1880 Census: Tenth Decennial Census illustrates dramatic growth in the population of Washington Territory, influx of Chinese workers, and gains by Native and African Americans.

  • By John Caldbick
  • Posted 10/22/2010
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9605

The 10th Decennial Census, taken in 1880, illustrated the beginning of the phenomenal growth that first Washington Territory, and after November 1889, Washington state, would experience in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Between 1870 and 1880 the Territory added four new counties, two of which would immediately become the second and third most populous. In that same decade the Territory's total population more than tripled, the number of Chinese residents increased by an astonishing 1,262 percent, and the count of Native Americans who were not living on reservations grew by well over 200 percent. Only one lone person of Japanese descent was counted, however, and the increase in African Americans was more modest than that of other groups. Women made some gains in terms of percentage of total population. In most instances, the terminology of the day is used in this review of the 10th Decennial Census, and nouns or adjectives which today seem objectionable carried no such import in 1880.

Population Overview

Washington was not yet a state in 1880, but the  population of the Territory had more than tripled since the 1870 census, growing from 23,955 to 75,116, an increase of 51,161 (213.57 percent). Washington was the fifth most populous of the nation's 10 territories (which at that time still included the District of Columbia), the same position it had held 10 years earlier.

The 1870 census had shown a land area of 69,994 square miles, but new and better land surveys conducted in the intervening decade resulted in a more accurate measurement of 66,880 square miles, with a population density of 1.12 persons per square mile. Applied retroactively, the somewhat smaller total area resulted in a revised  and slightly increased population density for the 1870 census, up from 0.34 to 0.36 persons per square mile.

There were 25 counties in Washington Territory in 1880, four more than shown in the 1870 census. The following county adjustments and additions were made by the Territorial Legislature between 1870 and 1880:

  • 1871:  Whitman County was created from part of Walla Walla County.
  • 1873:  San Juan County was created from former "Disputed Islands."
  • 1875:  Columbia County was created from part of Walla Walla County.
  • 1879:  Spokane County was created from part of Stevens County.

Population Statistics: Counties

The population of each of Washington Territory's 25 counties in 1880, with comparisons to the 1870 count, was:

  • Walla-Walla: 8,716, increase of 3,416 (64.45 percent) above 1870 count of 5,300
  • Columbia: 7,103  (did not exist in 1870)
  • Whitman: 7,014  (did not exist in 1870)
  • King: 6,910, increase of  4,708 (226 percent) above 1870 count of  2,120
  • Clark: 5,490, increase of 2,408 (78.16 percent above 1870 count of 3,081
  • Spokane: 4,262  (did not exist in 1870)
  • Klikitat (sic): 4,055, increase of 3,726  (1,132 percent) above 1870 count of 329
  • Pierce: 3,319, increase of 2,410 (171 percent) above 1870 count of 1,409
  • Thurston:  3,270, increase of 1,024 (45.59 percent) above 1870 count of 2,246.
  • Whatcom: 3,137 increase of 2,603 (487.45 percent) above 1870 count of 534
  • Yakima: 2,811, increase of 2,379 (550.69 percent) above 1870 count of 432  
  • Lewis: 2,600, increase of 1,712 (192.79 percent) above 1870 count of 888
  • Cowlitz: 2,062,  increase of 1,332  (182.46 percent) above 1870 count of 730
  • Kitsap: 1,738, increase of 872 (100.69 percent) above 1870 count of 866
  • Jefferson: 1,712, increase of 444  (35.01 percent) above 1870 count of 1,268
  • Pacific: 1,645, increase of 907 (122.90 percent above 1870 count of 738,
  • Wahkiakum: 1,598, increase of 1,328 (491.85 percent) above 1870 count of 270
  • Snohomish: 1,387, increase of 788 (131.55 percent) above 1870 count of 599
  • Stevens: 1,245, increase of 599 (69.61 percent) above 1870 count of 734
  • Island: 1,087, increase of 461 (73.64 percent) above 1870 count of 626
  • San Juan: 948  (did not exist in 1870)
  • Chehalis: 921 increase of 520 (129.67 percent) above 1870 count of 401
  • Skamania: 809, increase of 676 (508  percent) above 1870 count of 133
  • Mason: 639, increase of 350 (121.10 percent) above 1870 count of 289 
  • Clallam: 638, increase of 230  (56.37 percent) above 1870 count of 408

What had been termed "The Disputed Islands" in the 1870 census were Blakely, Decatur, Henry's, Lopez, Orcas, San Juan, Shaw's, Spieden, Stuart's, and Waldron, but they had become indisputably American by 1873 and were combined to form San Juan County.

