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Fayette County, Alabama
~ 1870 U.S. Census ~


William T. Thornton
Fulton, MS

[ Reprinted with the author's permission ]
Several times while researching my family history, I’ve had need of information I knew was in the 1870 Federal Census record for Fayette County, Alabama.  I tried to find that information by looking at the microfilmed census pages (186 images posted online here) and reading all of the names in each household.  Such a time-consuming approach was frustrating because it often didn’t produce the information I needed.

An every-name index would be of great help to my research, but I was never able to find such a transcription online or anywhere else.  Wondering if I could take on the job myself, I tried transcribing about a dozen of the pages to see how difficult the work would be.  It was an interesting but slow process to decipher the handwritten names and transfer them to a digital word-document.  After determining what I was willing to transcribe, I believed that I could, in time, complete the task.

Along the way, I discovered some fascinating information about the 1870 census itself, the men who compiled it, and the many people who called Fayette County home at that time in history.

When and How the 1870 Census Report Was Prepared and Who Did It?

The census of 1870 was taken in Fayette County during the months of June, July, August, September, and October.  Two individuals completed the job, John C. MOORE and J.F. FILES.  They prepared 186 handwritten pages containing the names of more than 7,100 individuals they determined to have resided within the county.  My transcription of their work examined 7,136 of those names.

Mr. MOORE and Mr. FILES were charged with calling upon every house in the county, numbering the houses in the order they were visited, numbering the families in the order they were visited, and recording the name of all persons who lived at each location on June 1, 1870.  Each individual's name, age at last birthday, sex, color, occupation or principal activity, and place of birth were among the more important types of data collected.  Space was provided to collect information about the value of real and personal property, about school attendance, about whether an individual could read and/or write, and about physical and/or mental problems of the disabled.

The numbering of the houses provided a method for listing the head-of-household.  As was the case, however, there would often be more than one nuclear family living at a dwelling.  Large extended families often shared space; sometimes these individuals shared a surname but many times they did not.  On this transcription, I used the adult designated head-of-household by Mr. MOORE and Mr. FILES and listed those heads-of-households in bold type.  All other individuals were listed in regular type.

The handwriting of the two enumerators was very different.  Mr. MOORE had a large, flowing, elegant, ornate Spencerian script, whereas that of Mr. FILES was less ornate, cramped, and small.  Of the two, Mr. FILES’ writing was the easier for me to transcribe.  Both men used a variety of spellings of given and surnames; they often listed initials rather than the entire given names; and they both used the “leading s” symbol when a double “s” was used, wherein the “leading s” symbol was scripted as a backwards lower-case “f” (Ex: Jefe for Jesse; Mifsifsippi for Mississippi).  This symbol was a constant source of confusion, as the abbreviation of Mississippi looked like “Mifs.”  Further, the transcription was, at times, based upon abbreviations of given names that were difficult to read.  “Thos” was transcribed to “Thomas” and “Jms” transcribed to James.  “Wm” was obviously “William” but “Jno” was very difficult to read and most often transcribed as “Jonathan.”  The most difficult of all to transcribe were the capital letters.  Both Mr. MOORE and Mr. FILES used ornate capital letters with many flourishes and swirls that are not commonly encountered today.  Many names have, no doubt, been incorrectly transcribed because of the use of such ornate capital letters.

The census images themselves also may account for errors in the transcription.  Often the reproduction of the writing on the image was so blurred and/or so indistinct that even after digital enlargement, the letters could not be discerned.  When impossible to read or when data were missing (sometimes the census taker omitted a name or an age or a place of birth), a blank line was used to indicate that no attempt was made to transcribe that portion.  Red entries on other portions of the transcribed index indicates that the text “looks like” or that a “guess” was made.

A Look at the Places of Birth for Individuals on the 1870 Census

About 78% of the more than 7,100 folks listed on the 1870 Census for Fayette County were born in Alabama.  It would appear that the majority of those were born in Fayette County.  Of the 20 different states or nations listed as places of birth, Alabama was expected to be the most frequently encountered. 

Georgia was next in frequency, followed by the Carolinas.  Other states of origin are shown in the table below.  Eleven foreign-born residents also are identified on the transcription of the 1870 Census of Fayette County:


Alabama:  5,543  (about 78%)

Georgia:  550  (about 7.7%)
South Carolina:  477  (about 6.7%)
North Carolina:  236  (about 3.3%)
Tennessee:  189  (about 2.6%)
Mississippi:  55  (less than 1%)
Virginia:  31  (less than 1%)
Texas:  14
Kentucky:  12
Maryland:  6
Pennsylvania:  5
Arkansas:  3
Illinois:  2
Massachusetts:  1
Missouri:  1
Scotland:  5
England:  3
Ireland:  1
Germany:  1
Africa:  1
No attempt was made to compare the census numbers with prior reports.  It is not known if the population of Fayette County in 1870 increased or decreased compared to previous decades.  The Civil War had ended just a few years prior to the taking of this census, and it is probable that some moving into and out of Northeast Alabama had occurred.  Southern Unionists and Southern Confederates had to sort out their differences; in some cases, families probably migrated elsewhere.  And there is evidence that some families who had scattered prior to and or early in the war returned “home” to Alabama at the war’s end. 

Further, no attempt was made in this transcription to record or to analyze the ratio of blacks to whites living in the county, although race was recorded on the census.  It is clear, however, from the census pages that several white families had black individuals living within their households.  Mulattos were designated by an “M” but no explanation was given as to how this label was determined.  If information about race of an individual is needed, the online census images should be consulted.

Occupation, Profession, and Major Activity Listed for Residents on the 1870 Census

The 1870 Census listed the trade, occupation, profession, or principal activity of most of those enumerated.  Farmer was the most-named occupation for men; Housekeeper or Keeping House was the most-noted activity for women.  Younger men and women were most frequently listed as Assisting Housekeeping and Farm Laborer.  Those children who had attended school were listed as At School or Attending School.  Younger children were most often listed as At Home.  Servants were usually listed as House Servant.

Some of the other activities/professions/trades listed include Blacksmith, Saddlery Trade, Carpenter, Tanner, Shoemaker, Miller, Merchant, Lawyer, Physician, Minister of the Gospel, School Teacher

Individuals not capable of working because of a physical or mental handicap were often identified.  Phrases and words such as Deformed, Pauper, and Not Able to Work were used to define some individuals. 

One of the most intriguing statements was on a 17-year-old male; he was listed as Doing Nothing.  It is not known if he was incapable of work or if he was in a state of rebellion against work as many teenagers today seem to be. 

The word Liquor was used on one individual’s description.  It was not known if he made liquor or if he consumed it in such quantities that he was incapable of work.

Deceased Individuals Listed on the 1870 Census

The census record is usually thought to list only living people.  This is not the case with this census.  The takers were asked to gather the names of all persons who, on June 1, 1870, were living in Fayette County.  Mr. MOORE and Mr. FILES started the census process in June; they finished it in early October.  Individuals who were alive on June 1 were listed no matter their status later in July, August, September, or October when the census takers finally got around to making an inventory of a community.  At least two individuals named on this census died before the record was taken and they were both from the same household. 

Such an example concerns the ROBERTSON family.  John O. ROBERTSON, 48, was born in Scotland.  He and his wife, seven children, and an elderly woman, lived at Fayette Court House on June 1, 1870.  Mr. ROBERTSON was a Dry Goods Merchant; Mrs. ROBERTSON was assisted by their 21-year old daughter and their 18-year old daughter in Keeping House.  Three sons, ages 7, 12, and 14, are listed as having attended school and a fourth son, age 3, was in the household.  A daughter, 1-year-old Susan ROBERTSON, is listed as “Deceased 13 June 1870.”  The 81-year-old female, Susan ALLEY, born in Virginia, relationship to the ROBERTSON family unknown, is listed as “Deceased 12 June 1870.” 

Mr. MOORE completed the page of the census containing the above information about the ROBERTSON family on July 19, 1870.  And because Mr. MOORE was charged with listing all the individuals living within a household on June 1, 1870, the record is accurate with regard to these two deceased individuals.  However, it should be noted that not all census takers were so meticulous in noting that some persons on the census were no longer living.

Age of Individuals Living in 1870 Fayette County, Alabama

Of the 7,090 residents of Fayette County whose ages were recorded in this transcription, the largest group was those less than 10 years of age.  These children accounted for a full 30% of the population on June 1, 1870. 

The 10-to-19-year-old group comprised 27% of the total population.  That almost 60% of the population was less than 20 years of age seems strange when compared to modern populations in Alabama.

According to an American Community survey based upon a 2003 study, the population of Alabama was comprised of 25% under age 18 and 13% over age 65.  In 1870, Fayette County had less than 4% of its population in the over-age-65 group and had a whopping 57% in the under-age-19 group.  Obviously the population demographics have changed radically in the South [and elsewhere] over the past 136 years.

The population was distributed by age in Fayette County in 1870 as follows:

100 years of age: 1 individual
90 – 99 years: 2 individuals
80 – 89 years: 24 individuals
70 – 79 years: 84 individuals:
The above four groups account for about 1% of the population.

