The Census


The 1737 New Jersey Census

The nature of the census record itself must be considered. Cohen uses the 1830 census data to establish that the Ramapo Mountain People had “free ‘negro’ heads of families” (Cohen, 1974 p. 47). An important discussion is missing here about what racial categories were recorded in the census documents.  From 1790-1830, the US Census recorded only the categories of White, Free Colored, and Slaves. By 1850, Mulatto Free and Mulatto Enslaved became categories, and only in 1860 was Indian added as a possible category. Chinese was added in 1870, Japanese in 1890, “Other” in 1910, and Filipino, Korean, and Hindu in 1920. 

This history of the census means that "Indian" would not have been recorded before 1860. Therefore, the 1830 census does not provide a conclusive record of ancestry. In fact, in census forms dating from 1840 and earlier, only the heads of household were named. For the rest of the family, there were only boxes to check for race and age bracket, with no place to write in an alternate race. Even after “Indian” became available as a category, Native Americans along the eastern seaboard were often misidentified as “mulatto” or “free person of color” after they were baptized as Christians or adopted European last names (Rountree and Davidson 1997 pp. 199-202). Scholars have also shown that local census takers followed others practices:

“ Census enumerators were instructed to write “Ind in the column for Color”; however, many Indian people living along the Eastern Seaboard continued to be identified as “colored” or “mulatto” even though most were members of groups locally known and distinguished from white, black, and colored communities. The Ramapoughs were included among these groups, along with the Lumbees, Schaghticokes, and other groups …”

Further complicating the reliability of data gleaned from Census records:

In 1950, the U.S. Census Bureau adopted a policy for recording a person’s race using local racial designations, including “Turks,” “Moors,” “Croatans,” “Red Bones,” “Guineas,” “Melungeons,” and “Jackson Whites.” Using local knowledge of these groups, enumerators ascribed these designations based on external identification and classified many Ramapoughs as “Jackson Whites” in the 1950 Census (Gonzales and Evans 2013, 49-50).

The Census