THE PHILADELPHIA BLACK METROPOLIS
18,768 Free Black People
Lived in the City of Philadelphia
23 Public and Private Schools
80 Beneficial Societies
300 Black Owned Businesses
and possessed over
$40,000,000 in wealth
1838 PAS Census
Photo Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania
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.
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