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From the Archive: A Look at the Capital on Independence Day

MONDAY, JUL 04, 2011

To celebrate July 4th, Social Explorer is taking a break from fireworks and red, white and blue revelry to look back at an analysis we did of very early America.

A Look at the Capital on Independence Day

by Sydney Beveridge

As the United States celebrates the anniversary of its founding, using Social Explorer, I took a look at the nation’s first capital city of Philadelphia, then and now.  The first Census, conducted in 1790--the early years of the United States’s history--reveals some of the changes Philadelphia, along with the rest of the nation, has experienced.

Slideshow: Slavery in Philadelphia 1790-1840

Race and Slavery

The early censuses split race into two categories "white" and "nonwhite."  Native Americans were not counted in the Census and blacks were counted for the apportionment of political representatives.  For allocating representation to states and counties based on population, a "nonwhite" counted as three fifths of a person.  (Blacks and women did not have the same voting rights as white men until the 20th century.  Women got the right to vote after the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920.  Voting for African Americans was granted by the 14th Amendment, ratified after the Civil War, but blacks were kept off the voting rolls in the South until after the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.)

In 1790, Philadelphia was less than five percent nonwhite.  In 2007, over 43 percent of Philadelphians were black.  Of those nonwhite residents, 373 were slaves (15 percent).  Meanwhile, neighboring areas in New Jersey (Gloucester and Burlington) had more than twice as much of the nonwhite population enslaved. By the 1830 Census, there were 20 slaves left in Philadelphia, and by the 1840 Census, there were just two slaves left.


In the early decades of the United States, most Philadelphians came from Germany and Great Britain.  Today, those groups are small in number, with just 4.6 percent of Philadelphians identifying, another 0.1 percent identifying as Pennsylvania German, and less than one percent of Philadelphians identified as British, Welsh or Scottish.

If you want to find out more about your own area, back as far as 1790 or whenever it joined the union, and up through 2007, you can do so easily with Social Explorer.

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