Illinois Censuses


[The following is transcribed from the introduction to Illinois Census Returns 1810, 1818 by Margaret Cross Norton]

From the time the French settlements in the Illinois country can be said to have existed as such, various estimates of their population, more or less accurate, were made. Two such censuses, one for the year 1732 [click here for more information], and one for 1752 [click here for more information], quite detailed in their classification of persons and property, are reproduced herewith.1 Under the British regime an enumeration was made in 1767 [click here for more information] for Major General Gage, apparently for military purposes. This document, printed in volume 11 of the Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library,2 summarizes the number of inhabitants, white and black, their live stock, number of bushels of Indian corn and wheat in storage and number of mills at Kaskaskia, and the number of families at Cahokia, Prairie du Rocher, St. Philip and Fort Chartres, respectively. The first census listing names of heads of families appears to have been prepared in 1787 for the use of Barthelemi Tardiveau [click here for more information], an agent sent to Washington in that year to petition Congress for land grants for French and American settlers in Illinois. These schedules, with biographical annotations by C. W. Alvord, are to be found in the Illinois Historical Collections, volumes 2 and 5.3 These list inhabitants in Cahokia [click here for more information], Kaskaskia [click here for more information], and Prairie du Rocher [click here for more information], and Americans in Illinois [click here for more information] in August and September of 1787. Although not intended for a census, the reports of the commissioners appointed by the United States government to settle the Cahokia and Kaskaskia land claims, printed in the American State Papers[click here for more information],4 contain the most reliable information concerning the population of Illinois, especially the French inhabitants, prior to 1800. Petitions and memorials to the territorial legislatures and to Congress contain many names, but are unreliable because of numerous forgeries, faked names, and names of minors and nonresidents.

The earliest American censuses were those taken by the federal government in 1800 [click here for more information], while Illinois was still a part of Indiana Territory, and in 1810, one year after Illinois became a separate territory. Except for summaries these two censuses have never been published. A transcript of a portion of the 1810 census for Illinois has been found in the files of the Illinois State Historical Survey, and has been reproduced in this volume. In addition to these federal censuses, the territorial legislature of Indiana ordered two census enumerations. The revenue act of 1805 ordered the sheriffs to take an "exact account of all free male inhabitants" at the time of taking the list of taxable property and to transmit the same to the secretary of the territory by April 1, 1806 on penalty of a $500 fine; three cents per name was allowed as compensation.5 The sheriffs failed in some cases to make these returns, which were desired as a basis of apportionment of representation, and at the 1806 session of the General Assembly, they were warned by a joint resolution6 to return lists of all free males of the ages of twenty-one years and upwards by June 1, 1807 [click here for more information]. subject to the same penalty and for the same fee. Early tax lists, poll books, marriage and probate records in the various county archives, as yet uncompiled. will eventually yield much of the data now missing for the record of territorial population.

By 1800 much of the original French population had disappeared from Illinois by emigration to the Louisiana country, partly due to the activities of American land speculators who pointed out to them the probable discouragement by the Americans of slaveholding in the territory and the difficulties in proving title to their lands, because of the absence of records. The story of this migration can be pieced out from the testimony taken before the United States commissioners to settle the Kaskaskia and Cahokia land claims, in the volume of American State Papers referred to above.7 A second dwindling of population in Illinois came as the result of the War of 1812 which kept the Indians so restless from 1811 to 1815 that the pioneers were forced to abandon their claims and congregate in the few towns and forts. Many left the territory and never returned. The story of this migration awaits further exploration in local records.

From 1816 on, the population of Illinois grew by leaps and bounds. For the period from 1818 to and including 1865, the federal census records are supplemented by census schedules taken by the territory and state of Illinois. The first of these censuses was taken in 1818 to substantiate the claim that Illinois had sufficient population to be given statehood. Although the Ordinance of 1787 indicated that admission was mandatory with a population of 60,000, it suggested possible admission with a less number. The memorial to Congress asking statehood claimed a population of 40,000 and that number was accepted as sufficient.8 The original census act9 provided that the enumeration should be taken between April 1 and June 1, 1818, and a supplementary act10 provided for the listing of all new persons settling in Illinois between June 1 and December 1. The state constitution of 181811 required that a state census should be taken every five years beginning in 1820, and the state constitution of 184812 required that censuses be taken every ten years commencing in 1855. The last state census for Illinois was taken in 1865. Unfortunately many of these early census records are missing from the state archives, particularly most of those for the 1818 supplementary census, all for the 1825 and 1830 censuses, and most of the 1835 and 1845 census returns.13 The General Assembly of 1824-1825 passed a law14 giving detailed instructions for taking the census. Commissioners were to be appointed by the county commissioners; the enumeration was to be taken in the three months following the first Monday in September of 1825 and in the corresponding periods every five years ; the rate of compensation was fixed, based on the number of names turned in ; and the commissioners, after exposing their lists for correction at their respective court houses, were to report to the secretary of state who was in turn to file the schedules with the speaker of the house at the next General Assembly. The governor transmitted schedules for the 1825 census to a special session15 called January 26, 1826 to reapportion representation. The returns indicated a population of 72,817 inhabitants. "The tide of emigration, which had been for several years checked by various causes, both general and local, has again set in, and has afiforded a greater accession of population to the state during the past, than it had for the three preceding years." No copies of these returns are in thestate archives, but returns for Randolph County are in the court house of that county.16