60 – 69 years: 191  (about 3% of the population)
50 – 59 years:
329  (about 5% of the population)
40 – 49 years: 507  (about 7% of the population)
30 – 39 years: 694  (about 10% of the population)
20 – 29 years: 1173  (about 17% of the population)
10 – 19 years: 1960  (about 27% of the population)
0 – 9 years: 2125  (about 30% of the population)

The oldest person found on the 1870 census was Metcalfs LINDSEY, 100 years old, born in Africa.  Metcalfs, identified as a black man, was listed as a Pauper in the household of Thomas G. LINDSEY, a white man.  It is not known if LINDSEY was his last name or not — but to have been born about 1770 in Africa and brought to this country and to survive that long is a truly remarkable feat. 

Below is a list of the over-age-85 citizens found on a search of the transcription (bold print indicates head-of-household; red print indicates that I am not sure of the transcription; age and place of birth are shown after the given name; code at end indicates microfilm page number and line on page)

LINDSEY, Metcalfs, 100, Africa, 425b06
MOORE, William, 93, NC, 408a11
WHITSON, Thomas, 90, NC, 433a01
FRESHOUR, George, 89, PA, 434b37
HATCHER, Nancy, 88, GA, 439b15
MUSGROVE, W.T., 88, AL, 381b14
POE, Simeon, 88, NC, 448b33
POWELL, Margaret, 88, SC, 404a33
FREEMAN, Sarah, 86, NC, 428b15

Surnames From the 1870 Fayette County Census

This transcription identifies 659 different surnames and/or spellings of surnames.  The most frequent surnames include the following eighteen families listed in order of numbers of individuals.

WILSON - 126
SMITH - 83
JONES - 76
BOBO - 74
BERRY - 69
DAVIS - 64
GRAY – 50

These eighteen surnames account for slightly less than 3% of all of the different surnames, but these eighteen family groups contain almost 20% of the Fayette County population in 1870.

Place Names in Fayette County (Listed as Post Office Addresses)

Each census page lists a Township number (and sometimes a Range number), as well as the nearest Post Office location.  Post Office names used in 1870 are as follows:

Eagle Mills
Fayette Court House  (now Fayette)
Fayetteville  (now Fayette)
New River
Newton Ville  (Newtonville)
Pilgrims Rest

All of these place names can be found on two maps available online and reproduced, in part, below.  The Rand McNally 1880 map shows seven of the above place names (Fayette Court House, Fayette C.H., and Fayetteville are now known as Fayette); the other place names can be found on the US General Land Office 1878 map.

Section of 1880 Rand McNally map showing Fayette Co., AL

Section of 1878 US General Land Office map showing Fayette Co., AL

Using the Transcribed Information From the 1870 Fayette County Census

A transcription was attempted for each of the 7,136 individual names from the 186 pages of the census report.  Each person’s surname is followed by his given name, his age, his place of birth, and a reference to the census microfilm image page number and the line on the page.  This page/line entry will give researchers a quick way to find the name on the image pages.  Even without accessing the images, researchers can easily reassemble the alphabetized names into household groups.  Some examples of the transcribed names are as follows:

THORNTON, Agnis, 70, SC, 390a26
THORNTON, Martha, 38, AL, 390a27
THORNTON, Eppy, 28, AL, 390a28
THORNTON, Susan, 16, AL, 390a29
THORNTON, Richard, 8/12, AL, 390a30

JEFFREYS, Elija, 38, AL, 390b01
JEFFREYS, Marget, 32, AL, 390b02
JEFFREYS, John H., 8, AL, 390b03
JEFFREYS, Mary A., 6, AL, 390b04
JEFFREYS, Sarah M., 3, AL, 390b05
JEFFREYS, Andrew, 1, AL, 390b06

JOHNSON, Moses, 48, AL, 393b16
JOHNSON, Mary, 33, AL, 393b17
JOHNSON, James, 17, AL, 393b18
JOHNSON, Malinda, 16, AL, 393b19
JOHNSON, Marget, 11, AL, 393b20
JOHNSON, Arminta, 3, AL, 393b21
JOHNSON, Rosaner, 8, AL, 393b22
JOHNSON, Henry, 6, AL, 393b23

The first name on the list of examples is my great-great-grandmother, Agnes THORNTON.  Agnes, whose name was spelled “Agnis” by the census taker, was 70 years old on her birthday prior to the census.  Her birth year can thus be estimated from this information to be about 1800.  Agnes THORNTON’s place of birth was South Carolina. 

