SOME R.I. CENSUS RETURNS
Cherry Fletcher Bamberg, FASG
censuses of freemen, black and white servants, Indians, and militia members were
taken routinely in Rhode Island during the eighteenth century, most genealogists
limit themselves to the 1774 colony census, the 1777 military census, and the 1782
state census. It's not hard to see why: these returns have been published with
indexes and are easily accessible to the researcher. There is a great deal more
census data available, but understanding what each census includes and where to
find it is difficult. I have been keeping notes for the last ten years or so for
personal use, with an eye toward eventual publication. While the list is still evolving,
others may find my notes useful in this form. I would be very grateful to learn
of additional sources. Please send any additions and/or corrections to me at
suggestions see Evarts B. Greene and Virginia Harrington, American Population Before
the Federal Census of 1790  (repr., Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing
Co., Inc., 1981, 1993), pp. 61-69.
In April 1708, at the behest of the Board of Trade. the Rhode Island General Assembly
ordered a list of freemen, servants black and white, and militia members, to be
prepared by October 1st. The towns––Newport, Providence, Portsmouth,
Warwick, Westerly, New Shoreham, Kingstown, Jamestown, and Greenwich––look
a little strange to the modern eye as many of them later divided, some many times
over. Totals only are shown in the report. The governor Samuel Cranston apologized
to the Board of Trade for his inability to determine growth, "by reason that
there was no list ever taken before this" (John R. Bartlett, Records of the
Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England [10 vols.,
Providence R.I.: Alfred Anthony, 1857-1865] 4:33, 44, 59).
In June 1730, the General Assembly ordered another census to be sent by town clerks
to the governor for transmittal to Board of Trade in London (Bartlett, Records of
the Colony of Rhode Island, 4:438). This one showed the population of the
colony at about 18,000, including 1,500 black slaves and fewer than 1,000 Indians.
Surviving originals of this census are scanty. See Ruth W. Sherman, "1730 Census
of Portsmouth, R.I.," Rhode Island Roots, Vol. 7, No. 2 (June 1981), pp. 16-17,
and Jane Fletcher Fiske, "1730 Census, South Kingstown RI," Rhode Island
Roots, Vol. 10, No. 1 (March 1984), p. 8. Judith Green Watson's book South Kingstown,
Rhode Island Tax Lists 1730-1799 (Rockland, Me.: Picton Press, 2007) includes
a fragment of the latter census, apparently from a different source. Originals of
these towns were in town halls at the date of publication.
Island Freemen, 1747-1755, A Census of Registered Voters
This volume was compiled by Bruce C. MacGunnigle in 1977 and reprinted by Clearfield
in 1999. The names were compiled from lists published by Sidney S. Rider in 1875
and original material at Rhode Island State Archives. It is not a census as the
others are, showing heads of household on a specific date. Rather it gives the year
during this span of time in which some men (all white) became freemen. It should
be used as a guide to finding the actual date in Bartlett's Records of the Colony
of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England which shows the
names of freemen by year. This source should in turn be checked against original
General Assembly records at Rhode Island State Archives.
of the people...of Rhode Island, whites and blacks...," Rhode Island Historical
Society Manuscripts, Rhode Island Census 1755, Mss 9003, Volume 12, p. 12, enumeration
only, by town.
Number of blacks in each town in Rhode Island in 1755, Rhode Island Citizens Historical
Association Providence Notes and minutes 1883-1888, Mss 677, RIHSL, p. 47.
census data for 1755 broken down by race, gender and amount of arms and ammunition
in private hands. Includes totals for 1730 and 1748 censuses broken down by white
and black inhabitants, Rhode Island State Censuses, MSS 231 SG2, RIHS.
of Rhode Island
at R.I. State Archives. Microfilm also available. Categories for males and females
over and under sixteen for whites, Indians, and blacks. New Shoreham (Block Island)
has numbers but no names. Names for heads of household only.
a widely used printed version: John R. Bartlett, Census of the Inhabitants of Rhode
Island and Providence Plantations 1774  (repr., Baltimore: Genealogical
Publishing Co., 1969). Bartlett's version has two serious deficiencies: alphabetical
order and totals only for Indians and blacks. See "The 1774 Census of Rhode
Island: A New Look at an Old Friend," Rhode Island Roots, Vol. 29, No.
3 (Sept, 2003) for a description of the problems.
with the December 2003 issue, a faithful transcription of the original was published
town by town in Rhode Island Roots. These towns are indexed in the December
issue of the year in which they were printed. Bartlett's version is useful as
an index. It is planned that the indexed transcripts will be issued on a CD in 2011.
