Category: Government / Topics: Demographics Government History Research Methodology Statistics

Who Conducted the First Census in 1790?

submitted by Stu Johnson

Posted: March 10, 2020

U.S. Marshals overcame hardships and challenges to count 3,929,214 people in a young American…

The following is an excerpt of an article by Andrew Babin, a historian in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Public Information Office, that arrived by email on March 9, 2020. A link to the full article will be found at the bottom of the page.

A few days before leaving New York City, the first capital of the young United States of America, Congress passed the First Census Act of 1790.

The Act echoed the Constitution, calling for an “actual Enumeration…within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.” 

Carrying out the census in 1790 was difficult in a new country with little infrastructure and a widely scattered population.

This crucial legislation established the ground rules for the first census and empowered U.S. marshals to carry out the monumental task of accurately recording America’s population.

It required the marshals to post the information in two public places for residents to make corrections before submission.

Those days are long gone. This practice ended with the 1850 census. Privacy and Confidentiality are now paramount. The Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the U.S. Code to keep your information confidential.

Carrying out the census in 1790 was difficult in a new country with little infrastructure and a widely scattered population.

Each marshal received between $100 (equivalent in purchasing power to $2,793.20 in 2020) and $500 ($13,965.98 in 2020). Their assistants would receive $1 ($27.93 today) for every 50-300 people enumerated.

The census began on Aug. 2, 1790, and officially ended nine months later (May 2, 1791) but several states (Rhode Island, Vermont and South Carolina) and the Southwest Territory received extensions.

Despite the difficulties and challenges the U.S. marshals faced, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson put the first data tables in an official government document on Oct. 24, 1791, and issued the final report in 1793, after South Carolina’s count was completed: The United States had a population of 3,929,214.

The first official population count was a testament to the determination, intelligence and patriotism of the first U.S. marshals and their deputies.

Sixteen U.S. Marshals and one terriitorial governor were charged with conducting that census. To meet them, read the rest of Andrew Babin's article.

This article was also posted on, which is edited by Stu Johnson.

Stu Johnson is owner of Stuart Johnson & Associates, a communications consultancy in Wheaton, Illinois focused on "making information make sense."

E-mail the author (moc.setaicossajs@uts*)

* For web-based email, you may need to copy and paste the address yourself.

Posted: March 10, 2020   Accessed 159 times

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