Changing Household Composition

  • Diana diZerega Wall
Part of the Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology book series (IDCA)


Daniel Van Voorhis, the silversmith, and Catherine Richards were married in 1775, just before the Revolution. Over the next quarter of a century, the couple maintained a very large household by today’s standards. They had a total of nine children—six boys and three girls (one of whom died in infancy)—over the 20-year period between 1776 and 1796. Six of them had been born by 1790, the year of the first Federal census. The household then consisted of sixteen individuals: six men 16 years of age or older, five boys younger than 16, and five women and girls.


Middle Class Household Head Household Size Domestic Servant Wealthy Household 
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  1. 1.
    The information on the size and breakdown of the Van Voorhis household in 1790 is from the U.S. Government, Bureau of the Census (1790); although the nature of the census records from the late 18th and early 19th centuries makes it hard for us to know exactly who lived in a particular household, we can make inferences with the help of additional biographical information. Information on the number, names, and birth years of the children in the Van Voorhis family is from Van Voorhis (1888:192–197); information on Daniel’s partner, Garret Schanck, and the latter’s brother, John, is from Laidlaw (1986:15–21, 33–36; 1988).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The Robsons’ wedding was announced in the Commercial Advertiser of 29 April 1813; the information on their household composition is from the U.S. Government, Bureau of the Census (1830); information on the ages of the family members is inferred from the State of New York Census (1855).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Appendix A for a fuller description of the advantages and disadvantages of this approach. Unfortunately, the information on black New Yorkers in the census returns is not broken down in a way that is consistent with the information on white New Yorkers for all of the years. For the years before 1820, the black population is not broken down by age or sex at all, and for 1820, the ages used to divide the black population are not comparable to those used for the white population. For this reason, I have considered only white New Yorkers for most of this part of the study.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The statistic used here is the mean number of people residing together in the same household. This aggregate figure provides a baseline against which we can examine changes in household composition. People living together in these late-18th- and early-19th-century households were not necessarily related to each other by blood or marriage; rather, they simply lived together and may have participated in common economic activities (Laslett, 1972a:ix; 1972b: 126).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    The figures for Massachusetts are from Greven (1972:550). The figures for New York City in 1703 are from O’Callaghan (1849,1:611–624), and those for the city in 1790 are from Greven (1972:552) and Appendix D of this book; slaves are included in both of these figures.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The information on the Bowne marriage and the number of children in the various Bowne families is from Wilson (1987); the information on the number of children in the Hull family is from Hull (1863).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    The indirect measure of the birthrate used for the 1800 samples through the 1840 samples is the mean number of white children under 10 years old who lived in a household where the oldest white female was still close to childbearing age: under 45 for the 1800, and 1820 samples and under 50 for the 1830 and 1840 samples. The different ages were used as cutoffs for categorizing these groups of women simply because they were the ones used in the census records for the appropriate years (Forster and Turner, 1972:5; Grabil, Riser, and Whelpton, 1958:14, 17; Wells, 1975:9).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Much of the following discussion on the nature of household help and domestics is derived from Dudden (1983).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    The information on the composition of the Van Voorhis household is derived from the U.S. Government, Bureau of the Census (1800); that on the identity of individual family members is inferred from Van Voorhis (1888:192–197).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    The information on the composition of the Robson household is inferred from the U.S. Government, Bureau of the Census (1820, 1830).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    New York’s emancipation bills were somewhat convoluted. According to Pomerantz (1965), the bill of 1799 freed not those who were then enslaved, but only their children; it stipulated that of those who were born in slavery after 4 July 1799, the men would be freed at age 28 and the women at age 25. In 1817, another law was passed that stated that slaves born before 4 July 1799 would be freed as of 3 July 1827.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Much of the background for this discussion was drawn from Dudden (1983).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    The nature of the census data is discussed more fully in Appendix A.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Cott (1977:14) lamented the lack of information on the ages at which men and women tended to marry; some work has been done on the age of marriage of men and women in particular communities before the turn of the 19th century (see Farber, 1972; D. S. Smith, 1973, 1978). As discussed more fully in Chapter 6, when Elizabeth Bleecker married in New York in 1800, she continued to live in her parents’ home with her husband for four months, when they took their own house (diary entries for 8 April through 11 August 1800).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    We should remember, however, that it is also possible that these employees, like Stephen Allen during part of his apprenticeship as a sailmaker, may have lodged in the shops and not the private homes of their employers’ families.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diana diZerega Wall
    • 1
  1. 1.The City College of the City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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