Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Philadelphia Census

We recently acquired a book that seems pretty boring when you first look at it, but gets more and more interesting as you delve into it. It is the somewhat poorly printed Census Directory for 1811 (Philadelphia: Jane Aitkin, 1811) rebound in a basic cloth binding.  A 19th-century Philadelphia census? Not so rare, huh...

But, this census has features that make it stand out. Appended to the main census is "A Separate Division being Allotted to Persons of Colour." Wow, that is something--the first published census of African Americans in the United States. It lists their jobs and home address.  Skimming through the section you get a good sense of the typical jobs offered to blacks in Philadelphia: labourer, barber, waiter, mariner, sweep master; laundress, shoemaker, cook, but also fiddler, teacher, cabinet maker, cheese monger, and Rector of St. Thomas' African Episcopal Church.

Then, there is the printer: Jane Aitken. Jane's father, Robert, printed the first English bible in the newly formed United States. When he died in 1802, Jane inherited the indebted printing house and carried on the family business until she was forced to sell off its assets in 1812. Things did not get better for her. In 1814 she was sent to debtor's prison.

To see it ask for Rare F158.18.P53 1811.

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