The census law was revised in 182917 and provided for payment of the census from any otherwise unappropriated moneys in the state treasury. The returns were to give further information concerning ages, manufactures, mills, etc., and were to be accompanied by certified lists of persons subject to militia duty for the use of the adjutant general. No census returns for 1830 are now in the state archives, though the bills for the apportionment of representation in 1830-1831 were introduced by the joint committee18 to whom the census returns were turned over, and the secretary of state19 transmitted the schedules for Hancock County after the committee was appointed. Copies of an 1830 census, either state or federal, for Bond County, are in the court house for that county.20

Subsequent state censuses, namely 1835, 1840, 1845, 1855, and 1865 were taken under the provisions of the 1829 law, which, with minor revisions, was reenacted as chapter 19 of the revised laws of 184521 and amended in minor details in 1855.22 Under the constitution of 184823 the federal and state censuses were to be used as bases for apportionment of representation, and under the constitution of 187024 only the federal census was to be used for that purpose. Returns for 1835 are tabulated in the House Journal for 1835-1836,25 but only the original schedules for Fulton and Jasper counties were found in the archives, supplemented by the Fayette County schedules deposited a few years ago by the supervisors of that county. The 1840 census schedules for about half the counties are in the files, while the respective county archives have schedules for Alexander, Crawford, Gallatin, Monroe, Perry, Pope and Rock Island counties.26 Tabular statements for the 1840 and 1845 censuses are to be found in the Senate reports for 1840 and 1846 respectively.27 All the 1845 schedules except for Cass, Macoupin, and Tazewell counties are missing from the files, though Stephenson County has a copy of its returns.28 The 1855 returns are complete. A supplemental volume for that year contains a census of the deaf, blind, and insane, giving their names, ages, names of heads of families, and addresses. Although no state census was taken in 1860, three counties, Alexander, Bond, and Clark, made returns. Returns for the last state census, taken in 1865, are complete. A list of state census returns is appended.

Until the publication of the present volume there has been no compilation of early census schedules for Illinois. Although disappointing in that biographical and genealogical data concerning the early settlers are not given in these census records, they are valuable not only for the sentimental reason that they preserve the names of hundreds of pioneers otherwise forgotten, but also as providing the basis for studies in population movement in the United States. That these state census enumerations were taken more frequently than those by the federal government make them particularly useful for such studies. This point is illustrated by the fact that the population of Illinois increased between forty and fifty per cent in the two and a half years between taking the first census in June, 1818, and the enumeration returned in December, 1820. In June,1818, the secretary reported the population as 34,610;29 if the census commissioner's estimate of 980 souls at the frontier forts be deducted, the net figure will be 33,630. An additional census taken in part of the counties added 1948 by December 1, 1818, and by December, 1820, it had reached 51,159, a gain of over 15,000. The federal census for 1820, certified to on March 22, 1821, but for the most part taken at the same time as the state census, gives the population as 55,211.

Incidentally, the discrepancies between the state and the federal census of 1820 show vividly the mobility of the settlers. As is shown in notes appended to the volume of 1820 census returns, which is to follow this volume, the returns for the various counties show decided dififerences both in numbers and in the names of families, only partly to be explained by occasional padding (as in the case of Madison County) or inaccuracies on the part of the census takers. These census returns were being compiled in 1820 at just that season of the year when, the crops having been harvested, people began coming into the state or moving about in the state seeking new home sites. This is particularly shown in those counties along the highways to the west, notably in Gallatin County, where large numbers of single men are listed--presumably men who had left their families behind while they scouted for new locations. Also there is found a considerable repetition of names, often a mere coincidence of common names, but occasionally of names sufficiently distinctive to warrant the assumption that they are the same persons. The early settler seldom purchased his homestead inside of two or three years. Thus a comparison between the 1818 and 1820 returns shows that though a large number of families remained in the same county, the neighborhoods and number of persons in the various families shifted considerably. To what extent the returns were padded by listing families merely in transit through the state is difficult to determine, but as very few immigrants had a fixed location in view and might choose a site close to where they might be found temporarily encamped, the census enumerator was justified in listing them. This constant shifting about makes all population statistics very unreliable, but it adds interest to a study of the names themselves.