The bold type used on Agnes’ entry indicates that she was designated as the head-of-household at the time of the census in 1870. [Family research shows her husband, Richard THORNTON, to be head-of-household in 1860; he probably died in the mid-1860s.]  Listed below Agnes are members of her household, daughters Martha, Eppy, and Susan, and a child, Richard, who was 8/12ths of a year old.  To whom Richard belongs is not discernible from the census record.  The census taker asked for the names of all who lived in the household on June 1, 1870; the 8/12ths Richard may have been visiting on that date, or he may have been a permanent member of the household.  And his surname may or may not be THORNTON.

The numbers following the place of birth indicate the image page number and the line number on that page.  Agnes THORNTON’s information is written on census page 390a at line 26; Richard THORNTON is on line 30 (Agnes’ daughters are on lines 27, 28, and 29).  But what other information about Agnes THORNTON can be learned from the census record?  By referring to the image page, her general place of residence is noted as Township 14, Dublin Post Office, Fayette County, Alabama.  The census record was completed for that part of Fayette County on June 13, 1870.

Further, by using the enumeration on the census pages, the dwelling/household number and the family number can be determined.  Agnes THORNTON and her family lived at dwelling number 5 and they were family number 5.

In the examples above, the JEFFREYS and the JOHNSON families are also mentioned.  These examples are included to show proximity to the target family of Agnes THORNTON. 

Elija and Marget JEFFREYS lived close to Agnes; generally each census image page has 40 names; the JEFFREYS are on the page following Agnes, page 390b.  On the actual images, a household number and a family number were assigned.  The JEFFREYS are at dwelling number 7.  It can be concluded that the JEFFREYS (in dwelling number 7) and the THORNTONs (in dwelling number 5) were neighbors.  [And the families were connected more than by proximity.  Margaret HOCUTT and her sister Mary HOCUTT married on the same day in January, 1861.  Marget married Elija Anderson JEFFREYS and Mary married a son of Agnes THORNTON, Henry M. THORNTON.  Henry M. THORNTON died December 1863 during the Civil War, leaving Mary with two children.  She married Moses JOHNSON in December 1869.] 

Moses and Mary JOHNSON are shown on image page 393b (see example above).  The JOHNSON family lived at dwelling number 49.  They shared the same Post Office (Dublin) and the same Fayette County Township (T-14) with the families of Agnes THORNTON and Elija Anderson JEFFREYS.  The dwelling numbers (5 to 49) mean that these three families were living in the same general neighborhood.  And family history indicates that the three families were further intertwined.

Mary Hocutt Thornton JOHNSON was the mother of two THORNTON children, Rosaner THORNTON (born October 26, 1862) and John Anderson Henry THORNTON (born October 16, 1863).  It is assumed that two of the children shown on the list above as JOHNSON children in the household with Moses and Mary JOHNSON are Rosaner and J.A. Henry THORNTON.  The other children are assumed to be Moses JOHNSON’s children from a previous marriage.

Mary Hocutt Thornton JOHNSON died February 3, 1872.  Her children by Henry M. THORNTON became wards of Elija and Marget Hocutt JEFFREYS, Mary’s sister and brother-in-law.  Thus the connection by proximity between Agnes THORNTON’s household and the Elija JEFFREYS' household is made even the more meaningful in that her grandchildren Rosaner and John Anderson Henry THORNTON were close.  It is thought that Agnes died sometimes during the decade of the 1870s.  Little is known about Rosaner and John Anderson Henry THORNTON.

The final documented evidence that I have on my great-great-grandmother Agnes THORNTON is the 1870 census.  It is assumed that she died during the 1870s decade.  But no record has been found of her death nor of her burial place.  But another possibility has been suggested that would make the proximity between the THORNTON, JEFFREYS, and JOHNSON families on the census report more meaningful.  At least one JOHNSON family historian states that Agnes THORNTON married Moses JOHNSON after his wife, Mary Hocutt Thornton JOHNSON, died.  More research is needed to document this assertion.

 Updating the Transcribed Every-name Index and Correcting Errors

The accuracy of my transcription should always be verified by going directly to the microfilmed census images available online.

As you find errors in this transcription, you may wish to update the record by sending me a correction by e-mail.  Please send your e-mails to William T. THORNTON with "Correction to 1870 Census" in the subject line.  In the body of the e-mail, please copy and paste the entire transcribed entry (including the name, image page number and line number) and then state what is incorrect and what it should be changed to.  I will acknowledge your e-mails and will credit you with the correction in subsequent updates.  Your help will be most appreciated by all researchers.


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09 Jul 2006  |  23 May 2008