Population Statistics: Towns

The 10 largest towns in Washington Territory in 1880 were:

  • Walla Walla: 3,588
  • Seattle: 3,533
  • Vancouver: 1,722
  • Olympia: 1,232
  • Tacoma: 1,008
  • Dayton (Columbia County): 996
  • Port Townsend: 917
  • Goldendale: 545
  • Colfax: 444
  • Port Gamble: 421

Population Characteristics: Race

The 1880 census was the second census following the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of the slaves, but unscientific beliefs regarding race still found prominent place in the census records. In 1880 census takers (called "enumerators") were instructed in how to handle racial classifications:

"Color.-- It must not be assumed that, where nothing is written in this column, "white" is to be understood. The column is always to be filled. Be particularly careful in reporting the class mulatto. The word is here generic, and includes quadroons, octoroons, and all persons having any perceptible trace of African blood. Important scientific results depend upon the correct determination of this class ..."  (Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses From 1790 to 2000).

Two things stand out from these instructions. The first, and most obvious, was that anyone with "any perceptible trace of African blood" was required to be included as either "colored" or "mulatto," regardless of skin tone or acceptance as "white" by society at large. Second, although scientists of the nineteenth century certainly should not be judged by the standards of the twenty-first, the statement that "important scientific results" depend on an accurate count of "mulattos" evidences a belief in broad innate racial distinctions that have long since been discredited, most recently by genetic studies.

Oddly, despite these instructions, the available statistics for the 1880 census in Washington Territory show no breakdown of Americans of African descent into "colored" and "mulatto" categories, enumerating only "coloreds."

  • Whites:  67,199, up from 22,195 in 1870  (203 percent increase)   
  • Colored: 325, up from 207 in 1870  (57 percent increase)
  • Chinese: 3,186, up from 234 in 1870  (1,262 percent increase)
  • Japanese: 1
  • "Civilized" Indians: 4,405, up from 1,319 in 1870 (235 percent increase)

The approach to the Indian count deserves separate comment. Under the U.S. Constitution, only Indians who were subject to taxation were to be counted in the population of a state or territory for census purposes. The category of "Indians not taxed" (who were not to be counted) was defined as "Indians living on reservations under the care of Government agents, or roaming individually, or in bands, over unsettled tracts of country" ("Native Americans in the Census, 1860-1890"). This classification system led to a serious undercount in Washington Territory in 1860, when only 426 Indians were included in the census. The situation of the uncounted indigenous peoples was remarked upon in the 1870 census:

"The broken bands and the scattered remnants of tribes still to be found in many states of the union, though generally in a condition of pauperism, have been included in the enumeration of the people (in 1870). By the fact of breaking away from their tribal relations, they are regarded as having entered the body of citizens and as subject to taxation ... although they may be exempted actually from taxation by local legislation or the accident of pauperism" ("Treatment of Indians in the Census").

Thus, beginning with the 1870 census, the practice was adopted of including in the population count all Indians who were not living on reservations, including those "roaming individually, or in bands, over unsettled tracts of country," a group that had been excluded in the 1860 count.

The count for "civilized," i.e., non-reservation Indians, in the 1870 census had been 1,319. The large discrepancy between that number and the 1880 count of 4,405 (a 235 percent increase) most likely represents more comprehensive counting rather than a large exodus from established reservations.

Characteristics of Population: Native-born and Foreign-born

For purposes of the census, "native-born" refers to those born in America's states and territories, and "foreign-born" refers to those born in other countries or colonies, including what is today Canada.

  • Washington Territory native-born population in 1880:  60,313   
  • Washington Territory foreign-born population in 1880:  15,803

The states contributing the most people to the native-born population of Washington Territory in 1880 were:

  • Oregon: 6,583
  • Missouri: 3,160
  • New York: 2,981
  • Ohio: 2,727
  • California: 2,417

The countries or colonies contributing the most people to the foreign-born population of Washington Territory in 1880 were:

  • Great Britain and Ireland:  4,721
  • China:  3,160
  • British America (including Canada):  2,857
  • German Empire:  2,198
  • Sweden:  648

Population Characteristics: Sex and Origin

  • Total male population of Washington Territory in 1880: 45,973 (61.20 percent)
  • Total female population of Washington Territory in 1880: 29,143 (38.80 percent)
  • Native-born white males: 31,433
  • Native-born white females: 23,463
  • Foreign-born white males: 9,080
  • Foreign-born white females: 3,223

In a departure from earlier censuses, the 1880 did not count the number of African Americans by sex as an independent category, using only a combined category consisting of Negroes, Chinese, Japanese, and Indians, but providing separate totals for males and females:

  • Total colored males (including Negro, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian): 5,460
  • Total colored females (including Negro, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian): 2,457

Population Characteristics: Education

In another departure from the methodology of earlier censuses, the 1880 approach to educational statistics did not concentrate on the number and ages of children in school, but rather on the number of schools and the literacy, or lack thereof, among various age groups. This change makes comparisons with earlier statistics impractical.

