Jonathan & Mary & ? on the 1840 Census
Introducing a new feature on the blog: History Mystery! In which you, the reader, are invited to Help the Historian solve one of the many persistent mysteries surrounding Jonathan M. Clark, his family, and related bits of local history. History Mystery! No. 1 seeks to answer the question: Who was that older guy living with newlyweds Jonathan and Mary Clark in June, 1840? Here are the clues:
Our first Mequon records of Jonathan M. Clark and Mary Turck Clark date from their marriage in Washington County, Wisconsin Territory on March 15, 1840. He was about 28 years old, she was 19. Our next record dates from just ten weeks later, the U.S. federal census, enumerated in Washington County, Wisconsin Territory on June 1, 1840:
The 1840 federal census was the last so-called “Head of Household” census which listed only the name of each head of household (usually an adult male), and then listed the various other men, women and children of the household numerically, by sex and age ranges. As a pre-Civil War census, there are also columns devoted to recording the number and age ranges of Free Persons of Color and enslaved persons. The image above is the left hand page of the two-page 1840 census form; here’s a NARA blank census form for 1840 for reference. And here is a close-up of the Jonathan M. Clark household from the same census sheet:
The corresponding right-hand page of these two-page censuses is often overlooked. Here’s sheet 3 (recto) of the five-sheet 1840 census for Washington, the continuation of the above census sheet:
A close look at this enlarged image shows that the 1840 form enumerated additional information that is not included on the NARA blank form for that year:
After tallying the total number of people in each household, the 1840 form seeks additional information on:
• the number of persons in each family employed in mining; agriculture; commerce; manufactures and trades; navigation of the ocean; navigation of canals, lakes, and rivers; and “learned professions and engineers.”
• the names and ages of any Revolutionary War pensioners in the household.
• the number and age ranges of any “deaf and dumb, blind and insane” white or “colored” persons in the household.
• the number of schools attended (universities or colleges, academies & grammar schools, primary and common schools) and scholars in each household.
The final column, on the far right of the page asks for the number of “white persons over 20 years of age in each family who cannot read and write.”
The Jonathan Clark family was enumerated as the eighth household on this double-sheet form. On the second sheet they are found at the bottom of the cropped detail image (above).
Now that we’ve seen the sources, what do we know about the J. M. Clark household in June, 1840? There are three people in the household, two of whom must be our newlyweds:
• 1 male, age “20 and under 30.” This must be the 28 year-old Jonathan M. Clark
• 1 female, age “15 and under 20.” This must be Mary even though, with a birthdate believed to be May 4, 1820, she should be enumerated in the next column for women ages “20 and under 30.” This is either a minor math error, an indication her birth date is not correctly recorded, or—most likely—a minor enumeration error (intentional or otherwise), in which Mary is recorded in the younger cohort.
And then there’s one more person in the household:
• 1 male, age “30 and under 40.”
Who is this man? Cousin? Brother? Uncle? Some unrelated boarder or hired hand? The right-hand sheet of the census indicates that only one person in this household was employed (in agriculture). It probably wasn’t Mary, since she was about three or four months pregnant with her first child, Caroline, who would be born in early November that year. (And even if the pregnant Mary was working on the farm, the census enumerators of that era often counted only the males of the household in the “employment” section.)
Was Jonathan considered the farmer, “employed in agriculture,” and the other man idle, disabled or otherwise not enumerated as “employed”? Or was Jonathan occupied with the various civic projects that we know he was active with, such as assisting with the 1840 census (more on this later), surveying or building roads, or developing the local school, while the mystery man was “employed in agriculture”?
The answers to all the above are “who knows?” If you have any information or suggestions for further research, please contact me and help us solve History Mystery! No. 1.