USA Census of 1790 #OnThisDay

On the 2nd of August 1790 the first census of the United States of America took place.

The six inquiries in 1790 called for the name of the head of the family and the number of persons in each household of the following descriptions:

  • Free White males of 16 years and upward (to assess the country’s industrial and military potential)
  • Free White males under 16 years
  • Free White females
  • All other free persons
  • Slaves

The population of the USA was counted as 3,929,214. Of that number 694,280 or 17.8% were slaves.

Some data has since been lost. At that time there were 13 states in the union and it does give an indication of the use of slavery at that time which was the highest percentage  recorded for any census.

By the 1860 census the population was estimated as 31,443,322, in 33 states and 10 organized territories. Of that number 3,953,762 were slaves. Some states had no slaves.

There were almost 700 thousand slaves in the US in 1790, which equated to approximately 18 percent of the total population, or roughly one in every six people. By 1860, the final census taken before the American Civil War, there were four million slaves in the South, compared with less than 0.5 million free African Americans in all of the US. Of the 4.4 million African Americans in the US before the war, almost four million of these people were held as slaves; meaning that for all African Americans living in the US in 1860, there was an 89 percent* chance that they lived in slavery. Link:Black and slave population in the United States 1790-1880

Slavery in the 13 US colonies

Map of Slavery numbers in the 13 US Colonies Stilfehler / CC BY-SA (

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