Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Counting Slave Dwellings

Having some time on my hands one evening last week, I took the opportunity to do some counting. I was curious to see how many slave dwellings the 1860 Slave Schedule Census listed for Dinwiddie County and Petersburg. The 1860 Slave Schedule Census was the first, and the last, census to list the number of slave houses per owner along with slaves' age, gender, and color (black or mulatto).

For the Dinwiddie County part of the census it was quite easy. The county is divided into two districts and named as you might imagine, District 1 and District 2. Each of these districts contain a certain number of pages that enumerate the owner and the number of slave houses for that owner. The census taker for these two districts made it easy for me because each sheet has a place to total the page's number at the bottom each sheet. Simply adding the number of of slave houses on each page gives the total for each district. It came out as the following:

District 1 = 690 slave dwellings

District 2 = 763 slave dwellings

The census taker for the four wards of Petersburg was not so kind to me. He didn't take the time to total the number of slave houses on each page. Therefore, I had to total up the various number of each owners' slave dwellings. It obviously took more time, especially for those wards that had a significant number of pages, such as the South Ward. The four totaled as follows:

Center Ward = 195 slave dwellings

East Ward = 210 slave dwellings

South Ward = 474 slave dwellings

West Ward = 215 slave dwellings

The grand total for Dinwiddie County and city of Petersburg shows as 2,547 slave dwellings. The census shows that there were 12,774 enslaved individuals in the same locations. So, if one divides the number of slaves by the slave dwellings. it comes to an average of about 5 slaves per structure. Naturally, the number of enslaved people in urban slave dwellings were often fewer than those in rural structures.

Today, only a very small percentage of the slave houses listed on the 1860 census survive. It is imperative that we do all that we can to ensure they remain on the landscape. They are after all some of the best pieces of evidence we have to teach us about important aspects of the lives of the enslaved.  


  1. Are you familiar with The Slave Dwelling Project? Their goal is exactly what you outlined http://slavedwellingproject.org

  2. Yes, I am familiar with the Slave Dwelling Project. Mr. McGill will be participating in an event we are hosting at Pamplin Historical Park on Nov. 18-19. They are doing great work in drawing attention to these structures.