“A Vast Wilderness Inhabited Only by Indians and Wild Animals”

Last night I was talking to a friend of mine who had read my recent post on slavery statistics for Franklin County, and she said to me, “Did you notice that there are no Native Americans in any of the censuses at all?” The fact that it did not even occur to me to notice this omission is disturbing, I will admit. Even for those censuses taking place before the Removal in the 1830′s, no Cherokees whatsoever are counted in Franklin County, although they surely were here–some of them even were slave-holders! “It’s like they were squirrels,” my friend remarked.

There’s a certain amount of truth in the way she put it. If you look in the local history by Goodspeed, it begins thus: “The settlement of the territory now composing Franklin County began with the beginning of the present century, when all was a vast wilderness, inhabited only by Indians and wild animals. It was a hazardous undertaking to come here in that day and open up a new country west of the mountains where the light of civilization had never shone, and where neither schools, churches, mills, factories, nor any conveniences existed, such as the pioneers had been accustomed to. None but brave and courageous men and women could ever have accomplished such a dangerous and hazardous undertaking.” (emphasis mine)

But another reason that Native Americans were not counted in the census has to do with the fact they were considered a sovereign people and not part of the United States. On this point, I wrote to Lincoln Mullen (the author of the Smithsonian piece from which I culled the historical data of the county) to ask him about the matter. His gracious response is below:

Dear Christopher,

Thanks for sending me your interesting post; I enjoyed reading it.

The mandate in the Constitution gives two purposes for the Census: to determine direct taxation and representation in Congress, both of which are proportional to population. (That, by the way, is the reason for the three-fifths compromise by which slaves were counted by the proportion for both purposes.) But for those purposes the Constitution excludes “Indians not taxed.” In other words, since Indian nations had their own sovereignty, they were not enumerated in the Census. This is one of the limits of “seeing like a state,” and I’ve tried to account for the absence by indicating places on the map for which data was not available.

The first Census to count Indians was the 1860 Census, which classified people into the decidedly nineteenth-century racial categories “white,” “free colored,” “slave,” “Indian,” “half breed,” and “Asiatic.” You can see a description of the questions asked on each of the censuses here: http://www.census.gov/population/www/censusdata/hiscendata.html

Here is the relevant portion of the Constitution.

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

I hope this helps,

All the best,

About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Animals, Slavery, Tennessee. Bookmark the permalink.

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