…On what started out seeming like a simple assignment…

(N.B.– There’s a scrapbook that accompanies this post.  Check it out, as it’ll make things a bit clearer…)

I have to say that this first assignment for the Doctoral Research Seminar was more complicated than it had initially seemed.  We were each assigned three pages of the 1880 manuscript census for Fredericksburg, Virginia, and directed to the 1886 Sanborn fire insurance map for the city.  One of the goals was to see if there was any data we could add to the map that we had gleaned from the census.  I was assigned pages 57-60, the last three pages of the census.  I think that this was part of the problem.

After downloading the census pages from Ancestry.com, I began by transcribing them. This, already, proved more difficult than I had expected. I’m much more used to working with printed materials– I’m quite comfortable dealing with the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of antiquarian printers than I am with the complexities of old handwriting.  For that matter, I’m not even that good at interpreting a lot of modern handwriting.  It took me half an hour of staring at this:

I have no idea what this says... it's illegible

…before giving up and using the wonderful tool that is the Internet to find a helping hand… It turns out, it says "George Street."  I still don’t quite see it.  (And let me quickly give a thank-you to Audrey for helping a fellow out in his time of need.)

After transcription, I turned to my map.  And that’s when the real confusion began.  The town of Fredericksburg had yet to number houses, so the census-taker was unable to record house numbers.  This made figuring out anything other than the streets the houses were located on tricky.  I turned to the 1889 City directory, but I was only able to locate a couple people from my sample group– all of whom seemed to have moved in the intervening nine years.  All others, seemingly, had left the area. 

Trying not to be discouraged, I went to the record of property taxes for 1800 which even listed some tenant’s names, hoping it would prove more fruitful.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t make any positive matches– there were some common surnames that I found in the records that also appeared in my sample group, but without first names, I couldn’t say with any certainty if these were the people I was looking for or not.  I was running out of ideas. 

I went to classmates’ blogs, hoping to find something– a hint about method, perhaps, or something indicating how one might go about plotting a single locus on the map, assuming that I could then retrace the census-taker’s footsteps, and figure out the locations of the other houses by logical deduction.  Unfortunately, this was only dispiriting, as I discovered that Tamara had already figured out the location of the people in her sample group, and that her people seemed to live along Hanover Street– the same street on which 82% of my sample group lived!  And Jennifer mentioned in her blog that she had people on Hanover Street in her group, too!

Somewhat discouraged, I returned to looking at the Sanborn maps.  Looking at the maps, I noticed something that I hadn’t previously noticed.  The Sanborn maps included both a smaller, general map of the town of Fredericksburg and a set of more detailed maps that accounted for each building– houses, commercial buildings, and public structures.  Comparing the two, I realized that there was a large portion– the majority, even– of Hanover Street that was not accounted for by the larger, more detailed map.  The map of the area shows Hanover Street as a long road, leading out into the country. The more detailed map, however, showed just three blocks of the street.  Moreover, my three pages of the census show 19 households on Hanover Street– not to mention the houses on Hanover accounted for in my classmates’ blogs– whereas on the Sanborn map, there are only 11!

Some demolition may have happened in the intervening six years between the census and the map’s being made, and some buildings may well have been adapted to commercial purposes that had previously been homes.  However, it seems less likely that there was such a radical shift in the town, and more likely that there are simply certain structures and households on that stretch of Hanover beyond the three blocks downtown that for some reason were omitted from the Sanborn maps.  Given that the Sanborn Map and Publishing Company was making these maps for fire insurance purposes, perhaps this section of town was omitted because it was on the outskirts of town, where land use was likely less dense, and fire would spread less easily.

I had initially assumed that the section depicted in the detailed maps was the section reflected in my portion of the census, primarily because there was a single household in the section on Main Street, on the easterly side of town.  However, after looking more closely at the census data, I have begun to suspect the obvious– that my section of the census was in fact in that unaccounted-for area of Hanover Street, on the western fringes of town.  The three households on George Street could easily be on the area of the street, also unrepresented in the detailed maps, near where it joins with Hanover.  If this is the case, the house on Main Street may have simply been a case of "cleaning up"– the census-taker backtracking to an abode at which he had previously not found anyone home.

There are several reasons for this inference.  The sample includes two men whose occupation is listed as "farmer"– people I would expect to be on the geographic  periphery of the town. 

