It's that time again, time to fill out the forms or answer the doorbell and be counted. In 1790, the United States Congress began the process of enumerating the number of persons living in the various states. That process has continued for the last 220 years. Now, the time has come to answer the questions of who, what, and where we are so that centuries from now our remote descendants can learn a little bit about who we were. More importantly, the census results determines a wide variety of things, but in the end, it is all about money and politics. Isn't everything?
Unfortunately the first census rolls of Georgia taken in 1790, 1800, and 1810 are lost, thanks to the bloody British, who torched them as they pillaged the government buildings of Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812. Early census takers recorded the names of the heads of household along with notations of age ranges of the inhabitants, broken down to male and female. Slaves were counted by age and sex, but not by name.
A monumental change occurred in 1850, when census takers first recorded the names and nearly exact ages of the persons in each household. Property ownership, occupations, place of nativity, and literacy were recorded for the first time. Another new feature in the 1850 Census were the mortality schedules which listed all persons who died in the previous year. Additionally, planters and farmers' production records were calculated and recorded for the first time. A third new feature were the slave schedules, which recorded the number and ages of slaves along with their owner's name.
In the first census after the Civil War in 1870, African-Americans were listed for the first time. Additional information was added every year. Many of these families chose the surnames of their former masters or persons whom they admired.
Once again in 1890 the nation lost its census records to a fire.
At the turn of the 20th Century, even more information was recorded. Addresses of houses in cities on named streets were recorded for the first time. The last census to be released was the 1930 Census in 2002. In order to protect the privacy of living Americans, Federal law prohibits the public release of records for seventy-two years.
The number of inhabitants were relatively unimportant until politics crept in and made them more than important. Seats in the United States House of Representatives and delegates to the Electoral College are prorated between the states based on the totals of the last decennial census.
In Georgia, the census became more important when the long established county unit system of one county and its one seat in the House of Representatives was abolished and seats were prorated by population in the state's 159 counties.
In the last 50 years, social, economic and racial statistics gathered by census takers have had a direct impact on the distribution of Federal funds, voting districts, school assignments. In today's world, the need for a bigger share of the pie is more important than it ever was.
Although individual names for the Laurens County's first census in 1810 are not available, the county's total counted population was 2210. Slaves accounted for 22.5 percent of the population. That figure would increase every ten years until it peaked in 1850. The addition of new land on the east side of the Oconee River caused the county's population to rise in 1820 by 146 percent. The opening of new lands in southwestern and western Georgia created a stalemate in the county's growth for more than twenty five years. With the rise of the plantation system, the county experienced a 15% growth in the 1840s and a 8.6% rise in the 1850s when the county's total population rose to nearly 8000 (53% white, 47% black.)
In the decades following the Civil War, the county's population continued to rise from 7,834 in 1870 to 10,053 in 1880. That's when the numbers begin to change dramatically. The coming of railroads, the prohibition of barrooms, the clearing of virgin timberlands, and the cultivation of cotton brought about a thirty percent increase during the 1880s. The 1890s were the defining decade in our county's history. In 1890, there were a mere 13,747 souls who were listed on the roles. In a single decade, that population rose to 25,908 for an increase of more than 88%.
The county's explosive growth continued in the first decade of the 20th Century, when the population leapt officially to 39,605 for a mere gain of 37%, but good enough to push Laurens County into sixth place in the population of Georgia's counties, falling only behind Fulton (Atlanta), Chatham (Savannah), Bibb (Macon), Richmond (Augusta,) and Muscogee (Columbus).
Laurens County's rapid growth peaked during the latter years of the 1910s, when a world war and an epidemic of influenza, along with the coming of the boll weevil and the virtual death of the cotton crop ended Laurens County's meteoric population growth. The total population stood at 39,605, a figure which was probably higher in the two previous years. In the first quarter of the 20th Century, Laurens County, the state's largest county in area, was either first or second in the number of farms with approximately five thousand.
Population counts decreased in the 1920s, but stabilized in the 1930s. Black families left in masses seeking better paying jobs in the North. After World War II, the county's total population continued to fall, despite the influx of many new industries and the expansion of the VA hospital. Most of these losses came in the black population, which had fallen from its 1910 level, when black citizens virtually accounted for half of the county's population.
It wasn't until 1990 when the county's population rose beyond it's pre-World War I numbers. Nearly 45,000 people called Laurens County home in 2000. An estimate of the county's population last year was 48,295. State planners believe that the number of inhabitants in this year's count will be 49,125. By the year 2030, it is expected that nearly 64,000 people will live in Laurens County.
The choice is yours. Remember being counted means desperately needed funds to help our community continue to grow and to cope with the increasing problems we face in our daily lives. Stand up and be counted.