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in 1838,
18,768 Free Black People
Lived in the City of Philadelphia

Limited Time!
Go See Black Founders!

They Created
16 Churches


23 Public and Private Schools

80 Beneficial Societies

300 Black Owned Businesses

and possessed over
in wealth


1838 PAS Census

Photo Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania

The Data

We know these facts
because of a census of the 
Black Community taken by the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. 
This census includes questions about wealth, real estate, education, manumission, social networks, occupations and family units
all connected to names and specific addresses.

This data is presented here for the public to learn and for continued research.  

The Story

1838 was a particularly pivotal year for Black people in Philadelphia, involving a decided turn in the racial climate; one could almost call it an anti-Black campaign. On the ground, mobs attacked and burned the abolitionist meeting hall Pennsylvania Hall, days after it opened. In later attacks, prominent Black Philadelphians Robert Purvis’ and James Forten's homes and families were attacked.


In this climate, the legislature sought to remove the right of Black people to vote. In an effort to prove that Black people were stable, tax paying, labor providing good people that should not lose that right, Free Black people in Philadelphia and their allies, The Pennsylvania Abolition Society, launched a campaign that resulted in four important documents. 

The PAS created a census of of the free Black community that included important statistical data.


That data was turned into three reports. The first, The Present State and Condition of the Free People of Color, of the City of Philadelphia, was a narrative of Black people in Philadelphia with important wealth and social statistics. The second , The Register of Trades of the Colored People of Philadelphia  listed Black business owners and tradespeople.  The third, The Appeal of  the Forty Thousand, authored by Robert Purvis, was an impassioned argument that used data from the other reports to sum the reasons why the vote should not be lost. 

Now, almost 200 years later, these documents serve another purpose; they are one of the few concise historical records of the remarkable breadth of the Free Black metropolis that existed in Philadelphia in the early 19th century.

Use the resources below to:
  • Explore the Digitized Census 
  • Explore the Digitized Analysis of the Census
  • Review Occupational Data Sets
  • Explore the Map of Black Businesses and Institutions in 1838 Philadelphia
  • Read the PAS Report
  • Read the PAS Register of Trades

Learn More About Free Black Life in 1838

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