The 1810 Virginia Census: Independent City of Richmond


Richmond's 1810 census is the first real glimpse we have from the census records of this "cosmpolitan" town of slightly more than nine thousand inhabitants, which in 1810 was entering its fourth decade as the capital of Virginia. Richmond was an area very different from its surrounding rural counties. 1,298 households made up the state's capital, with property ranging from single dwellings to landed estates of many acres. What had begun as a town laid out in 32 two-acre squares, each with four lots, and adjoining suburban land, had grown considerably by 1810. In 1742 Richmond was officially designated as a town, and its new role as the state capital began in April 1780. By any definition, Richmond was rapidly becoming an urban center by 1810. In the rush of building, tanyards and lumber houses stood cheek by jowl with fine residences, taverns, and stables. Richmond was a major import center, and the activity along the banks of the James River continued day and night. A little farther north, just beyond the Capitol grounds, stood many fine homes of the more wealthy inhabitants. A number of persons maintained "plantations-in-town" in this area.. For example, Chief Justice John Marshall owned a square in the fashionable residential area known as Court End. Many of his friends and relatives bought four lots that comprised a square or city block. These properties, which included their homes, supported buildings and gardens. Marshall's square, for example, included his residence, his law office, a laundry, kitchen, carriage house and stable, garden and carriage turn-around. Another point about Richmond was its preponderant African-American population. One in five of Richmond's inhabitants was either a freed slave or a freedman of long standing. And fully fifty percent of the total population was of African-American descent [cf. statistical summary]. When a family name is encountered in a community such as Richmond, the first question which comes to mind is "What part of the city did he or she live in?" While wills and deeds can give a good picture of the location, another good source to use as a supplement is the 1815 land tax. While land taxes have been around as long as the state itself, 1815 was the first year in which the resident was identified by distance and direction from the courthouse, as well as the prominent watercourse or geographic landmark near his residence. By checking with this land tax, which does not include all of the census names but does include the actual owners of property, a good idea of where an ancestor resided can often be obtained. This is particularly valuable for Richmond, since it appears that the census taker recorded his entries as he encountered them in his travels. Thus, entries carry some geographical relationship to one another. David Price, the enumerator, began his journey at the old penitentiary in the southwest corner of the city, and the reader can see the city through the changes in population as he traversed the waterfront areas, the packed residential districts for workers, and finally the well-manicured lawns of the wealthy of the city. The reader can see the families living in Adams Valley, as well as the suburbanites in the western tracts of Martin Baker and along Old Brook Road at the extreme northwest corner of the city near Bacon's Branch. 

John Vogt

2009, paper, 38 pp.