(edit: a wise reader pointed out that Mineral County broke off from Hampshire County in the 1860s, thereby throwing off all of my data analysis here. For an update, see my next blog post)
County-level census data is available through IMPUS and the National Historical Geographic Information System. I’ve decided to use this data to look at the history of my own county, Hampshire County, West Virginia.
I took the data, built a spreadsheet in excel and created a few graphs. The first one shows the total county population (in blue), the white population (in yellow) and the black population (in gray). The black population data before 1860 is also divided into free (light blue) and enslaved (orange) black.
A number of things struck me. First, Hampshire County endured a demographic disaster between the 1860 and 1870 census, when the total population fell by 45% from 13,913 to 7,643. This, of course, was related to the Civil War. But exactly what was going on, I don’t know. How much of this was related to wartime deaths? How much to out-migration? Were people going to the grave because of hunger and disease? The population of the county did not recover until the 1980s!!
Now another interesting phenomenon is the growth and decline of the black population in Hampshire County. Here is a close-up of the graph above, isolating the data for the black population. At peak, Hampshire County residents held 1,433 slaves. The Antebellum free black population in the county peaked at 224.
When the Civil War ended, the black population in the county declined dramatically. From a total of 1,435 black (free and slave combined) in 1860, the population fell to 640 in the census of 1870. This was a decline of 55%
I was fortunate to have studied history under Robert Swierenga, a historian who pioneered quantitative methods in the 1970s. Swierenga and other “cliometricians” know that data like this can tell us a little bit about “what” happened, but the data can’t always tell us much about “why” or “how” things happened.
I now have more questions that answers.
What questions do you have? There is plenty of census data out there about the county. What other things about the county would you like to know? Add your comments below.