner.

Names followed by an asterisk (*) indicate that the name is not legible on the census form. Names followed by the pound symbol (#) indicate that a name was not recorded by the census enumerator. For a more detailed explanation of these symbols, see "Important Notations" below.

Owner and Employer: The slaveowner census collected data on slaves in residence in Augusta County. Thus, slaves employed in Augusta County, but whose owner lived elsewhere, are included in the census, whereas slaves employed outside the county, but owned by Augusta County residents, are not included on the manuscript schedules. This selection criteria highlights the primary purpose of the census: to count the number of slaves and not the number of slaveowners. But given Southern congressmens' efforts to restrict data collection on slaves to the fewest possible characteristics, names, place of birth, and other pertinent information on bondspeople were not collected by the enumerators. The search engine will return a results page with information on all individuals who match the criteria selected.

Total Number of Slaves: This field combines the total number of male and female slaves listed for each slaveowner record. Users can choose whether to search for individuals who owned a certain number of slaves or for those who owned more (or less) than an indicated number of slaves.

Important Notations: An asterisk (*) at the end of a name indicates an illegible name on the manuscript census form. The pound symbol (#) in the name field indicates a missing name, that is, that the census enumerators did not record an individual's last name, first name, or entire name. If "i?" appears in a field on the results page, this indicates an illegible entry on the manuscript census form.

Helpful Hints

Here are some helpful hints for searching the manuscript slaveowner census: