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Essex, Mass. - 1850 Census

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1850 Federal Census of Essex, Mass.
Kurt Wilhelm, 1992, 2001


In 1850 there were 1,585 residents of Essex, 46% of whom were either a Burnham, an Andrews, or a Story. Shipbuilding, farming, and shoemaking employed over 70% of the workforce. There were at least 145 people working in the shipbuilding industry, 120 farmers and drovers, and 100 shoe and leather workers. Others, including blacksmiths and laborers, were also involved in these industries. The median age of the residents was 23 years.

  1. The Federal Census of 1850
    1. The Population of Essex in 1850
      1. Names
      2. Age
      3. Occupation
      4. Value
      5. Place of Birth
      6. Married within year, attended school, illiteracy
    2. References
    3. Tables and Figures
      1. Figure 1. Number of households by household size
      2. Figure 2. Population by household size
      3. Figure 3. Age distribution
      4. Table 1. List of surnames and count of people with each surname
      5. Table 2. Residents with property valued at $5,000 or more.
      6. Table 3. Surnames of residents not born in Massachusetts
  2. Index of Names
  3. Transcription (in TEXT format)

    1. The Federal Census of 1850

The 1850 federal census for the town of Essex in Essex County, Massachusetts was taken from 15 August to 11 September, 1850 by Andrew Dodge. Every other page is stamped with page numbers from 277 to 295. The original pages are also paginated in handwriting as 553 through 580, and pages 1 through 38.

The transcription was made from photocopies of the microfilmed census sheets. The photocopies are in very good condition and, with few exceptions, easily legible. The photocopies were donated to the Essex Historical Society by Matthew Osborn and are found in the Shipbuilding Museum. Local depositories of the microfilms are in the Gloucester Library, Lynnfield Library, and at the Federal Records Center in Waltham.

Although the census records represent the best information available to the census taker, and the best description of the population at that time, these records should be regarded somewhat cautiously because mistakes occur. In some cases the age of individuals is estimated. The information about a family may have come from a neighbor. Section 3 is a literal transcription of the census sheets. Obvious errors are included as written, but corrected for the statistical summaries. Compiler's notes are placed within brackets.

The handwriting of the time used capitol S's which looked similar to capitol L's and the lower case "z" is similar to "s".

The following information was recorded in the 1850 census: house number, family number, name, age, sex, color, occupation, value of property, place of birth, if married within year, if in school within year, if illiterate, and status (deaf, blind, insane). House and family were numbered consecutively as the census taker worked his route, so neighboring houses are often grouped together.

  1. The Population of Essex in 1850

In 1850 the population of Essex was 1,585. This represents an increase of 135 since 1840. By 1860 the population would increase by 116 to 1,701. There were 333 families living in 252 houses (one house was listed as unoccupied). The 1850 census does not list the relationship of the members of a household. A family group may include hired employees. On average, there were 4.8 people per family group and 1.3 families per house, for a total of 6.3 people per house. The most commonly found household size is 3 people. The greatest number of people lived in household of seven people.

Figure 1. Number of households by household size

Figure 2. Population by household size

    1. Names

The 3 most common surnames were Burnham (398 people), Andrews (184) and Story (144). Together they represented 726 people, or 46% of the town population. The next most common surnames (with number of individuals) were: Low (64), Mears (41), Perkins (40), Cogswell (33), Haskell (31), Lufkin (30), Choate (25), and Allen (22). These 11 surnames accounted for 64% of the town's population.

Table 1. List of surnames and count of people with each surname
Name No   Name No   Name No
Ainsley 1 Goldsmith 4 McMillen 1
Allen 22 Goldthwait 1 McNerley[?] 1
Anderson 1 Goodhue 16 Mears 41
Andrews 184 Gorton 10 Miller 4
Annable 8 Gosbee 5 Morgan 2
Bartlett 1 Grant 1 Morgridge 1
Baxter 1 Gray 2 Morse 11
Bennett 1 Griffin 1 Nichols 1
Blood 1 Griggs 2 Nicholson 1
Boardman 1 Guppey 7 Noble 3
Bowers 6 Hardy 12 Norton 15
Boyd 17 Harlow 1 Nutter 13
Bray 1 Haskell 31 Obrien 1
Brown 6 Herrick 1 Percivel 3
Burnham 399 Hibbert 1 Perkins 40
Butler 7 Hobbs 8 Pierce 9
Butman 10 Hobson 1 Poland 16
Cambell 1 Holmes 7 Porter 1
Carey 1 Hooper 3 Pray 5
Caverly[?] 2 Horsfield 5 Preston 4
Channel 1 How 1 Prince 4
Choate 25 Howes 3 Proctor 19
Clark 4 Hoyt 6 Quinby 4
Clayborn 3 Huffie 1 Richardson 2
Cogswell 33 Ingalls 1 Riggs 11
Collins 1 Jackson 3 Robenson 7
Courtney 4 James 5 Roberts 2
Crafts 4 Jarret 3 Roy 1
Crockett 3 Jenkins 2 Rust 1
Crowell 5 Jewett 2 Sargent 1
Dade 3 Johnson 2 Sewall 1
Daily 1 Jones 7 Sinet 1
Dame 3 Knight 2 Snow 1
Damon 1 Knowlton 15 Spear 1
Day 2 Lakeman 3 Spofford 6
Denning 1 Lammis 1 Stanwood 6
Dodge 7 Lampson 4 Story 144
Dunkerson 4 Lee 12 Synett 4
Dunn 2 Lemons 3 Todd 1
Durgan 1 Lendall 2 Trask 2
Earl 5 Lewis 1 unoccupied 1
Evans 2 Littleton 1 Wallis 2
Eveleth 11 Lovelan 1 Wardrop 1
Farnham 8 Loveland 7 Warren 1
Farrer 1 Low 64 Watts 2
Faye 1 Lufkin 30 Wells 1
Field 3 Lull 1 Wentworth 1
Fitz 1 Marshal 1 Wheeler 1
Flint 1 Marshall 16 Whipple 1
Gage 6 McDonald 5 Whittmore 1
Gardner 1 McGrony 1 Williams 1
Giddings 9 McIntire 6 Wing 1
Gilbert 9 McKenzie 13 Grand Total 1587

The five most popular first names for women, with number of occurrences were: Mary (113), Lucy (56), Elizabeth (44), Sarah (38) and Susan (33). One of these five names were held by 37% of the female population. Some unusual names include Abalina, Faustina, Izanna, Orpha and Rispah. The five most popular men's names were John (73), William (52), George (42), Charles (31) and David (23). These five names represented 27 % of the male population. Unusual male names include America (2), Ancill (2), Essex, Nimrod, and Zeno.

    1. Age

Rufus Cogswell was the eldest resident, at age 90 years. He was born in Chebacco (Essex) in 1761. He was a soldier in the Revolutionary War, and was present at the surrender of Gen. Burgoyne's army at Saratoga on October 17, 1777 (Jameson, 1884). After the war he married and settled in Herkimer, NY. Following the death of his wife he moved first to Spencer, Mass., and then returned to Essex, where he was living in the Alms House in 1850.

The median age in Essex was 23 years and the average age was 28. In 1990 the median age of the population was 36 years. An age frequency graph is shown below. There were 818 males and 767 females in Essex, for a ratio of 1.1 males to each female. There were 14 blacks and mullatoes living in Essex in 1850 (0.9% of the population).

Figure 3. Age distribution

    1. Occupation

Besides the 11 people whose occupation was listed as pauper, 3 students, an invalid, and none, there were 531 people holding various occupations. They represented one-third of the population. Of the 435 males between 20 and 64 years old, 420 (97%) had an occupation listed. Note that some people held more than one occupation during the year, but only one was reported in the census. During periods when few ships were being built, shipwrights would turn to such activities as haying, clamming, or shoemaking.

There is only one woman with an occupation listed. The listing of Ann Andrews, age 16, as a school teacher appears to be an error. She is also listed as a student, she is young for a teacher, and she is not mentioned in the 1850 town report or school registers. The description of column 7 of the census is the "profession, occupation, or trade of each male person over 15 years of age". Employed females were not listed.

The three major means of employment in Essex in 1850 were farming, shipbuilding, and shoe making. There were 118 farmers and 2 drovers listed in the census. Among those involved with shoe manufacturing and leather working were a shoe manufacturer (Ezra Perkins, Jr., age 43), 96 shoemakers, 3 tanners, and a currier (Eben Stanwood, 37).

Among those with marine related occupations were a ship master (Edward Lakeman, age 37) and 23 mariners. The mariners were probably mostly fishermen and a few worked in the coastal trade. There were 6 ship builders (Oliver Burnham, 40; Thomas Hardy, 51; Leonard McKenzie, 36; Abel Story, 59; Andrew Story, 64; Epes Story, 57). There were 113 shipwrights and 9 shipjoiners. Outboard joiners smoothed the hull, and inboard joiners did the finish work on the interior of the ship. There were four caulkers (Aaron Burnham, 63; Noah Burnham, 37; Luther Burnham, 31 and Jacob Quinby, 39). These men packed the seams between the ship's planks with cotton, oakum and pitch, making the ship watertight. There were two carvers (Aaron Burnham, 43; John Choate, 18). The four block and pump makers were Obed Burnham, 43, Hardy Burnham, 45, Thomas Griggs, 42 and Thomas Knight, 50. There were 7 rope makers (Samuel Hardy, 52, David Mears, 41, John Mears, 72, John Mears, Jr., 44, William Mears, 39, and Nathaniel Burnham, 19) and a rigger (Joseph Proctor, 42). There were others involved in shipbuilding, such as those is listed as blacksmiths, carpenters, painters, teamsters and laborers, but since their occupation was not specific to shipbuilding they are mentioned below. Also, there were others who were employed both as shipbuilders and farmers. During 1850, 34 schooners were completed and work was started on several more. Some marine related occupations are notable for their absence in the census. Although clams were dug in Essex, there are no clammers listed.

Among the craftsmen were 27 carpenters, a housewright, 3 cabinetmakers, 4 coopers, 4 painters, 12 blacksmiths, a harness maker (Edwin Robinson, 42), and a wheelwright (Caleb Gage, 35). Caleb Gage was also the coffin maker. There were 3 masons and 2 stone cutters. There were also 50 men listed as laborers. They were employed in various trades. In 1850, there were three[?] saw mills located on the Essex River, however no sawyers or similar occupations are listed. By 1850 the local forests were depleted, and lumber came from New Hampshire and Maine.

Tradesmen included 12 traders, 2 storekeepers, a traveling agent, a victualer (Thomas Proctor, age 62), a stage owner (Jonathan Lufkin, 23) and a stage driver (Joseph Marshall, 21) and 3 teamsters. There was a tailor (Edward Burnham, 33) and a clothier (John Goodhue, 75). The town also had a miller (George Whipple, 21) and a baker (Andrew W. Burnham, 64).

Among the professionals listed in Essex were a physician (Dr. Josiah Lamson, age 60), a Congregational clergyman (Rev. Robert Crowell, 62), and a Universalist clergyman (Rev. John Prince, 30). Jonathan Story, age 74, was "one of the most eminent surveyors in the state." (Crowell, 1868).

Two school teachers, William Allen, age 33, and Ann Andrews, age 16, are named in the census. Apparently, the listing of Ann Andrews is an error. It is curious that with seven schools in Essex, only one teacher is identified. The Annual Report of the Town of Essex for 1850, which covers the period of March 12th 1849 to March 12th 1850, lists the following teachers by school district:

Falls - Thomas S. Roundy and Abby Eveleth;
North - George M. Preston;
Central - Elizabeth C. Choate and Ira Moore;
Thomson's Island - Abigail W. Todd and James V. Rogers;
East - Stephen Peabody;
South - none listed;
Hog Island - Augusta K. Goldsmith.

School registers for the 1850-51 school year list the following teachers: Falls primary: Abby Perkins; Thomson's Island - Jonathan Pressey; Central primary - Sarah N. B. Cogswell; Central senior - Calvin S. Locke; East - John H. Gilbert. None of the males listed above is named in the 1850 census of Essex.

There was one person who might be considered a town employee, that was the master of the alms house, David Perkins. He received $200 for his services to the town (1850 Town Report). The alms house sold $975 worth of meat, vegetables, and hay, and 380 pounds of oakum to help meet expenses.

Town officers in 1850 were Uriah G. Spofford, moderator, Caleb Cogswell, treasurer, and Aaron L. Burnham, clerk. Issachar Burnham and Ezra Perkins, Jr. were town auditors. George Norton operated the draw bridge.

    1. Value

There were 260 people listed as having $514,292 in property ($1,978/person). The following 24 men had property valued at $5,000 or more:

Table 2. Those with property valued at $5,000 or more.
Name Value Age Occupation
Boyd, Adam $13,000 61 farmer
Low, Winthrop 10,500 65 farmer
Burnham, Parker 10,000 68 farmer
Burnham, William 10,000 69 farmer
Cogswell, Albert 10,000 39 farmer
Low, David 10,000 66 farmer
Low, Josiah 9,000 50 farmer
Dodge, Nehemiah 7,500 40 farmer
Choate, David 7,400 51 farmer
Perkins, David 7,000 59 Master of Alms House
Story, Jonathan 7,000 74 surveyor
Low, Joshua 6,500 55 blacksmith
Story, Adoniram 6,300 42 farmer
Marshall, William 6,150 60 farmer
Andrews, Elias 6,000 78 farmer
Burnham, Francis 6,000 59 tanner
Choate, John 6,000 62 farmer
Low, Enoch 6,000 67 trader
Burnham, John 5,300 51 farmer
Choate, John P. 5,100 59 farmer
Andrews, Moses 5,050 62 farmer
Giddings, Aaron 5,000 61 farmer
Knowlton, Moses 5,000 66 farmer
Story, Perkins 5,000 59 farmer

These men, with an average age of 59, represented 34% of the wealth of the town. Note that with five exceptions, almost all of the above listed men are farmers. The estimation of value was based only on real estate, not personal property or income.

    1. Place of Birth

94% of the population (1,483) was born in Massachusetts. There were 30 residents born in other states and 72 foreign born (4.5%). The foreign born residents were all born in English speaking countries. Canadian born residents were noted as "Br Prov N Am" or "Br Prov N.B." The place called "Gr Bretton" is interpreted as Great Britain, but it could be Cape Breton in Nova Scotia.

Table 3. Surnames of residents not born in Massachusetts
Number of Individuals Place Surnames
54 Canada Ainsley, Bennett, Clark, Dunkerson, Dunn, Fitz, Gosbee, Grant, Hobbs, Howes, Ingalls, Jenkins, McDonald, McMillen, Miller, Nichols, Nicholson, Noble, Roy, Wallis, Wardrop, Whittmore
9 Ireland Brown, Collins, Durgan, Denning, Flint, Littleton, McGrony, McNerley, Obrien
5 England Synett, Hobbs, Rust
3 "Gr Bretton"
[Great Britain]
Faye, Griggs, Huffie
1 Scotland Cambell
other States
14 N.H. Cogswell, Farrer, Guppey, Robinson
9 Me. Allen, Anderson, Burnham, Pierce, Pray, Warren, Wentworth
3 Ill. Andrews
2 Fla. Baxter, Lammis
1 Conn. Percivel
1 N.Y. Gray

    1. Married within year, attended school, literacy

There were 424 students attending school, and of these 25 were less than 5 years old, and 29 were over 16 years old. The total population of those aged 5 to 16 year was 400. Four people over 20 years old were noted as illiterate. Three of these were foreign born and the fourth was Ira Poland, age 24. He is also the only person with any remarks in the "status" column, being listed as "deaf & dumb".

  1. References
  1. 1850 Federal Census, Town of Essex, Massachusetts
  2. Annual Report of the Town of Essex, 1850.
  3. Crowell, R. 1868. History of the Town of Essex from 1634 to 1868.
  4. Essex, Mass. School Registers for the 1850-51 School Year
  5. Jameson, E. O. 1884. The Cogswells in America. Alfred Mudge & Son, printers. Boston. p. 81

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Copyright 2006, 2010 by Kurt A. Wilhelm