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1870 Census: First census since abolition of slavery; population of Washington Territory more than doubles in 10 years; all but one county show growth; attempts made to more accurately count Native Americans.

HistoryLink.org Essay 9466 : Printer-Friendly Format

In 1870, the 9th Decennial Census of the United States is the first census taken since the Civil War brought an end to the country's near-century of slavery. For the first time, all African Americans who had lived in slavery are counted in the same manner as their fellow citizens, and no longer classified as either "free" or "slave." The 1870 census data for Washington Territory, in which slavery was never permitted, shows a doubling of population since the previous census. Two new counties have been created since 1860, making a total of 21 counties. Most of the population comes from other states and territories, and from various foreign lands; fewer than one-third of those living in Washington Territory in 1870 were born here. Fully a third of all employed males over the age of 10 work in the agricultural sector. Note: In most instances, the terminology and spellings used in the original census documents have been retained in this essay.

Census Overview

The abolition of slavery did not change any counts in Washington Territory, which had been slave-free, but the count of the Native American population was fraught with difficulty. The previous census, in 1860, had counted only 426 Indians in the entire territory, a number that was clearly deficient. An attempt was made in 1870 to arrive at a more realistic figure, but the effort was hindered by the attitudes of the time. Although nearly 15,000 Indians were counted, less than 10 percent were classified as "civilized." 

The 1870 census asked the following questions of the nation's residents:

"Name; age; race; occupation; value of real estate; value of personal estate; birthplace; whether parents were foreign born; month of birth if born within the year; month of marriage if married within the year; school attendance; literacy; whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic; male citizens 21 and older, and number of such persons denied the right to vote for other than rebellion. Supplemental schedule for persons who died during the year" ("Population Census Items 1790-2000").

Besides being the first to have no slaves in its count, the 1870 census was also the first for which a Statistical Atlas was compiled, published in 1872. This volume presented many of the census's statistical findings in meticulously detailed, hand-drawn charts and graphs, making the data more accessible to a broader audience.

Population Overview

Washington Territory's population in 1870, not counting Indians not deemed "civilized," was 23,955, an increase of 12,361 (106.62 percent) over the 1860 count of 11,594. Washington was the fifth largest of the nation's 10 territories (which at that time included the District of Columbia).

In 1870, the territory covered 69,994 square miles and had a population density of 0.34 persons per square mile. In 1860, its area was 193,071 square miles, with a density of .06 persons per square mile. The  huge shrinkage in total area between 1860 and 1870 was due to the creation in 1863 of Idaho Territory from lands that had previously been part of Washington Territory.

There were 21 counties in Washington Territory in 1870, two more than shown in the 1860 count. The following county adjustments were made by the Territorial Legislature between 1860 and 1870:

  • 1861:  Snohomish County is created from part of Island County
  • 1863:  Stevens County is created from part of Walla-Walla County
  • 1864:  Spokane County is merged with Stevens County (this proved temporary)
  • 1864:  Sawamish County's name is changed to Mason County
  • 1865:  Yakima County is created from former Ferguson County

The external boundaries of Washington Territory were also still in flux; some residents were counted as living in the "Disputed Islands," a reference to several of  the San Juans, which were claimed and occupied by both Americans and British subjects.

Population Statistics: Counties

The Census Bureau refined the 1860 count in the ensuing decade, and the figures for the various counties' 1860 populations given below may vary slightly from those set out in the 1860 census.

 The population of each of Washington Territory's 21 counties in 1870, with comparisons to the final 1860 count, was:

  • Walla-Walla: 5,300, increase of 3,982 (302 percent) above 1860 count of 1,318
  • Clark: 3,081, increase of 697 (29.24 percent above 1860 count of 2,384
  • Thurston:  2,246, increase of 739 (49.04 percent) above 1860 count of 1,507
  • King: 2,120, increase of  1,818 (601.98 percent) above 1860 count of 302
  • Pierce: 1,409, increase of 294 (26.37 percent) above 1860 count of 1,115
  • Jefferson: 1,268, increase of 737 (138.79 percent) above 1860 count of 531)
  • Lewis: 888, increase of 504 (131.25 percent) above 1860 count of 384
  • Kitsap: 866, increase of 322 (59.19 percent) above 1860 count of 544
  • Pacific: 738, increase of 318 (75.71 percent above 1860 count of 420
  • Stevens: 734 (did not exist in 1860)
  • Cowlitz: 730, increase of 324 (79.80 percent) above 1860 count of 406
  • Island: 626, increase of 332 (112.93 percent) above 1860 count of 294
  • Snohomish: 599 (did not exist in 1860)
  • Whatcom: 534, increase of 182 (51.70 percent) above 1860 count of 352
  • Yakima: 432  (did not exist in 1860)
  • Clallam: 408, increase of 259 (173.82 percent) above 1860 count of 149
  • Chehalis: 401, increase of 116 (40.70 percent) above 1860 count of 285
  • Klikitat: 329, increase of 99 (43.04 percent) above 1860 count of 230
  • Mason: 289  (did not exist in 1860)
  • Wahkiakum: 270, increase of 228 (542.86 percent) above 1860 count of 42
  • Skamania: 133, decrease of 40 (23.13 percent) below 1860 count of 173

