Thursday, February 23, 2012

Washington, Lincoln, Franklin?

I'm sitting here watching the Duke/FSU game and I'm pretty sure I just saw a Subway ad for February's $5 Footlongs that included presidents Washington, Lincoln, and . . . Franklin?

Maybe he was just a really jolly John Adams.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Newport Slaveowners

In 1774, about 30% of Newport's white households owned slaves.*

Nearly half of these slaveowners owned only one slave, and over 3/4 owned 3 or fewer slaves. Only six slaveowners owned 10 or more slaves, with the largest slaveowner  in the city (merchant John Mawdsley) owning 20.

The practical effect of this dispersed model of slave ownership was that most black families in colonial Newport did not live together.

In the graveyard, we can see this plainly in the many gravestones dedicated to husbands and wives who are commemorated under their masters' surnames. These were families in fact, but the laws and conventions of slave ownership made it impossible for them to establish independent households:

*Please note: the 1774 census lumps together all black Newporters, making no distinctions of age, sex, or status. The numbers in this post assume that black Newporters living in households with a black head of house are free, while those living in a household with a white head of house are enslaved. It is possible that the limitations of the census data makes some free people appear to be slaves if they were free servants living full-time in a white person's household. I have not seen any cases of this documented, but it is theoretically possible. Inspired by the language of the NLSY97 questionnaire I fill out every year, I will call this a "slavery or slavery-like arrangement."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Newport Population, 1774

I've been running some numbers on the population of Newport, as given in the 1774 census.

Fast facts:
  • Total Population: 9,136 people living in 1,582 households
  • 86% white, 13% black, .5% Indian
  • average household size: 5.8
The census distinguishes white people by age and sex, but lumps all black people together, making it difficult to determine their age, sex, or freedom status. There are some clues, though — there are 48 (perhaps 49) households with a black household head. I think it's reasonable to conclude that the 151 people living in these households were probably free. There may also be some free people counted in households with a white household head, but there's no way to tell that from the census.

If we assume that the 149 black people (and 2 Indians) living in black-headed households were free and that the 1,076 black people living in white-headed households were slaves, then 12% of black Newporters were free and 88% were enslaved.

Free black households were substantially smaller than free households, averaging 3.2 people per household rather than the overall 5.8. About 38% of free black households were headed by a woman, compared to 20% of white households.

More on Newport's slaves and slaveowners to follow . . .

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Newport Names

Unfortunately, the 1774 census of Newport only reports the names of heads of households. Nevertheless, there is plenty to love. If any novelist is searching for some 18th-century character names, I submit these real-life names for your consideration:

Freelove Boss
Baulstone Coggeshall
Ebenezer Cesar
Preserved Fish
Freelove Gubbins
Ludowick Hoxsie
Prudence Hastings
Uriah Lyon
Hopestill Morey
Clother Peirce
Peirce Spear
Jerusha Spooner
Ithuriel Tripp
Pardon Tillinghast
Valentine Wightman
Patience Winpenny
Peleg Wood

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Boston Municipal Burials 1704-1774

Between 1704 and 1774, nearly 36,000 people were buried in Boston's three municipal graveyards (Copp's Hill, Granary, and King's Chapel). I started my count in 1704 because that is the first year in which the statistics were separated by race and I end in 1774 because the upheaval of the Siege of Boston in 1775 was a demographic catastrophe.

Of these, nearly 5,300 were black, though the records make no distinction between slave and free. Overall, about 15% of Bostonians buried in the city during that time were black, though the percentage goes as high as 23% in some years. Over the course of the 18th century, the percentage of blacks buried in these three graveyards dropped, though this was mainly due to an increase in white burials — the number of blacks buried stayed fairly constant:

The three high peaks are smallpox epidemic years: 1721, 1730, and 1752.

  • What proportion of the city's dead were buried in these three municipal graveyards?
  • Did that proportion differ for blacks and whites?
  • Does the decrease in the % of black burials indicate a smaller relative population in later decades, or the use of a non-municipal burying ground?
  • Is it safe to estimate the racial makeup of the city's population based on these numbers?
  • How many surviving gravemarkers commemorate black Bostonians from this period? I know of one (Frank, 1771, Granary) are there more @ Copp's Hill?
  • What % of black Bostonians were buried at Copp's Hill vs. Granary vs. King's Chapel?