  • Total public schools in Washington Territory, 1880:  531
  • Total high schools in Washington Territory, 1880:  5
  • Number of dedicated school buildings: 487
  • Number of student seats available: 15,890
  • Total public funds spent on education: $112,615
  • Total number of schools restricted by race:  0
  • Total number of students attending school, 1880: 14,780
  • Average daily attendance: 10,457
  • Total white males attending school, 1880: 7,210
  • Total white females attending school, 1880: 7,434

  • Total colored students attending school, 1880: 136 (includes 30 Indians)        
  • Total male colored students attending school, 1880:  71 (includes 15 Indians)
  • Total female colored students attending school, 1880: 65 (includes 15 Indians)

Population Characteristics: Illiteracy:

  • Total persons in Territory 10 years and older, 1880: 55,720
  • Persons 10 years of age and older who could not read:  3,191 (5.7 percent)
  • Persons 10 years of age and older who could not write:  3,889 (7.0 percent)
  • Total White persons 10 years of age and older:  49,239
  • White persons 10 years of age and older who could not write: 1,429 (2.9 percent)
  • Native-born white persons 10 years of age and older who could not write: 895  (2.4 percent)
  • Foreign-born white persons 10 years of age and older who could not write: 534 (4.5 percent)
  • White males ages 10-14 unable to write: 207 (5.7 percent of age group)
  • White females ages 10-14 unable to write: 123  (3.7 percent of age group)
  • While males ages 15-20 unable to write: 59 (1.7 percent of age group)
  • White females ages 15-20 unable to write: 29 (0.9 percent of age group)
  • White males ages 21 and up unable to write: 642  (2.6 percent of age group)
  • White females ages 21 and up unable to write: 369 (3.2 percent of age group)

For reasons not apparent from the text, the 1880 census for the age ranges of specific groups lumped together African Americans, Chinese, Japanese, and Indians as "colored," while treating them separately for the illiteracy data. Thus we are able to determine the number in each age and racial group that was illiterate, but do not have sufficient data to determine what percentage of the total persons in each such age and racial group were classified as illiterate. In addition, it appears that no attempt was made by enumerators in Washington Territory to gather literacy statistics on the area's sizable Chinese population. Given those limitations, the data show:

  • Negro males ages 10 to 15 who could not write:  2
  • Negro females ages 10 to 15 who could not write: 2
  • Negro males ages 15 to 21 who could not write: 4
  • Negro females males ages 15 to 21 who could not write: 4
  • Negro males older than age 21 who could not write: 15
  • Negro females older than age 21 who could not write:  9
  • Indian males ages 10 to 15 who could not write: 8
  • Indian females ages 10 to 15 who could not write: 7
  • Indian males age 15 to 21 who could not write: 14
  • Indian females age 15 to 21 who could not write: 90
  • Indian males older than age 21 who could not write: 70
  • Indian females older than age 21 who could not write:  261

There is a footnote in the census to the effect that in several geographical areas Chinese incorrectly were classified as illiterate by census workers if they could not write in English, even though they could write in their native language. This may explain why there are no literacy statistics on Chinese in the 1880 census.

Populations Characteristics: Occupations

The 1880 census compared current population and occupational statistics with those of the 1870 census to determine any percentage change in the ratio of total population to working population:

  • Total residents working at occupation, 1880: 30,122
  • Total residents working at occupation, 1870: 9,760   
  • Percentage gain in population 1870-1880:  214 percent (rounded)
  • Percentage gain in working population 1870-1880: 209 percent (rounded)

The census bureau noted that as various areas of the country became more established and started losing their frontier character, total population figures tended to grow at a faster rate than occupational statistics because many of the new inhabitants were unemployed wives and children, while earlier populations were more predominately male and employed.

The census bureau in 1880 used only four primary classification for its occupational statistics: Agriculture, Professional and Personal Services, Trade and Transportation, and Mining and Manufacturing.  

The total population 10 years and older in 1880 and their distribution by sex among various classes of occupation were:

  • Total population 10 years and older: 55,720
  • Total male population 10 years and older: 36,085
  • Total female population 10 years and older: 19,635
  • Total persons 10 years and older engaged in all occupations: 30,122
  • Total males 10 years and older engaged in all occupations: 29,059
  • Total females 10 years and older engaged in all occupations: 1,063
  • Total persons 10 years and older engaged in agriculture: 12,781
  • Total males 10 years and older engaged in agriculture: 12,709
  • Total females 10 years and older engaged in agriculture: 72
  • Total persons engaged in professional and personal services: 6,640
  • Total males engaged in professional and personal services: 5,829
  • Total females engaged in professional and personal services: 811
  • Total persons engaged in trade and transportation: 3,405
  • Total males engaged in trade and transportation:  3,389
  • Total females engaged in trade and transportation: 16
  • Total persons engaged in mining and manufacturing industries:  7,296
  • Total males engaged in mining and manufacturing industries:   7,132
  • Total females engaged in mining and manufacturing industries:   164

The 1880 census was the second to count child labor, and the count for Washington Territory remained low, as it had in 1870. Nationwide, there were well more than 235,00 workers under the age of 15, a considerable drop from 1870, but still substantial. Children employed on a family farm or in a family-run business were not considered to be child labor and thus were not counted as such.