"The Disputed Islands" with a population of 554, were Blakely, Decatur, Henry's, Lopez, Orcas, San Juan, Shaw's, Spieden, Stuart's, and Waldron. San Juan Island was under joint British and American military control in 1870, and the census count there included both British and American residents, but excluded members of the British garrison stationed there.

Population Statistics: Towns

The largest towns in Washington Territory in 1870 were:

  • Walla Walla: 1,394
  • Olympia: 1,203
  • Seattle: 1,107
  • Port Townsend: 593
  • Port Gamble: 326
  • Steilacoom: 314

Population Characteristics: Race

The 1870 census was one of several that tried, with little success, to accurately subdivide the "colored" population into two categories, Blacks and Mulattoes, a practice that was abandoned for good in the 1920 census. The 1870 census for Washington Territory had the following breakdown of the African American population, the accuracy of which was highly suspect and the utility of which was nil:

  • Total of Colored "Blacks" in 1870: 56
  • Black males: 44
  • Black females: 12
  • Total of Colored "Mulattoes" in 1870: 151
  • Mulatto males: 89
  • Mulatto females: 62

Overall, and dispensing with the "black/mulatto" distinction, the racial breakdown of the population of Washington Territory in 1870 was:

  • White: 22,195 (92.64 percent of total population)
  • Colored: 207 (0.86 percent of total population)
  • Japanese: 0
  • Chinese: 234  (0.97 percent of total population)

The approach to the Indian count deserves separate treatment. Under the U.S. Constitution, only Indians who were subject to taxation were to be counted in the population of a state or territory for census purposes. The category of "Indians not taxed" (who were not to be counted) -- defined as "Indians living on reservations under the care of Government agents, or roaming individually, or in bands, over unsettled tracts of country" ("Native Americans in the Census, 1860-1890") -- had led to a serious undercount in Washington Territory in 1860, when only 426 Indians were included in the census. The situation of indigenous peoples was hinted at in the 1870 census:

"The broken bands and the scattered remnants of tribes still to be found in many states of the union, though generally in a condition of pauperism, have been included in the enumeration of the people (in 1870). By the fact of breaking away from their tribal relations, they are regarded as having entered the body of citizens and as subject to taxation ... although they may be exempted actually from taxation by local legislation or the accident of pauperism" ("Treatment of Indians in the Census").

The change in the 1870 census was to include in the population count all Indians who were not living on reservations, including those "roaming individually, or in bands, over unsettled tracts of country," and who had been excluded in the 1860 count. In addition, the Census Bureau decided in 1870 to attempt a count of all Indians, including those on reservations. This necessitated the adoption of two separate categories. One included only "civilized" Indians, and was called the "constitutional population"; the other (and by far the largest) included Indians on reservations, and this was called the "true count." For the constitutional purposes of the census, which included the allocation of legislative representation, only "civilized" Indians (those not living on reservations) were counted; to give a more accurate picture of the truth on the ground, all were counted.

These evolving distinctions resulted in the following count for the Indians of Washington Territory in 1870:

  • Civilized Indians: 1,319
  • Indians "sustaining tribal relations": 13,477 (all on reservations or agencies) 
  • Total Indians: 14,796

Characteristics of Population: Native-born and Foreign-born

For purposes of the census, "native-born" refers to those born in America's states and territories, and "foreign-born" refers to those born in other countries or colonies, including what is today Canada. In 1870, the census showed that almost exactly as many people came to Washington from other states and territories as were either born here or had emigrated from foreign lands:

  • Persons born in other states or territories: 11,999 (50.09 percent of total population)
  • Persons born in Washington Territory: 6,932  (28.94 percent of population)
  • Persons foreign-born: 5,024 (20.97percent of population)
  • Native-born male population 1870: 11,004
  • Native-born female population 1870: 7,927
  • Foreign-born male population:  3,986
  • Foreign-born female population:  1,038