County histories list some persons who tradition says had settled in the state before 1820 whose names do not appear in these records, sometimes because the census taker did not find them, often because two families living together more or less temporarily, were listed as one family. On the other hand, hundreds of pioneers whose names appear, sometimes in both the 1818 and 1820 returns, have been forgotten by the compilers of county histories. This is particularly true of those pioneers who removed from the county or who left no descendants there.

The exact location of the various families is not given in the schedules, but this can be approximated from the fact that the names of families were generally listed in the order enumerated. A map showing the principal settlements in Illinois is reproduced here from S. J. Buck, Illinois in 1818, in which volume he devotes a chapter to a study of "The Extent of Settlement."30 A map for 1820 would look much the same. It would show a denser population in southern Illinois and a spreading of settlement into the region west of the third principal meridian and northward to the Sangamon River, the furthest north being a settlement in what is now Logan County. Between the Illinois and the Mississippi rivers the outlying settlement was near what is now Atlas, in Pike County. By 1820 there were also settlements at Chicago and in the Fever River lead mine country in the present Jo Daviess County, neither of which were visited when the census was taken.

The original census law of 181831 provided in detail the method for taking the enumeration. The governor was to appoint "some fit person in each county" to take the returns. The census enumerator took his oath before a justice of the peace or a judge of the county court and was subject to a penalty of $200 for dereliction of duty. The county was to pay him a specified lump sum ranging from $40 each for Bond, Franklin, and Pope counties to $80 for Crawford County. Any person over sixteen years of age was to be fined $20 for failure or refusal to answer the questions correctly. The censor was to make the enumeration by "actual enquiry at the dwelling house, or of the head of every family in their respective counties." In gathering this data, however, he must have been somewhat handicapped by the further provision that he was to combine with his duties of census taker that of tax assessor. Another temptation to falsify statements to him must have been the fear that this was another device for listing persons subject to militia duty. The law specified the following form:

Names of heads of families,
Free white males, twenty-one years and upwards.
All other white inhabitants,
Free people of colour,
Servants or slaves.

The law of 181932 providing for taking the census of 1820 makes similar provisions. The commissioners to take this census were appointed by the county commissioners, and their compensation was paid from the state treasury. The additional duty of acting as assessor was omitted from this law. The enumeration was to begin the first of August, and returns were to be made to the secretary of state on or before the first Monday in December, 1820. The form to be used was similar to that for the 1818 census, though some of the census takers interpreted their instructions as calling for more detailed information as to ages and sex.

When the State Archives Division found the 1818 and 1820 census returns, they were bound in one large volume. At some time prior to binding they had gone through a fire, and part of the returns for St. Clair County for 1818 were missing and the rest charred. All papers in the volume were badly water soaked and stained. The paper was so soft and discolored that immediate repair and rebinding were necessary. These records are now bound in three volumes, the sheets having been covered on both sides with silk gauze and enclosed in paper frames. In their present condition they can be handled freely and are protected from further disintegration. For the most part the writing is clear and legible, though without authorization or knowledge of the Archives Division the binder undertook to retouch the writing in places with the inaccurate results to have been expected. In editing this volume, however, the spelling as shown on a photostatic copy made before binding
has been followed. Often, particularly in the spelling of the French names, the census taker spelled names phonetically, and this spelling has been preserved in the printed copy even when obviously the result of carelessness. The 1820 state census has been compared with the 1820 federal census records in Washington, and important discrepancies cited in footnotes appended to the second volume containing the 1820 census.

The chief purpose of these volumes is to present as accurately as possible a list of settlers m Illinois in 1818 and 1820 as found in census records. The names found in the 1818 and 1820 state census have been compared with each other and with the federal census of 1820, and discrepancies noted where they occur within the same counties. The federal census of 1820 gives much fuller information as to ages, occupations and township residence than either of the state returns. Since this federal census will eventually be printed no attempt has been made to compare anything but the actual names of families.

