Funny. I hadn’t realized how long it had been since I visited with a particular line, my HARGO line.
Or Hargow. Or Hargrove. Or Hargrow. Or Wrong-last-name, Mr. Census-taker.
People often joke that the only requirement for an early census-taker was the ability to scribe somewhat legibly.
When I am particularly chapped about having to pore through an entire pre-1880 enumeration district or county because the Assistant Marshal subscribed to a theory of “close enough” with regard to spelling, legibility, and/or accuracy, I try to remember that I wouldn’t have taken/couldn’t have done that job.
First of all, the AMs had to wait for “The day set by law for the decennial enumeration to begin.”
The first four censuses began on the first Monday in August.
I wonder what they thought about being sent out into the boiling heat—perhaps on foot for miles—at the hottest part of summer.
Four years later, Congress moved Census Day back to June 1 so the Assistants could swelter throughout the entire summer.
Wait, what’s that? You got no forms?
Never mind, I saw something on Pinterest I’ll use.
Said no Assistant Marshall ever.
But the job did come with prestige and payola.
Prestige on account of the fact Assistants were appointed by the U.S. Marshal of the state or territory of the jurisdiction.
Payola came in the form of dollars. An analysis of the census returns for 1790 shows how profitable that once-a-decade gig could be depending upon your district.
Looking at tiny Rhode Island, there were, and still are, only five counties. It is unclear from the return whether Marshall Peck had five assistants, one for each county, or thirty, one for each town. Regardless, his assistants earned just over $415 for the enumeration of their 68,825 citizens. For their trouble, they earned less than the average farmer in Massachusetts.
From the University of Missouri’s online Library Guides regarding Prices and Wages by Decade, I learned the average farmer in 1790 Massachusetts could earn a skootch over $100 a year.
Massachusetts had 11 counties as of 1 August 1790. The U.S. Marshal of the district, Jonathan Jackson, appointed and listed by name and assignment the 17 assistants he selected for the taking of the first census. According to the return, the Ho. J. Thomas of Plymouth County single-handedly enumerated the 29,535 individuals he reported from said county. Likewise, the Ho. David Cobb enumerated a whopping 31,709 individuals in Bristol County. Each man earned $196.90 and $211.39, respectively.
Not bad for nine months of work. Better than the average farmer did that year.
But then, there was all that time away from home, fighting wolves, eluding panthers, killing snakes and trying not to freeze to death while sleeping outside because neither “RECALUCLATING” nor Waze had been invented yet. Trying to stay one step ahead of typhoid and malaria. LOTS of walking, sans Merrell or Asics.
Getting shot at. Being lied to. Having to help the people figure out how to spell their own names...
I’ll just shut up and get back to my line-by-line now.
 Val D. Greenwood, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 3d edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2000), 289.