The states contributing the most people to the native-born population of Washington Territory in 1870 were:

  • Oregon: 1,673
  • New York: 1,097
  • Illinois: 967
  • Missouri: 946
  • Ohio: 866

The countries or colonies contributing the most people to the foreign-born population of Washington Territory in 1870 were:

  • British America: 1,121
  • Ireland: 1,047
  • England and Wales: 835
  • Germany: 645
  • Scotland: 306

Population Characteristics: Sex

  • Total male population of Washington Territory in 1870: 14,990 (62.58 percent)
  • Total female population of Washington Territory in 1870: 8,965 (37.43 percent)
  • Total white male population: 14,143
  • Total white female population: 8,052
  • Total colored male population: 133
  • Total colored female population: 74
  • Total Chinese male population: 232
  • Total Chinese female population: 2
  • Total "civilized" Indian population: 1,319
  • Total "civilized" Indian male population: 482
  • Total "civilized" Indian female population: 837

Population Characteristics: Education

  • Total children ages 5 to 17 in Washington Territory in 1870: 6,458
  • Males: 3,332
  • Females: 3,126
  • Total children ages 5 to 17 in school: 3,537
  • Total white male students: 1,864
  • Total white female students: 1,639
  • Total colored male students: 14
  • Total colored female students: 15
  • Total Indian male students: 4
  • Total Indian female students: 1

Population Characteristics: Illiteracy:

  • Persons 10 years of age and older who could not read: 1,018
  • Persons 10 years of age and older who could not write: 1,307
  • White persons ages 10 to 15 who could not write: 129
  • White persons ages 15 to 21 who could not write: 78
  • White persons older than age 21 who could not write: 616
  • Colored persons ages 10 to 15 who could not write: 4
  • Colored persons ages 15 to 21 who could not write: 6
  • Colored persons older than age 21 who could not write: 24
  • Indian persons ages 10 to 15 who could not write: 15
  • Indian persons ages 15 to 21 who could not write: 104
  • Indian persons older age 21 who could not write: 331

The census noted that Chinese and other foreign-born, non-English speakers were considered literate if they could both read and write in their own language.

Population Characteristics: Pauperism and Crime:

  • Number of persons publicly supported in year ending June 1, 1870: 34
  • Total cost of annual support: $5,283
  • Number of persons in prisons on June 1, 1870: 19
  • Number of native-born in prisons on June 1, 1870: 8
  • Number of foreign-born in prisons on June 1, 1870: 11

Populations Characteristics: Occupations

The Census Bureau stated that its occupational statistics in 1870 counted only "reputable occupations."

The 1870 census used only four primary classification for its occupational statistics: Agriculture, Professional and Personal Services, Trade and Transportation, and Manufacturing, Mechanical, and Mixing Industries. For the nationwide count, each of these categories was subdivided to reflect employment in 338 separate professions, trades, and occupations, ranging from "agricultural laborers" to "woolen-mill operatives." At the territorial level, however, statistics in only the four major categories were compiled.  

The only manufacturing industries in Washington Territory that were specifically mentioned in the 1870 census, their number, and the number of men employed were:

  • Flouring-mill product: 11 mills, employing 24 men over age 15
  • Lumber, planed: four mills, employing 55 men over age 15
  • Lumber, sawed: 19 mills, employing 417 men over age 15

The total population 10 years and older in 1870 and their distribution by sex among various classes of occupation were:

  • Total population 10 years and older: 17,334
  • Total male population 10 years and older: 11,611
  • Total female population 10 years and older: 5,723
  • Total persons 10 years and older engaged in all occupations: 9,760
  • Total males 10 years and older engaged in all occupations: 9,524
  • Total females 10 years and older engaged in all occupations: 236
  • Total persons 10 years and older engaged in agriculture: 3,771
  • Total males 10 years and older engaged in agriculture: 3,759
  • Total females 10 years and older engaged in agriculture: 12
  • Total persons engaged in professional and personal services: 2,207
  • Total males engaged in professional and personal services: 2,000
  • Total females engaged in professional and personal services: 207
  • Total persons engaged in trade and transportation: 1,129
  • Total males engaged in trade and transportation: 1,127
  • Total females engaged in trade and transportation: 2
  • Total persons engaged in manufacturing, mechanical, and mixing industries:   2,653
  • Total males engaged in manufacturing, mechanical, and mixing industries:   2,638
  • Total females engaged in manufacturing, mechanical, and mixing industries:  15

The 1870 census was the first to count child labor, and the count for Washington Territory was low (nationwide, more than 750,000 workers under the age of 15 were counted). Children employed on a family farm or in a family-run business were not considered to be child labor and thus were not counted as such.