For the most part, of course, such a comparison of names yields little more than a list of minor discrepancies in spelling, but where the returns were taken by more than one person there are often found wide dififerences not only as to the spelling of names but as to what the names actually were. This is notably true for Gallatin County, where as between a list of 554 families in the state census for 1820 and a list of 451 families in the federal census taken two months later there is a discrepancy of 343 names which cannot be matched. There are several probable reasons for these disagreements. In the first place, brothers or several unrelated families frequently lived together temporarily and might not name the same man as head of the family to the different enumerators. There were, of course, some deaths between 1818 and 1820, and widows or other persons of the family are named as heads of families. In many cases the enumerators visited different communities in the more sparsely settled areas. There was also some vagueness as to county boundary lines. Again, rather frequently the census takers misunderstood names of similar sound, especially among French settlers whose names they spelled phonetically. All such differences are noted where the location and numerical data given show that such dissimilar names really referred to the same family. Evidences, of padding or other items of special interest are noted in the footnotes to the returns of each county. No attempt has been made to trace families removing to another county between 1818 and 1820 since it is difficult to determine identities accurately in such cases.

Footnotes giving supplementary biographical data concerning the various settlers would have been desirable, but such a presentation was found impracticable for this volume, partly because of space limitations but largely because such data as is at present available is sketchy and unreliable, based largely on commercial county histories and not on research in state and county records. The State Historical Library and the State Archives Division are collecting such data which it is hoped can be incorporated in a later volume.


1See post, XXII-XXVII. For a still earlier enumeration that is scarcely a detailed census, see post, XXI.
2C. W. Alvord and C. E. Carter, The New Regime 1765-1761 (Illinois Historical Collections, 11), 469:
At Kaskaskias in 1767. Inhabitants, Men, "Women and Children: 600 Negro Men : 142 Negro Women : 81 Negro Boys: 80 N. B. Number of Familys, at Kahokia: 60 Prairie de Rocher: 26
St. Philip: 3 Fort Chartres: 3
3Alvord, Cahokia Records 1778-1790 (I. H. C, 2), 624-632: Total of 239 [240 ?] "male persons residents and Inhabitants in the two villages [Cahokia and Prairie du Pont], all French, both men and male children." Certified September 9, 1787. Alvord, Kaskaskia Records 1778-1790 (/. H. C, 5), 414-423 : 191 French Inhabitants at Kaskaskia; 22 French families at Prairie du Rocher; 62 American men and 35 American children in Illinois.
4American State Papers: Public Lands, vol. 2.
5Laws ... of the Indiana Territory, . . . 1805. p. 33 (F. S. Philbrick ed. [/. H. C, 21], 152; compare next note).
6Laws ... of the Indiana Territory, . . . 1806, p. 6 (Philbrick ed. [I. H. C., 21], 177).
7See ante, X, n. 1.
8S. J. Buck, Illinois in 1818 {Centennial History of Illinois, introductory volume), chapter 8: The movement for admission.
9Laws of Illinois Territony, 1817-1818 (1898 reprint), 42-44.
10Ibid., 44-45.
11Constitution of 1818, article II. section 31.
12Constitution of 1848, article III, section 8.
13See list of extant state census schedules, post, XIX-XXI.
14Laws of 1825, p. 32: An Act to provide for taking the Census or enumeration of the Inhabitants of the State of Illinois. Approved December 27, 1824.
15Journal of the House of Representatives, special session, 1826, p. 11.
16T. C. Pease. County Archives of the State of Illinois (I. H. O., 12), 559.
17Revised Code of 1829, p. 18: An act to provide for the taking of the census, or enumeration of the inhabitants of the state.
18Journal of the House of Representatives, 1830-1831, pp. 7, 125, etc.
19Ibid., 198.
20Pease, County Archives of the State of Illinois (I. H. C, 12), 59.
21Revised Laws of 1845, chapter 19. Approved March 3, 1845.
22Laws of 1855, p. 151: An Act to provide for taking the census. Approved February 15, 1855.
23Constitution of 1848, article III, section 8.
24Constitution of 1870, article IV, section 6.
25Journal of the House of Representatives, 1S35-1836, p. 372.
26Pease, County Archives of the State of Illinois (I. H. C, 12), 47, 148, 240, 472, 611, 536, 571. Returns for Monroe, Perry, and Pope counties are federal census returns.
27Senate Reports: 12 General Assembly, 2 session, 1840, pp. 181-183, 403-414; 15 General Assembly, l session, 1846, pp. 65-71.
28Pease, County Archives of the state of Illinois (I. II. C, 12), 621.
29See tables, post, XXX.
30Buck, Illinois in 1818, chapter 3.
31Laws ...of Illinois Territory . . . 1817-1818 (1898 reprint), 42-45.
32Laws of 1819, pp. 197-198.


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