Barrington, June 2007
Bristol, Sept. 2007
Charlestown, Dec. 2003
Coventry, March 2005
Cranston, March 2006
Cumberland, June 2006
East Greenwich, Sept. 2004
Exeter, March 2004
Glocester, Dec. 2005
Hopkinton, March 2004
Jamestown, Dec. 2008
Johnston, Dec. 2006
Little Compton, March 2008
Middletown, June 2008
Newport, all issues 2009
North Kingstown, June 2004
North Providence, June 2006
Portsmouth, Sept. 2008
Providence, June 2005
Richmond, March 2004
Scituate, Sept. 2006
Smithfield, Sept. 2005
South Kingstown, June 2004
Tiverton, Dec. 2007
Warren, Mar. 2007
Warwick, Dec. 2004
West Greenwich, Sept. 2004
Westerly, Dec. 2003
Census of Rhode Island
at R.I. State Archives. Microfilm available.
men 16–50, 50–60, and 60+ who were "A" (able to bear arms)
or "U" (unable to bear arms). Natural rather than alphabetical order (in
most towns) is extremely useful in determining who was living where. It is the only
eighteenth-century source for men who were not heads of household. Men counted out
of their place of settlement (because of the Revolutionary War) are noted. Certain
towns are missing: Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, New Shoreham (Block Island),
Exeter, and Little Compton.
version: Mildred M. Chamberlain, The Rhode Island 1777 Military Census [serialized
in Rhode Island Roots 1981-1984] (repr., Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing
Co., 1985). Some omissions. This book can be read online at
of Rhode Island
at Rhode Island Historical Society Library in the Theodore Foster Papers, Mss 424.
Microfilm, with a later, very useful index at RIHSL.
this is regarded as a state census, it was taken in compliance with a directive
from the Continental Congress. It has categories for males and females under 16,
16-22, 22-50, over 50 for whites, Indians, mulattoes, and blacks, and is thus the
most extensive attempt to determine race. Unlike other censuses, this one alternates
male and female data by age. Names for heads of household only. Some missing towns:
Barrington, Johnston, Smithfield, North Providence, Richmond.
common printed version is that of Jay Mack Holbrook, Rhode Island 1782 Census
(Oxford, Mass.: Holbrook Research Institute, 1979). The author says that it is a
composite of the "original" (location unspecified) and tax lists for missing
towns. This version shares the faults of Bartlett's edition of the 1774 census:
it is strictly alphabetical and compresses the collected data on people of color
into totals only. Detailed analysis of numbers. A better version is that done before
1945 by Katharine U. Waterman. Her work appeared, after her death, in the NEHG Register
1973-1975 in a long series, "The Rhode Island Census of 1782." Waterman
at least respected the original order, if she too gave only totals for minorities.
A summary of totals appears in Bartlett, Colonial Records of Rhode Island,
Census of Rhode Island
at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Can be seen on online services such
HeritageQuest. Printed version: Heads of Families at the
First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790: Rhode Island 
(repr., Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992).
are free white males of 16 and over, free white males under 16, free white females
of all ages, all other free persons, and slaves. Gender, age, and civil status are
the only information that can be found. Names for heads of household only.
in later censuses
No column for race, but at Warwick black heads of household are followed by "B.M,"
presumably for "black man."
In East Greenwich the names of wives are given. See Bruce C. MacGunnigle, "Unexpected
News from the 1810 Census of East Greenwich, R.I.," Rhode Island Roots,
Vol. 36, No. 3 (September, 2010), 125-133.
In Warwick the census taker substituted "B" for the names of black heads
of household with the result many black and Indian heads of household appear to
have left town. There are 230 "free blacks" and one slave there, all with
Censuses at Rhode Island State Archives [this list is in progress]
on cards at RISA and RIHSL. Printout of minority residents in this census is available
in a binder on the shelves at RISA.
and indices at RIHSL.
in rough alpha by first letter of surname in ward; film at RIHS, indices?
in rough alpha by first letter of surname, males and females separated. Categories:
no. of family in order of visitation, no. in family, name, residence, town, country,
ward, voting district, relation to head of household, color, age, conjugal condition,
date of birth, mother of how many children, no. children living 1 June 1905, place
of birth, native or foreign born, read, write, year of immigration, years in U.S.,
years res. in R.I., no. months res. in city in which now living, birth place of
father, birth place of mother, occupation (or over 13), months unemployed during
census year, widow of Union soldier, sailor, or marine during Civil or Spanish War,
pensioner?, Roman Catholic, Protestant. If Protestant, what denomination?
vary widely in the questions that are asked, depending on what it is that the government
wants to know. The following list includes censuses that show only totals for categories,
others that list heads of household only, some that are tax lists, some for people
of color, and others for men only. These can be used to supplement colony censuses
of 1774, 1777, 1782, federal censuses every ten years from 1790 to the present,
and state censuses every ten years from 1865 on.