  • Total children between ages 10 and 15 working in agriculture in 1870: 19
  • Total children between ages 10 and 15 working in all other occupations in 1870: 45

Population Characteristics: Families

  • Number of families in Washington Territory in 1870: 5,673
  • Average size of families:  4.22 persons
  • Number of families in Washington Territory in 1860: 2,798
  • Average size of families: 4.14 persons

Population Characteristics: Disabilities

The terminology used in the 1870 census to classify people with disabilities can be shocking to modern ears. The counts of the "blind" and "deaf and dumb" were no doubt quite accurate, as those disabilities were largely self-evident, while those for the "insane" and the "idiotic" should probably be viewed with skepticism, given the subjective nature of the inquiries and the relatively primitive state of the sciences of the mind in that era. 

In Washington Territory in 1870 there were a total of five blind persons, four males and one female, all white.

 There were six persons classified as "deaf and dumb," three males and three females, again all white.

Twenty-three persons, all white, comprised of 17 males and six females, were classified as "insane." Fifteen of these were immigrants from foreign lands.

Washington Territory in 1870 had five persons, all white, classified as "idiotic," which included three males and two females. Of these, one was classified as foreign born.

Miscellaneous Statistics: Dwellings

  • Number of dwellings in Washington Territory in 1870: 6,066
  • Average number of persons per dwelling: 3.95
  • Number of dwellings in Washington Territory in 1860: 3,037
  • Average number of persons per dwelling: 3.82

Miscellaneous Statistics: Value of Real and Personal Property

The assessed value of real and personal property in Washington Territory rose by 36 percent between 1860 and 1870:

  • Total value of real and personal property, 1860: $9,918,960
  • Total value of real and personal property, 1870: $13,502,164
  • Increase in value 1860-1870: $3,583,204

Miscellaneous Statistics: Farms

  • Total acreage of all farms in Washington Territory, 1870: 649,139
  • Total acreage of all farms in Washington Territory, 1860: 366,156
  • Increase in farm acreage 1860-1870:  282,983 (77.28 percent)
  • Average farm size 1870: 208 acres
  • Average farm size 1860: 275 acres
  • Decrease in average farm size 1860-1870:  67 acres (-24.36 percent)

Miscellaneous Statistics: Established Churches:

The numbers represent congregations, not all of which had dedicated church buildings:

  • Total congregations:  47
  • Total church buildings:  36
  • Total church seating capacity:  8,000
  • Total values of church property:  $62,450
  • Baptist:  3
  • Christian:  4
  • Congregational:  2
  • Episcopal:  4
  • Methodist:  16
  • Presbyterian:  3
  • Roman Catholic:  11
  • Second Advent:  1
  • United Brethren in Christ:  3

Miscellaneous Statistics: Newspapers

  • Number of newspapers:  14
  • Daily:  1  Circulation: 160
  • Weekly:  10  Circulation:  4,525
  • Tri-weekly:  1  Circulation:  600
  • Monthly:  2  Circulation:  1,500
  • Total copies printed annually:  396,500

Miscellaneous Statistics: Libraries

The 1870 census cautioned that the statistics on libraries were not to be trusted:

"The Statistics on Libraries have never been very creditable to the census of the United States ... . The fact is, the machinery of the census under existing provisions of law, defective as it is in many particulars, is less adapted to work out correct results in the matter of Statistics of Libraries than to any other use to which it is applied" ("Schools, Libraries, Churches and Newspapers," 505).

The primary perceived shortcoming was in the count of privately held libraries, and the Census Bureau acknowledged that its statistics on these collections were often little more than guesses, and that in some jurisdictions no attempt to count private libraries had been made.

That said, Washington Territory had a small-enough population that its count was no doubt fairly accurate. According to the census, Washington Territory could boast of 102 libraries in 1870 with 33,362 volumes held, a huge increase over the six libraries holding 1,800 volumes that were reported in the 1860 census. Most of the new libraries, however, were in private hands:

  • Total non-private libraries: 30 Volumes held:  13,552
  • State and/or federal libraries: 1 Volumes held:  5,400
  • County, city, or town libraries: 1 Volumes held:  610
  • School or college libraries: 1 Volumes held:  400
  • Sabbath school and church libraries:  26  Volumes held:  6,842
  • Circulating libraries: 1 Volumes held:  300
  • Private libraries: 72  Volumes held:  19,810

