Alexandria City and County African American Census of 1865 (partial)
Near the end of 1865, all Freedmen's Bureau district offices were ordered to take a census of the African American population in their jurisdictions. Most of these censuses have been lost, although the raw numbers generally remain. Until recently, it was thought that the Alexandria County, Virginia census was also lost. But a fragment-containing surnames starting with the letters Q through Y, plus some "B"s-turned up at the Library of Virginia. In fact, it appears, unidentified, at the end of a reel of microfilm containing a ledger of courts-martial for the Military District of Alexandria, 1864-1865 (Arlington County records, reel #2014). I would like to thank Sarah Nerney and Callie Freed of the Library of Virginia for going back to the original document and locating the entries for the "Q" surnames, which were not originally microfilmed.
While this census does not contain exact ages or addresses, it is something of a Holy Grail for local research of African Americans in the Civil War/Reconstruction era. It provides a snapshot of a greatly expanded and fluid population and, if complete, would comprise the most thorough documentation of African American inhabitants of the period. Even as found, it is one of the most important pre-1870 records of Alexandria's freedpeople, as it contains information about women and children, people often anonymous in tax records and city directories.
As transcribed, the document has been altered in minor ways, but the overall format, name order and spellings have been retained. The "B" names are labeled in the original record as "Miscellaneous Names" and appeared at the very end. The headings have been changed somewhat, e.g., "Occupation" to "Job" for space reasons. "Status" has been more fully explained as "Pre-War or Pre-1863 Status" relating to residence in the county before the war and whether each individual had recently been a slave. "Free" people were presumably legally free before the January 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. N.B.: Until that time most of Alexandria's freedpeople were still legally slaves, i.e., property seized as "contraband of war." Therefore, children born after the war broke out but before emancipation could still technically be slaves, even if they had never seen by their masters, but it is not clear whether all respondents would have characterized them as such. This may partly explain the high proportion of "free," as would the large representation of long-time Alexandria residents; the city of Alexandria had had a substantial free-black population by the early nineteenth century.
Groupings of surnames commonly signify family relationships. Many of the spellings are clearly mistaken and often phonetic. The census was taken by soldiers detailed from the 195th Ohio Infantry regiment, and the returns from each district were copied into the single final count. The misspellings are indicative of the level of literacy of both the enumerators and the enumerated, plus copying errors by a clerk. In fact, even the first letters of some surnames have probably been set down incorrectly (e.g., "Right" clearly should be "Wright," "Umphrey" and "Umphreys" should be Humphrey and Humphreys, and "Semis" might be Lewis). Finding names may require some patience; the researcher may use the "find" function on his or her browser but should be prepared to scroll through the data with all possible spelling variants in mind. To assist, a list of possible variants to some of the surnames contained in each table follows at the end of each table, so that the browser might "pick up" those names.
The names are grouped into narrow enumeration districts, each of which is bounded by streets or other landmarks. Most of the districts were located in the town of Alexandria and numbered consecutively from north to south, with the Potomac River on the east and Hooff's Run and the town's formal western boundary as the western limits. This narrows the geographical location of each person enumerated, but less than one might hope, since such divisions are arbitrary and take in and cut across diverse neighborhoods. The key to or description of the enumeration sub-districts boundaries is as follows:
This geographic information will be most useful when cross-referenced with property and capitation tax records (and other sources) from 1865-1866 (see elsewhere on the website).
The population of Freedmen's Village in Alexandria (Arlington) County was enumerated at 980 individuals, but their details were not included in the census. The total counts, certified on January 1, 1866 by Superintendent of Refugees and Freedmen Henry E. Alvord, were as follow:
Most of these aggregate numbers appear at the end of the manuscript, but there is a slightly more detailed, yet clearly incomplete, report on the totals included among the correspondence received by the Richmond headquarters of the Freedmen's Bureau, National Archives and Records Administration Record Group 105, Entry 494. This document includes the property-value information above as well as the above and below occupational information:
In addition to the names lost with the greater part of the manuscript census, a significant number were never reported by the soldiers, as perhaps is the case with all censuses, although an estimate of the totals was recorded. According to the census report,
The sum of all the Alexandria City and Alexandria County population, including the 980 residents of Freedmen's Village, was 8,743 persons in December 1865. It appears that the freed population had finally peaked and stabilized (although not representing the true "turnover" of migration) at that time, a good thing given what the data indicates about the high unemployment level and the remarkably small number receiving direct government assistance (likely rations and possibly free or subsidized housing). A year later, the population of city and county-presumably exclusive of Freedmen's Village-was put at 7,677, with 3,432 males, 4,245 females, or a total of 7,677 people, with 4,680 individuals over fourteen years of age and 2,997 fourteen and under. The county portion consisted of 2,399 total, with 1,390 individuals over the age of fourteen, and 1,140 total males, 1259 females. (Record Group 105, Entry 3878, Miscellaneous Records, letter from Captain S.P. Lee to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel W.W. Rogers, December 4, 1866 and letter from Lieutenant P.R. Hambrich to S.P. Lee, November 28, 1866).
The 1865 census name lists by initial letter of surname can be accessed by the respective links below. Again, the "B" and "R" name lists are fragmentary, although most of the Rs are present. The "B" list is a collection of "miscellaneous" names from the seventh and eighth districts.
Above documents have been provided in the printer friendly PDF format.
January 29th, 2008