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Philadelphia Social History Project: Pennsylvania Abolition Society and Society of Friends Manuscript Census Schedules, 1838, 1847, 1856 (ICPSR 3805)

Principal Investigator(s):


Initially taken in 1838 to demonstrate the stability and significance of the African American community and to forestall the abrogation of African American voting rights, the Quaker and Abolitionist census of African Americans was continued in 1847 and 1856 and present an invaluable view of the mid-nineteenth century African American population of Philadelphia. Although these censuses list only household heads, providing aggregate information for other household members, and exclude the substantial number of African Americans living in white households, they provide data not found in the federal population schedules. When combined with the information on African Americans taken from the four federal censuses, they offer researchers a richly detailed view of Philadelphia's African American community spanning some forty years.

The three censuses are not of equal inclusiveness or quality, however. The 1838 and 1847 enumerations cover only the "old" City of Philadelphia (river-to-river and from Vine to South Streets) and the immediate surrounding districts (Spring Garden, Northern Liberties, Southwark, Moyamensing, Kensington--1838, West Philadelphia--1847); the 1856 survey includes African Americans living throughout the newly enlarged city which, as today, conforms to the boundaries of Philadelphia County. In spite of this deficiency in areal coverage, the earlier censuses are superior historical documents. The 1838 and 1847 censuses contain data on a wide range of social and demographic variables describing the household indicating address, household size, occupation, whether members were born in Pennsylvania, status-at-birth, debts, taxes, number of children attending school, names of beneficial societies and churches (1838), property brought to Philadelphia from other states (1838), sex composition (1847), age structure (1847), literacy (1847), size of rooms and number of people per room (1847), and miscellaneous remarks (1847). While the 1856 census includes the household address and reports literacy, occupation, status-at-birth, and occasional passing remarks about individual households and their occupants, it excludes the other informational categories. Moreover, unlike the other two surveys, it lists the occupations of only higher status African Americans, excluding unskilled and semiskilled designations, and records the status-at-birth of adults only. Indeed, it even fails to provide data permitting the calculation of the size and age and sex structure of households.

Variables for each household head and his household include (differ slightly by census year): name, sex, status-at-birth, occupation, wages, real and personal property, literacy, education, religion, membership in beneficial societies and temperance societies, taxes, rents, dwelling size, address, slave or free birth.

Series: Philadelphia Social History Project Series

Access Notes

  • These data are freely available.


DS0:  Study-Level Files
DS1:  Pennsylvania Abolition Society: Census of 1838 - Download All Files (14.8 MB)
DS2:  Society of Friends: Census of 1847 - Download All Files (25.7 MB)
DS3:  Pennsylvania Abolition Society: Census of 1856 - Download All Files (26.8 MB)

Study Description


Hershberg, Theodore. Philadelphia Social History Project: Pennsylvania Abolition Society and Society of Friends Manuscript Census Schedules, 1838, 1847, 1856. ICPSR03805-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2009-02-26. http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR03805.v1

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Export Citation:

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This study was funded by:

  • United States Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Mental Health (MH 16621)

Scope of Study

Subject Terms:   African Americans, Black community, ex-slaves, housing, living conditions, nineteenth century, occupations, slavery

Smallest Geographic Unit:   Street and house numbers

Geographic Coverage:   Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, United States

Time Period:  

  • 1838
  • 1847
  • 1856

Date of Collection:  

  • 1968

Unit of Observation:   household

Universe:   African Americans living in Philadelphia in 1838, 1847, and 1856.

Data Types:   census/enumeration data

Data Collection Notes:

Data Producer: Philadelphia Social History Project, University of Pennsylvania

The data include X and Y geographic coordinates, which refer to a specific map used by the Philadelphia Social History Project at the University of Pennsylvania. Users interested in the map should contact the University of Pennsylvania libraries.


Data Source:

When converted to machine-readable format in the 1970s, the manuscript censuses of 1838, 1847 and 1856 existed in their original form as bound sheets in business ledger volumes of varying lengths and widths. Access was available through the Pennsylvania Abolition Society Collection of the Manuscript Division of the Historical Society Collection of the Manuscript Division of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Of the three physical forms in which the document could be used -- microfilm copy, transcription into another form such as FORTRAN code sheets, or Xerox reproductions-- the last was selected. (Source: "The Philadelphia Social History Project: A Methodological History", Theodore Hershberg, PhD dissertation, August 1973, pages 77 and 80).

Extent of Processing:  ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Created variable labels and/or value labels.
  • Created online analysis version with question text.
  • Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes.


Original ICPSR Release:  

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