Sources:
"1870 Overview,"  United States Census Bureau website accessed June 21, 2010  (http://www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/overview/1870.html); "Child Labor Reform Exhibits," United States Department of Labor website accessed June 21, 2010  (http://www.dol.gov/oasam/library/special/child/childlabor.htm); JoAnn Shepherd, "Population Census Items 1790-2000," Age Search Information (Washington, D.C.: United States Census Bureau, 2000), 12, available at  (http://www.census.gov/prod/2000pubs/pol00-asi.pdf); "Native Americans in the Census, 1860–1890," Prologue magazine,  Vol. 38, No. 2 (Summer 2006), available at (http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2006/summer/indian-census.html); "Treatment of Indians in the Census," A Compendium of the Ninth Census, Population, with Race, Part 1 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), 19, available at (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-02.pdf); "Aggregate Population at Each Census," A Compendium of the Ninth Census (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), 8, Table 1,  available at (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-02.pdf); "White Population at Each Census," A Compendium of the Ninth Census (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), 10, Table 2,  available at (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-02.pdf); "Free Colored Population at Each Census," A Compendium of the Ninth Census, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), 14, Table 4,  available at (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-02.pdf); "Chinese, Japanese, and Civilized Indian Population at Each Census," A Compendium of the Ninth Census (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), 18, Table 6,  available at (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-02.pdf); "True Population of the United States -- 1870," A Compendium of the Ninth Census, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), 20, Table 7, available at http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-02.pdf); "Population by Counties at Each Census: Territory of Washington," A Compendium of the Ninth Census (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), 109, Table 8,  available at http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-03.pdf); "Nativity and Nationality," A Compendium of the Ninth Census, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), 376, Table 10; Ibid., 378, Table 11; Ibid., 383, Table 12; Ibid., 388, Table 13; Ibid., 392, Table 14; Ibid., 440, Table 18, available at (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-08.pdf); "School Attendance and Illiteracy," A Compendium of the Ninth Census, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), 452, Table 21; Ibid., 456, Table 24; Ibid., 458, Table 25, available at (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-09.pdf); "Libraries by States and Territories: 1870," A Compendium of the Ninth Census (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), 506, Table 36, available at (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-09.pdf); "Newspapers of All Classes by States and Territories," A Compendium of the Ninth Census (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), 510, Table 39, available at (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-09.pdf); "Churches of All Denominations," A Compendium of the Ninth Census, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872),  516, Table 41, available at (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-09.pdf); "Pauperism and Crime, with Population by States and Territories: 1870," A Compendium of the Ninth Census, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872),  531, Table 43, available at (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-10.pdf);  "Areas, Families, and Dwellings," A Compendium of the Ninth Census  (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872),  540, Table 46, available at (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-10.pdf); "Sex and School, Military, and Citizenship Ages," A Compendium of the Ninth Census (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), 547, Table 49;  Ibid., 548, Table 50; Ibid., 549, Table 51; Ibid., 550, Table 52; Ibid., 551, Table 53; Ibid., 552, Table 54, available at (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-10.pdf); "Occupations," A Compendium of the Ninth Census (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), 594, Table 58; "The Blind, Deaf and Dumb, Insane, and Idiotic," A Compendium of the Ninth Census (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), 626, Table 72; Ibid., 628, Table 74; Ibid., 630, Table 76; Ibid., 632, Table 78 available at (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-11.pdf); "Agriculture," A Compendium of the Ninth Census, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), 688, Table 84, available at (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1870e-12.pdf).


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Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863
Courtesy Library of Congress


Census taker, 1870
Courtesy Library of Congress (Image No. LC-USZ62-93675)


Cover page, first Statistical Atlas of the United States, 1870 Census
Courtesy United States Census Bureau


Chart illustrating incidence of "Idiocy," Statistical Atlas of the United States, 1870
Courtesy United States Census Bureau


United States Slave population figures, 1870 census (0) vs. 1860 census (3,950,546), 1870
Courtesy United States Census Bureau, Compendium of the Ninth Census (1870)


Chief Garry, Spokane Tribe, ca. 1870
Courtesy Washington State Digital Archives (Image No. AR-28001001-ph001047)


Fourth Avenue looking south from Seneca Street, Seattle, 1870
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Image No. UW5939)


Fort Vancouver landing, Mount Hood, Columbia River, 1870s
Courtesy Clark County Historical Museum (Image No. P25.10)


Lewis County Courthouse, Claquato, ca. 1870
Courtesy Washington State Digital Archives (Image No. AR-07809001-ph001450)


English Camp, British outpost, San Juan Island, late 1860s
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Image No. UW10985)


Advertisement, women's fashions, 1870
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Image No. COS189)


 
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