  • Total male children between ages 10 and 15 working in any occupation: 59
  • Total female children between ages 10 and 15 working in any occupation: 47

The older population also reflected very low employment in the 1880 census:

  • Males over 60 years of age employed in any occupation:  121
  • Females over 60 years of age employed in any occupation:  12

Population Characteristics: Families

  • Number of families in Washington Territory in 1880: 16,380
  • Average size of families 1880: 4.59 persons
  • Number of families in Washington Territory in 1870: 5,673
  • Average size of families 1870:  4.22 persons

Population Characteristics: Disabilities

The terminology used in the 1870 census to classify people with disabilities can be shocking to modern ears. The counts of the "blind," and "deaf mute," "insane," and the "idiotic" should probably be viewed with skepticism, given the subjective nature of the inquiries and the relatively primitive state of the medical sciences in that era. Even the Census Bureau admitted in its notes to the 1880 census that

"The accuracy of the census of these special classes have been from the beginning a matter of doubt on the part of those most conversant with them" ("The Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes," p. 1660).

With that caveat, the census provided the following statistics:

  • Blind persons in Washington Territory, 1880: 47, all but seven native-born.
  • Blind males:  29
  • Blind females: 18
  • White:  39
  • Other races: 8  (all Indian)
  • Deaf mutes in Washington Territory, 1880: 24, all but two native-born.
  • Deaf mute males:  15
  • Deaf mute females:  0    
  • White: 24
  • Other races:  0
  • Insane persons in Washington Territory, 1880: 135
  • Native born:  68
  • Foreign born: 67
  • Insane males: 101
  • Insane females: 34
  • White:  64
  • Other races: 4  (2 Chinese, 2 Indian)

In trying to account for the relatively large number of foreign-born persons adjudged "insane," the Census Bureau noted:

"The tendency to insanity among the foreign population is especially worth of attention. It may be accounted for in many ways: for instance, by the change of climate and of habits of life, by the increased anxiety and effort to advance in the scale of social respectability, by homesickness, and in general by the removal of the props which sustain and steady a man who does not emigrate, but remains in the vicinity of where he was born" ("The Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes," p. 1665)
  • "Idiotic" persons in Washington Territory, 1880:  47, all but one native-born.
  • Idiotic males:  29
  • Idiotic females: 18
  • White:  44
  • Other race: 3  (all Indian)

Miscellaneous Statistics: Dwellings

  • Number of dwellings in Washington Territory in 1880: 15,512
  • Average number of persons per dwelling:  4.84
  • Number of dwellings in Washington Territory in 1870: 6,066
  • Average number of persons per dwelling: 3.95

Miscellaneous Statistics: Value of Real and Personal Property

The assessed value of real and personal property in Washington Territory rose by over 76 percent between 1870 and 1880:

  • Total value of real and personal property, 1870: $13,502,164
  • Total value of real and personal property, 1880: $23,810,603
  • Increase in value 1870-1880: $10,308,439

Miscellaneous Statistics: Established Churches

For reasons not apparent, the 1880 census abandoned the prior practice of identifying religious denominations and counting congregations and church structures. The only religious data contained in the census reports refers to religious newspapers, and is included in the data  immediately below.

Miscellaneous Statistics: Newspapers

  • Number of newspapers in Washington Territory, 1889: 29
  • Daily publications: 4  
  • Weekly publications:  23  
  • Monthly publications:  2 

All of Washington Territory's newspapers were published in English, and all but one were classified by the Census Bureau as "devoted to news, politics, and family reading." The remaining one was defined as "devoted to religion," one of the few mentions of religion in the entire 1880 census.

Miscellaneous Statistics: Libraries


The previous census, in 1870, had cautioned that the statistics on libraries were not to be trusted:

"The Statistics on Libraries have never been very creditable to the census of the United States ... . The fact is, the machinery of the census under existing provisions of law, defective as it is in many particulars, is less adapted to work out correct results in the matter of Statistics of Libraries than to any other use to which it is applied" ("Schools, Libraries, Churches and Newspapers," 505).

As an apparent consequence of this view, the 1880 census made no attempt to count libraries. 


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