Another reason is the socioeconomic profile of my sample.  The group is largely of the lower class.  Many of the men working outside the house have fairly low-income jobs–there are many listed simply as "laborers," as well draymen, sailors, and a "preacher" who I assume since he is living with a carpenter is probably itinerant. Of the 109 people listed in this section of the census, only nine are servants employed in the house.  As the South at this point is still fairly early into industrialization, I would assume that a large portion of the town’s wealth would congregate in the center of the town or city, as it tends to in preindustrial societies.

Likewise, the group is fairly racially mixed.  Of the 23 households in my sample, about one in three are listed as black or mulatto.  While the black houses are exclusively so, they don’t seem to be in any way "clustered"– they are scattered throughout the group.  If one imagines the census taker walking down the street, knocking on each door he comes across, one must imagine that every third house he comes across is a black household.  I don’t know much about patterns of settlement in the South at this period, but I would assume that such a pattern of mixed settlement might be indicative of a poorer neighborhood.  This is more speculative, but I also thought it relevant that the western side of town is the location of the "colored cemetery."  This is purely speculative, but one can imagine in the context of the 19th century South, living "out on Hanover, past the colored cemetery" might not be the type of thing that drives up property values.

Interestingly, as one gets to the last page of the census, the situations of the individuals seem to get worse and worse.  On the last page, you have William Hunt, a single man who repairs watches, and shares his house with two boys– five and three years old– who do not share his name.  This is followed by John Lewis, a drayman who lives with his wife and his two adopted sons.  Then there’s several houses full of unmarried working class men– a cart-driver who lives with two laborers, a household of three sailors, and the previously-mentioned carpenter who shares his home with an itinerant preacher. (The preacher does not show up in either the 1889 town directory or the 1885 business directory, making me even more sure that he was probably a traveling evangelist.)

There are also, however, several rather prominent people represented in this sample.  These are wealthier men who probably have larger houses on the outskirts of town, not out of necessity, but for the space– "country homes" outside town, if you will, almost proto-suburbanites.  To be more precise, there are four such men. 

There’s the lawyer Samuel Brooke, who lives with his wife, his three children, and two domestic servants.  Brooke doesn’t show up in either of the later city directories, and it seems likely that his legal career took him on to a larger town.  Likewise, you have Irish immigrant David Fleming.  Given the location of his daughters’ births, it can be inferred that Fleming had moved to the town some time between 1875 and 1877, probably for his job as the Superintendent of the Citizen’s Gas Company.  Fleming had two in-house servants by 1880, and by 1885, was a prominent member of the Home Building Association, the Opera House Syndicate, and an officer in at least three Masonic organizations.  Then there’s John Berrey, a retired hardware merchant– and the only retired person in the sample.  Berrey lives with his five children, all unmarried, who range in age between 28 and 44.  Of the three sons, the 28-year-old is listed as "at home," as young children and dependent women tend to be, and the older two sons have very nice middle-class jobs, as a clerk and a commercial trader.

The final person of wealth in my sample group is the one that really makes me suspect that I’ve successfully located the correct section of Hanover Street, and that’s Charles Richardson, proprietor of the Windsor Manor Pickle Company. While one wouldn’t expect a factory owner to live next door to his factory, one would expect that he would want to be relatively nearby, in the days before the automobile. Looking again at the map of the Fredericksburg area, notice the location of the pickle factory, at the bottom of the map. The western section of Hanover Street would present the most convenient commute, avoiding the traffic of Main Street and the commercial districts to the East.

Ultimately, of course, all this is speculation and inference.  I did a quick search in a couple databases, but I couldn’t find any articles about 19th century census-taking patterns, so the entire assumption that these houses are in any particular order may be false.  (It’s a tough search– try it!  There’s all sorts of false correlations and strange hits that have nothing to do with what you’re looking for…)  I certainly wouldn’t bet any money on any of this.  But I have a fairly good feeling about it, and I’ve definitely learned a bit about process, and how one might go about such work.  If I was going to go further with this, (which would be silly since it’s just an exercise) I would probably start looking at the court records and the police blotters next, looking for some sort of clue that could help me confirm or disprove my suspicions.  I would also likely go to later Sanborn maps, and other maps of Fredericksburg, to see if they offered any clues as to what was over on the outskirts of town, on Hanover Street.