Monday, June 2, 2014

Barber Philip Rawls and Census Errors

So, it has taken a while, but I finally made my way through every Kentucky county in the 1860 census in my search for the state's free black barbers. More to come on that in a later post.

In an effort to save some time I focused pretty much exclusively on the race column. Rolling through the mircrofilm, if there was a "B" for black, or "M" for mulatto, I stopped and looked at their occupation, if they weren't a barber, I simply moved on. Interestingly, there were a handful of "Indians" noted - mainly in the eastern counties.

Anyway, running through the Nelson County census I came upon the above listing. I naturally stopped due to the notation of Eliza Rawls being listed a "mulatto." I saw that she was a "wash woman" and was getting ready to move on when I saw "barber" two spaces below. Looking at the name, it listed Phil Rawls, a 53 year old male. O.K., but where it was supposed to list Phil's color, it was blank. When the color box is left blank that most often indicates that the individual was white. But, it seemed strange that a white man would be in the household with a mixed-race woman, who was also listed as the head of the household.

I wondered how I might be able to corroborate Phil Rawls's race; then it finally hit me to check another census. I had previously gone through the 1850 census looking for black barbers and did not find any for Nelson County, so I suspected on first thought that he would not be on there. But, going back to the mircofillm, I quickly found him. He was listed as a 43 year old black male with no occupation noted (see below).

Hmmmm? So, of course, I wondered how many other errors are on these census records. Not that Rawls wasn't listed as a barber in 1850 - after all, he could have learned the trade between 1850 and 1860. But, how many individuals had their race mislabeled? And therefore, how many more free blacks were there in Kentucky than is credited? Was the census taker negligent, tired, distracted? Mistakes happen, I suppose. 

Another question. Why is Phil listed as the head of household in 1850 and not in 1860? Was is because Eliza is the one listed with real estate and personal property values in 1860? Not sure. Once again, more questions than answers. More questions than answers. But, as far as barber Phil Rawls's race, that is answered.  

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