Devil in the details

Two hundred eleven years ago today, on 6 August 1810, Assistant Marshal Ebenezer Burrell set out to make a full and accurate count of the residents of Salem, Massachusetts. He was instructed to make a formal inquiry at each dwelling house, or with the head of household, to count the number of free white males (under the age of 10, 1-15, 16-25, 26-44, and 45 years and older), free white females (under the age of 10, 1-15, 16-25, 26-44, and 45 years and older), and free persons of color (no gender or age designator) living at the residence. He was also told to make two copies of the enumeration, placing them both in two public places for verification. After the enumerations were confirmed, one of the copies was sent to the District Court for safe keeping, while a summary of the statistics was sent to the Secretary of State in Washington, D.C.

Until 17 February 2021, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) believed the 1810 enumeration for Salem was missing—it being the only absent census for the entire Commonwealth. Remarkably, the census was recently rediscovered after an Instagram post by the Phillips Library at Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) caught the eye of Jack Kabrel, an archives specialist with the National Archives at Boston. The census had been squirreled away in the Phillips Library collection for years, arriving sometime between 1810 and the 1940s.[1]

After careful consideration, it was determined that the census belonged in the National Archives and the item was transferred. However, before the almost 100-page document was moved, PEM scanned the census notebook in full color and partnered with American Ancestors/New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) to create a searchable database of the images. The collection can be found on our web site at (available to all members, including free Guest Members).

But it begs the question: Why did the Phillips Library have the census notebook in its collections, and not NARA? Well, the devil is in the details.

Remember, in 1810 assistant marshals were instructed to send one copy of their enumerations to the district court, while a summary of the statistics was sent to the Secretary of State. Those 1810 censuses remained at their respective court houses until 1830, when the courts were asked to forward their 1790-1820 census holdings to the Department of State.[2] It appears that the Salem enumeration never made it. This likely means that Mr. Burrell never forwarded his original enumeration on to the U.S. Marshal in Massachusetts and provided him only with the statistical information required. I am sure Mr. Burrell never realized the frustration he would cause genealogists … for the next two centuries!

The truth is, many, MANY enumerations of the 1810 United States Federal Census are missing.

The truth is, many, MANY enumerations of the 1810 United States Federal Census are missing. For example, we don’t have surviving copies of population schedules taken in Washington, D.C.; Georgia; New Jersey; Ohio (Washington County survives); and Tennessee (Rutherford and some of Grainger Counties do exist). These records losses were preventable! They are missing today due to a lack of diligence by the assistant marshals, like Mr. Burrell, or a mishandling of the material once it made its way to the courthouse (i.e., fire and flooding). But there is a third possibility. These records might be safely stored in local courthouses, archives, and libraries—one just needs to know where to look!

Therefore, I am urging all readers of this article to research whether the 1790-1820 censuses survive for their town or county. If not, you might be able to reunite more of these lost censuses with the National Archives. I wish you happy hunting!

Here are some of the more well-known persons enumerated in the 1810 Federal Census for Salem, Mass.:

  • Charles Lenox Remond (born 1810), a notable abolitionist who helped recruit men for the Massachusetts 54th during the Civil War). He is one of the seven free persons of color listed in the household of John Remond, his father (page 15, last line).
  • Nathaniel Bowditch, a prominent 18th-century mariner who effected great advances in navigation and helped bring European mathematics to America (page 48, 9th from bottom).
  • Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (born 1804), a notable American educator who opened the first English-language kindergarten in the U.S.; Mary Tyler Peabody Mann (born 1806), a notable American educator and wife of Horace Mann; and Sophia Amelia Peabody Hawthorne (born 1809), an American artist and wife of Nathaniel Hawthorne. These women are three of the four females enumerated in the column “to 10” in the household of their father, Nathaniel Peabody (page 54, 9th from bottom).
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne (born 1804), a notable American author, famous for the novel The House of the Seven Gables (1851). He is the one male child enumerated in the column “to 10” in the household of his mother, Elizabeth Hawthorne (page 76, 6th from top).



[2] Ibid.

About Lindsay Fulton

Lindsay Fulton joined the Society in 2012, first a member of the Research Services team, and then a Genealogist in the Library. She has been the Director of Research Services since 2016. In addition to helping constituents with their research, Lindsay has also authored a Portable Genealogists on the topics of Applying to Lineage Societies, the United States Federal Census, 1790-1840 and the United States Federal Census, 1850-1940. She is a frequent contributor to the NEHGS blog, Vita-Brevis, and has appeared as a guest on the Extreme Genes radio program. Before, NEHGS, Lindsay worked at the National Archives and Records Administration in Waltham, Massachusetts, where she designed and implemented an original curriculum program exploring the Chinese Exclusion Era for elementary school students. She holds a B.A. from Merrimack College and M.A. from the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

One thought on “Devil in the details

  1. Great information! I would love if anything for the New Jersey censuses from 1790-1820 could be found (or at least Burlington County), for my elusive Challender ancestors there. Only Cumberland County, N.J. survives for 1800.

    The 1790 Census schedules for Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Virginia were likely destroyed when the British Army burned public buildings in Washington, DC, during the War of 1812.Virginia would have had George Washington’s own census entry.

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