A summary of Providence censuses, including ones ordered by the colony/state of
Rhode Island and the federal government, can be found in Edwin M. Snow's appendix
to Census of the City of Providence, Taken in July, 1855, City Document No. 6
(Providence: Knowles, Anthony & Co., 1856). This interesting document provides
valuable information on the background and location (at that time) of each census
and provides numerical tables summarizing each one.
of Freemen," said by Snow to be in the colony records, prob. at State Archives.
Mentioned in Bartlett, Recs. of R.I., 1:256. Reprinted by Snow, p. 2.
Fragmentary record of a census of Providence residents on the west side of the bridge
in the Warner. Papers (No. 410) at Rhode Island Historical Society Library. Totals
only, no names. The categories are somewhat different and illuminating from a sociological
if not genealogical point of view: number of houses, seven categories for whites
by age and gender, totals for black males and females, and "Children from 5
to 14 Which are Fit for Schooling." Not mentioned by Snow.
List of Names of Persons Residing in Providence," 1763. Moses Brown Papers,
Mss 313, Rhode Island Historical Society Library, Series III, subseries 2, Calendar
of the Unindexed Documents in Series 3, the Genealogical and Historical Collection
of the Moses Brown Papers, No. 13.
Nothing identifies the purpose of this list or explains the notations next to some
names. It has about four hundred names in rough alphabetical order as compared to
over 1,200 in the 1774 census, no names of women, no names of people of color, and
no age or gender information. It likely represents a fairly accurate list of the
freemen—the people who exercised power—in that town at that date. Because
it is not organized by household, it shows the names of some young men who were
still living in their fathers' houses and thus not counted by name in 1774.
It also provides some first names that are inexplicably missing in the 1774 returns.
Rhode Island Historical Society Manuscripts, Providence Census 1768, Mss 9003, Vol.
2, p. 105: Census recap shows 47 blacks residing in Providence.
Rhode Island Citizens Historical Association Providence Notes and minutes 1883-1888.
Provides numbers of l55 black women and 184 black men in Providence in 1768, Mss
677, p.12-13. Not mentioned by Snow.
of Providence freemen on the east side of the river. Providence Voter Lists,
Mss 214, sg 14, folder 1, RIHSL.
List of 186 names with statistics on how many were freemen and how many of those
lived in other towns.
Names of the Owners and Occupants of Buildings in the Town of Providence from 1749
to 1771 (Providence: Sidney S. Rider & Brother, 1870). This volume is a
transcript of a manuscript found in the papers of Kingsley Carpenter. It does not
appear to be an official census. The unknown author noted in January 1771: "There
is, no doubt, some errors in the foregoing acc't, as the author pen'd it
by strength of memory, without patrolling the streets to count the buildings."
Natural order starting at the north end of town. Categories: whether a building
was built or repaired in the previous 22 years, name of builder, owner, or tenant,
no. dwellings, no. stores and shops, no. barns, and "remarks," usually
notes of unusual features such as a tannery, grist mill, chocolate house, or distillery.
of Providence. Original at R.I. State Archives. No microfilm.
Categories for males and females over and under sixteen for whites, Indians,
and blacks. Names for heads of household only. Includes many Bostonians and Newporters
dislocated by the Revolution. Transcript by Cherry Fletcher Bamberg, "The 1776
Census of Providence," NEHG Register 159 (Jan. and April 2005). Researchers
can find out more about Providence that year in Providence Town Meeting Records,
Vol. 6 (1772–1783) (originals at Providence City Hall): a list of ninety men
unable to equip themselves for military service (February 1776), p. 39, and a register
of 225 voters (by definition male and freemen) for general officers (April 1776),
Providence Tax List 1778, Mss 424, Theodore Foster Papers, ca. 1640s-1820s,
Vol. 16 (oversized): Polls and estate of Providence, 1778, pp. 1-6. 1778 tax list
of Providence includes number of slaves owned (slaves are not individually named).
Rhode Island Historical Society Library.
of Providence, ordered but not known to exist.
According to Snow, this census was ordered at a town meeting 25 August 1789 in expectation
of a federally ordered census. It was to include a great deal of information on
buildings, manufacturing, and navigation. Snow found no record that it was ever
of Providence. 1791 Census of the Town of Providence, Providence Census Collection,
Mss 214, sg 6, vol. 1, RIHSL. Microfilm available at RIHSL. No printed version.
