The Census of 1860 Howell County
Wed, 12/23/2020 - 11:21am admin
It is the time of year when we frequently hear words taken from the second chapter of Luke telling of the birth of Jesus, that read, "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register." The object of this counting is said to have been for taxation, so little has changed in two thousand years. Since we just completed a census and a national election this year, I thought it would be interesting to look at the 1860 census when, like this year, a presidential election and census occurred.
Howell County was only three years old when subjected to the eighth national census under the United States Secretary of the Interior's direction. Each census district was assigned to a United States Marshal, who employed Assistant Marshals to administer the census. Thus, enumerators were called Marshals and instructed to go door to door and record every person's name in the household. The homes were assigned a number; generally, in the order, they were encountered. This fact gives us an idea of who lived around whom, though the distance between farms was often miles. Another object of the census was to decide the appropriation of seats in the United States House of Representatives.
Census takers were directed by printed instruction (the first time this was done) to obtain from inhabitants their name and age as of the census day (June 1, 1860.) All census questions were to refer to that date. Also asked was sex, color, birthplace, occupation of those over age fifteen, the value of the real estate, and whether a person had been married within the previous year. No relationships were shown between members listed in a household, which often has to be inferred by the researcher. Additional information gathered determined whether any household member was deaf, dumb, blind, insane, a pauper, a convict and whether they could read and speak English, and whether they attended school within the previous year. I've always found it excellent we have this detailed snapshot of the people of Howell County one hundred sixty years ago.
The 1860 census also included a separate count of slaves, and an agricultural and industrial census, all listed on their own forms.
The slave census listed the age, sex, and color of those enslaved. It did not include the slaves' names; however, their owner's full name was listed. A total of 36 enslaved persons belonging to 15 owners is found in the Howell County records. Josephus Howell had six slaves. From the form, Howell's slaves appear to have been a family that included a 43-year-old man, a 30-year-old woman, and four children ranging in ages from 13 years to nine months old. The census asked whether the slaves were housed in separate quarters. Howell's slaves were in a "slave house," and countywide, five other slave homes were shown. The remaining slaves lived in the same home as their masters. There were no free "colored" persons residing in the county. Very few were living in Missouri in 1860 because of a law prohibiting such persons from living permanently in the state.
The total official county population count was 1,610 white males, 1,523 white females, totaling 3,133, plus 10 black males, 20 black females, and two males and two females classified as mulatto or mixed race, who were slaves. The addition of the slaves, who were recorded on a separate form, made the county's total population in June 1860 - 3,169 persons.
The population was broken out by township on the main census tabulation list. Howell Township barely led the list with 789 souls, followed by Benton Township with 783. West Plains was the county's largest town, with around 150 people living in 50 houses clustered around the square. That fact was not recorded in the census but gathered from other sources contemporary to the time. Hutton Valley was probably next in community size, though that fact is not recorded either. Other counties in Missouri had towns documented explicitly in this census, but Howell County's towns must have been too small to make the cut.
It was interesting to me to find the enumerator recorded the Post Office for Willow Spring Township (the township was singular - minus the "s") as Willow Springs (the place name included the "s"). In 1860 there was no official United States Post Office at the original Willow Springs. It was then 7 miles east of that name's present day town, but mail must have been dropped off at the residence there for people in the area. It would be another nine years (1869) before an official post office of Willow Springs, where the town is today.
The 1860 Agricultural Census interests me most. Assistant Marshal L. G. Thomas visited and recorded 291 Howell County farms during June 1860. The farms were documented by township, of which there were seven in the early life of Howell County. They were Benton, in the far southwest corner of the county; Sisson, (spelled Cissin on the report) which included today's White Church and Peace Valley; Goldsberry, (spelled Golesberry on in the census) which includes today's Mountain View; Howell (West Plains); Myatt, (spelled Miat on the census tabulation,) located in the southeast corner of the county. Myatt included the modern-day community of Lanton, Spring Creek (Pottersville), and Willow Spring.
Benton township held the most farms, 75 in total. It consisted of much well-watered rich river bottomland and the early community of South Fork, where much early settlement occurred. Howell township at West Plains was next with 67 farms. Spring Creek Township, which included today's Pottersville, followed with 40; Sisson, also known as Lost Camp, had 32 farms, Willow Spring 31, Myatt with 29, and Goldsberry at today's Mountain View trailed the list with only 17 farms.
Each farm on the Agricultural Survey was listed by the owner, and the number of improved and unimproved acres on the farm, plus the farm's cash value. The most valuable in the county was the farm owned by James Spears in Benton Township. He held 40 acres of improved land and 400 unimproved. The cash value was $6,000, twice the value of the next on the list. That equates to around $194,000 in today's money, but a river bottom farm like his might fetch nearly a million dollars today. Next came the farm of Josephus Howell near West Plains containing 120 improved and 280 unimproved acres, valued at $3,000. Both Spears and Howell were slave owners. Thomas Howell, our Missouri State Representative for whom the county was named, had 30 improved acres and 127 unimproved and a value of $1,570. The average farm in Howell County had a cash value of between $200 and $400.
Wealth in Howell County was held primarily in its farms, and the census recorded a significant amount of details about them. The census taker listed the value of farming implements and machinery, the number of horses, mules, milch (milk) cows, working oxen, and other cattle like beef. Though many farms did not list a horse, almost all listed working oxen. The enumerator asked about the quantity of butter in pounds. The amount listed there sounded incredible until I found that he asked about butter production for the whole year. Most farms produced enough to account for a pound per week or more, and the number of milk cows corresponds.
Sheep were listed, but only half of the farms had any and in low numbers. Swine was another story. All farms claimed hogs in large numbers. In this period, swine was let loose in the woods to forage on their own, accounting for thousands roaming the county at large. Around a third of the farms raised wheat and produced under a hundred bushels a year. Corn, shown as "Indian Corn," was the most popular crop listed in the hundreds and thousands of bushels total for the count. Thus the populace lived primarily on cornbread, not bread from wheat. It is likely a fair measure of that corn also went into liquor production, though the government didn't ask that. They probably wouldn't get many answers. I was surprised that tobacco was not raised in quantity, but by around one in every ten farms. Sorghum molasses was produced on most farms and held in the amount of ten to fifty gallons. Sweet and Irish potatoes were listed as produced by most of the farms.
The Industrial Census was rather disappointing. I hoped to find a watermill or two listed, but a single blacksmith shop and a wagon manufacturing company that I didn't know about at West Plains were the only Howell County listings. Folks were still traveling great distances to have that Indian corn ground or doing it themselves with small mills on the farm.
The 1860 census records show a new county on the move, growing and dynamic. Tragically, all that progress would be lost during the Civil War beginning the next year, and things would have to start over.
If you would like to research your family's farm on your own online, you are in luck. Go to - https://s1.sos.mo.gov/records/archives/census/pages/federal where the Missouri State Archives has digitized all I have been mentioned. You will see I've only touched upon the wealth of information gathered by the United States Census of 1860.