Macalisters in the First US Federal Census

On this day in 1790, the first federal census of the newly independent United States was taken. The states at that time were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia (which included Alabama and Mississippi). Also enumerated were the districts of Kentucky, Maine and Vermont, and the Southwest Territory, now called Tennessee.

The results of this first census are extremely useful for establishing the approximate number, and the whereabouts, of Macalisters in the U.S. at that time. We can see, for instance, that although Pennsylvania had 31 Macalister households, there were none at all in Rhode Island or Connecticut. North Carolina had 21 Macalister households; Maryland had 16; New Hampshire, 14; South Carolina, 13; and New York, 5. Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts had 4, 3, and 2, respectively.[1] 

Unfortunately the picture is less clear for other areas. The returns for Virginia, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Tennessee were destroyed in the early 1800s – most of them when Washington DC was burned during the War of 1812. State censuses, tax lists, and other contemporary documents have allowed the Census Bureau to re-compile much of the information that was lost with these returns, but the dates vary slightly and the totals are less clear. In Virginia, for example, although numerous Macalister men are named in tax, military and other records between the years 1764 and 1801, the Records of the State Enumerations, 1782-1785 don’t list a single Macalister household. On the other hand, Bob McAllister of the Clan McAlister of America found at least 21 using the actual Virginia state census records of only a few counties. I found 14 in New Jersey and 22 in Georgia (including areas that now make up Mississippi and Alabama).  

Despite these limitations, the U.S. federal census of 1790 offers a valuable glimpse of the Clan Alister in that country’s early history. Fortunately, other countries also held censuses early in their history; future posts will look at what they have to say about their own Macalisters.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] One of the things I found particularly interesting was how consistently the name tends to be spelled within any given area. This is likely to be a reflection of the enumerator’s preference rather than a true indication of how individual families actually spelt their names.


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