News, Commentary, Research
11.19.2021

Clarifying the Percentage of African Americans in Talbot County, Maryland From 1790 to Present

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Blacks were the majority demographic group when Frederick Douglass was enslaved in Talbot County.

Talbot County, Maryland is the birthplace of Frederick Douglass and where he spent ten of the first twenty years of his life. Those researching Douglass and the history of the African American experience of Talbot County quickly discover discrepancies in the literature regarding its demographic composition since the first census was conducted by the U.S. government in 1790. Nor does there appear to be a comprehensive data set readily available that takes demographic data prepared by the U.S. Census Bureau and lays out, in chronological order, the changes in the racial and ethnic composition of the county from 1790 to the present. This study was commissioned to determine whether these discrepancies could be resolved.  

Mark Wilson of Applied Economics Strategies took the first cut at identifying relevant data sources, and then Jacob Burge, a data analytics consultant retained through Upwork, examined available resources in consultation with representatives at the Census Bureau. The person at the Bureau most helpful in this endeavor has been Dr. Sharon Tosi Lacey, Chief Historian in the Bureau’s Public Information Office.  

In assembling the relevant data, it was necessary to pull information from a variety of Census sources, several of which are not available online. Working with Dr. Lacey, Mr. Burge was able to assemble the requisite data sources and the information for the charts and tables below. The compilation of this source data can be found here. Please note that while some of the data from the early eighteenth century is missing from the census reports for those years, the Bureau in 1870 did a roll up going back to 1790 to capture the missing information.  

The final step was to commission a review of the data by Rockport Analytics, a data analytics company in Annapolis, Maryland, that was recommended to us by Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Rockport was able to validate most of the population data with a few exceptions having to do with certain numbers from the 1970 and 1980 census. Hard copies of that data is currently in storage because the Census Bureau is relocating which means the final verification will likely have to wait until 2023. Rockport’s summary of the work performed for us can be found here and their supporting spreadsheet here.

In sum, the percentage of African Americans in Talbot County reached a high of 51.4 percent in 1830 and then slowly declined such that by 2020 the percentage of African Americans in the county was only 11.3 percent.

List of Available Information

Excel Spreadsheet of Talbot County, MD Population History 1790-2020 Prepared by Rockport Analytics

Demographics of Talbot County, MD Source Material 1790-2020

Chart of Distribution of Race, Talbot County, MD 1790-2020

Chart of Population by Race, Talbot County, MD 1790-2020

https://www.census.gov/prod/www/decennial.html

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