Returns are divided by sectors of the city. Shows number of dwelling houses, white
males and females over and under 18, 18-45, 45-75, and over 75, all other free persons,
and slaves. The notation "/Negro/" was used in the early pages after black
heads of household, but the copyist discontinued the notes in the middle of the
Providence returns are at Rhode Island Historical Society Library (Mss 232 sg4;
mf HJ9013 P9).
List of owners of residences and shops, with names of tenants, and owners of slaves.
Excellent published version: Henry R. Chace, Owners and Occupants of the Lots, Houses
and Shops in the Town of Providence Rhode Island in 1798 (Providence, R.I.:
The Author, 1914). This book includes names of owners of the properties in 1759
as well as well as extensive maps. Reprint available through Higginson Books (http://www.higginsonbooks.com/ ). With Chace's book in hand, it is often
possible to trace the census taker's route in previous natural-order censuses.
The book omits much interesting material in the original.
Mss 232 sg 4 Rhode Island Board of Commissioners Rhode Island Tax 1798, pp.
70-7l has "summary abstract of all slaves owned and superintended..."
On p. 19 it states that lists should be prepared showing names and ages of slaves.
"A list of names of colored heads of families and the owners of their residences,"
RIHSL, Providence Town Papers, Mss 214, sg 1, series 3, vol. 112, No. 0039155. Shows
names of all adults in the household, the owner of the house, the street in which
it was located, as well as whether the people had a legal settlement in Providence.
"List of People of Color on the East Side of the River August 9, 1824"
Providence Town Papers, Vol. 184, Providence City Archives. Reported missing 1971,
still missing November 2007 the Archives staff was unable to locate this volume.
Census of Providence by Noah Smith, Providence Census Collection, Mss 214, sg
Whites and non-whites listed separately in alphabetical order. White males and females
have four age categories––under 18, 18-45, 45-75, and over 75––and
"coloured" people have three––under 18, 18-50, and over 50.
At the end numbers in different categories are presented for the Friends Boarding
School, Brown, the Alsmhouse, and the Jail. In 1855 this document was in the City
Clerk's office, according to Snow. See Jeffrey Howe, "Free People of Color
in the 1825 Census of Providence, R.I.," Rhode Island Roots, Vol. 36,
No. 1 (March 2010), p. 26.
More info on free men in Providence Voter Lists, Mss 214, sg 14, box 1, folder 4,
"Census of the City of Providence taken in October & November A.D. 1835"
by Joseph Jewett, ms, Providence City Archives.
The first taken of Providence as an incorporated city, this census was has no page
numbers and lists residents in rough alphabetical order within six wards. Categories
are white males under 18, males 18 to 50, males over 50, females under 18, females
18 to 50, females over 50; "nat" (naturalized); colored males under 18,
males 18 to 50, males over 50, females under 18, females 18 to 50, females over
50; school children: free, private, and "not."
1845: "City Census for 1845, for one half of ye second ward," taken
by Samuel Brown, Providence Census Collection, Mss 214, sg 6, RIHSL.
Although this census included a great deal of valuable
information (according to Snow's appendix)unfortunately only a fragment remains.
Snow provides a numerical table of whites, under 5, 5-10, 10-15, 15-20, 20-30, 30-40,
40-50, 50-60, 60-70, and 70 & over. The colored population was counted in groups
under 10, 10-24, 24-36, 36-55, and 55 & over. He also provides tables of "Foreigners"
(male, female, total), "Buildings," (brick or stone, wood, wood and brick,
total), use of buildings (dwelling houses, business, public buildings), school children
by four age categories and a total, and "Children at Work" (three age
groups with total).
All that remains is the second ward––but that document does not correspond
completely to Snow's description. It shows only the categories by age and color
with none of the information on buildings or children. The most interesting part
is a list of people 70 years old or older, which gives name, age, race, and in some
cases the household in which they lived. From Snow we would expect this information
to be buried in the lists of heads of household, with most of these individuals
shown only as numbers.
1855 Census of the City of Providence. Location unknown.
This census was ordered by the Providence City Council, and the "minute"
data was recorded in volumes, described by Snow as still incomplete in January of
1856. City Document No. 6 is principally concerned with abstracts of the returns.
It includes copious charts of every possible detail of age, gender, ethnicity, occupation,
and equally full tables relating to structures and businesses. Snow discusses issues
of census taking in depth. What this book does not do is to give any names collected.
"Persons Liable for Military Duty, 1873," RIHSL.
Nineteen pocket notebooks of men.
"Military Census of Providence," by Edwin Snow, RIHSL.
List of men 18-45, arranged by first letter of surname in ward.