Censuses Over Years Trace Industries In Pittsylvania

By Herman E. Melton

The ink was barely dry on the ratified U.S. Constitution in 1789 when the newly formed government set about conforming to Article I. Sec. 2 which ordered an immediate enumeration.

As in modern times, first and foremost was the matter of representation and direct taxes which “shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a time of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons.”

The enumeration was to begin August 1, 1790. Thus came into being the first U.S. Census. It included only the names of the head of each household, the number and sex of each person residing there and the number of slaves.

The Census of 1790 was far from complete. Frontier roads were little more than trails, bridges were nonexistent and transportation was of the most primitive kind. Moreover, most early Pittsylvanians were like their American counterparts everywhere. They harboured a natural suspicion of Federals (especially prying enumerators) and resented their intrusion on the scene.

To the settler, it meant inclusion on a tax list, potential military conscription or exposure of “moonshining activities.” To hide from census takers was a common practice on the frontier.

To further complicate enumeration problems for posterity, the British troops who burned Washington during the War of 1812, included portions of the official Virginia Censuses of 1790, 1800 and 1810 in the carnage. Fortunately, Pittsylvania's are more complete than some. The enumerators provide the modern genealogist with valuable information.

There were 11,579 persons counted on that first one and growth was relatively slow for the next decade when the number reached 12,697 for a gain of nine percent. By the time of the Third Census of 1810, the figures made a quantum leap to 17,172 or an increased of 27 percent for the decade.

Actually, the population of the U.S. nearly doubled from 1790 to 1820. By the time of the Civil War, it had almost tripled.

The Eleventh Congress of 1809 was the first to fund an inventory of the nation's industry. It was conducted during the Third Census (1810) by the Treasury Department under the title of “Inventory of Manufacturers.” The industrial census was given meaning by America's first political economist, Tench Coxe of Philadelphia, who analyzed its findings. County by county, the various industries were enumerated.

Like all prior censuses, Pittsylvania's was incomplete. Nevertheless, some interesting figures on industrial production in the county in 1810 came to light. Raw materials used included cotton, wool, hemp, flax, animal hides and of course — leaf tobacco.

The county produced 18 bales of cotton and wove 179,606 yards of cotton goods on the 996 family looms that year.

From this came 13,963 pairs of stockings, for example. Two hat factories (one of which was at old Peytonsburg) produced 1759 hats worth $7,036. Five tanneries processed 2510 hides worth $6,275. The hides found their way into 113,428 pairs of shoes, boots and slippers. A portion of the leather was used by saddlers who produced $5,776 worth of saddles.

Sixty legal distillers produced 76,283 gallons of spirits worth $70,769. Dollarwise as far as production was concerned, this was Pittsylvania County's largest industry in 1810. When one considers the likelihood that several times that number of illegal “moonshiners” were active, total alcohol production in the county in 1810 becomes mind-boggling.

Other Pittsylvania industrial output in 1810 included 750 pounds of gunpowder. One can romanticize that some of it was fired by American troops in the War of 1812. Sadly, the county had only two tobacco factories according to the Third Census. The two processed only 14,850 pounds of leaf out of the 6,438,777 pounds produced on county farms in 1810. That was to change very shortly.

The Fourth Census of 1820 was under the supervision of Thomas Wooding of “Little Cherrystone.” His enumerators found fifty blacksmith shops that employed 102 people who produced $19,000 worth of finished metal goods. Owners included names such as Nowlin, Wooding, Wilson, Fitzgerald, Blankenship, Hariston, Hall, Law, Davis, Terry, Curtice, Caughan, Aron, Anderson, Wilkinson, Ward, Coles, Wyan and Cryder.

Tobacco was coming into its own finally, and 75,000 pounds of leaf were processed. The inventory found tinsmiths, silversmiths and wheelwrights among others, but again, in dollar value, whiskey constituted the county's largest industrial production. A certainty that emerged from the Fourth Census was that Pittsylvania County's economy remained agrarian in nature.

The Seventh Census (taken in 1850, when the county had roughly 29,000 people) showed an enormous increase in industrial production. This enumeration showed 7 tanneries, 42 tobacco factories (an enormous increase), 3 shoemakers, 3 wheelwrights, 2 tinners, 3 saddlers, 21 water-powered grist mills, 16 sawmills, 11 blacksmith shops and assorted establishments.

Not listed in the inventory for some explicable reason, but present nevertheless, was the giant textile mill founded in Danville 22 years earlier. It was later to become known as Dan River Mills.

Whereas the early inventories of industry were incomplete, they served as a gauge of industrial production. Their increases, year after year, follow a similar increase in population.

They constitute an important portion of Pittsylvania's early history and by following them through the Twelfth Census (1900) one can trace the path of the county as it evolved from an agrarian society into an industrial one.


Books by Herman Melton

(Available from the sponsor.)

Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills

Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills

Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills

Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills

Thirty-Nine Lashes, Well Laid On

Thirty-Nine Lashes, Well Laid On

Pittsylvania County's Historic Courthouse

Pittsylvania County's Historic Courthouse

Other Books Concerning Pittsylvania County History

(Available from the sponsor.)

History of Pittsylvania County, VA

Clement: History of Pittsylvania County

Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past

Fitzgerald: Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past

Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County, VA

Hurt: Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County

An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County, Virginia

Hurt: An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County

Footprints from the Old Survey Books

Dodson: Footprints from the Old Survey Books

Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina (Dover)

Byrd: Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina

Tales About People in a Small Town

Jones: Tales About People in a Small Town

Herman Melton's online articles are posted by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House as part of an effort to document Pittsylvania County, Chatham, and Danville, Virginia.