South Adams Street
The numbers below are based on the 1900 Census. Not all of the totals add up to 100% of the 71 people in the survey, several questions being unanswered in the Census by a number of people.
In 1900 Ypsilanti had a population of 7378, of which 608 were counted as black. The vast majority of these lived in the First Ward in the city’s southwest.
South Adams had 22 black households with 71 people living in them.
Of the 71, 27 were adult males (over 18), 32 adult females, 8 male children (17 and under), and 4 female children. 28 of the 71 African Americans on South Adams in 1900 were born before 1860.
3 adults were listed as being unable to read or write.
8 of the 22 households had children, 9 were married couples with no children living with them, and 1 household was a single, divorced individual.
At least 20 of the 22 households had connections to Canadian communities settled as refuges by those fleeing bondage and the slave power and racism in the United States.
Of those born before 1860: 8 claim birth in Canada, 6 in Ohio, 3 in Michigan, 2 in Virginia, 2 in Maine, 2 in Kentucky and 1 each in South Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and New Jersey.
Of those born after 1860: 27 claim birth in Michigan, 8 in Canada, 3 in Ohio and 3 in Indiana. *Research in the Census tells us that the place of birth identified by some shifted over the years.
It is not possible to state accurately how many of those old enough might have been born into slavery. We know from obituaries and other sources that several were, like John Anderson, Anna Jacobs, William Pollard and Dick Hamilton. It is probable that a number of others were as well. Future research may tell.
Those listing occupations were: 15 ‘day laborers’ and 13 ‘general housework’ . ‘General housework’ was the designation for the domestic services like cooking, laundry, cleaning and child rearing that most employed black women engaged in. Many of those listed as ‘day laborers’ were involved in the building trades. There was 1 each gardener, porter, carpenter, cook, tailor, waiter, domestic, farm laborer, barber, janitor and clergy.
South Adams Street doesn’t look very different from the rest of the community, with a similar proportion and mix of occupations. This list of occupations of black Ypsilantians City-wide and recorded for ten years on the either side of 1900 was compiled for the A. P. Marshall Ypsilanti Black History Project: Occupations of Black Ypsilantians in 1888-1889
1 coachman 1 cook 1 driver 1 gravedigger 1 washerwoman (not sure how this is diff. from ‘laundresses,’ below) 1 watchman 1 housekeeper (not sure how this is diff. from ‘domestic,’ below) 1 news agent 1 grocery owner 1 janitor 2 carpenters 2 restaurant owners 2 hair dressers 3 laundresses 3 well diggers 3 masons 3 gardeners 4 barbers 4 porters 5 hostlers 6 teamsters 25 domestics 32 undefined (likely day laborers) 78 laborers
Occupations of Black Ypsilantians in 1910
1 barber 1 boardinghouse keeper 1 butcher 1 driver 1 engineer 1 miller 1 news carrier 1 manager 1 saloon owner 1 stoker 1 stove repairer 1 student 1 teacher 1 laundress 1 farm hand 1 coremaker (I believe for casting metal in a factory) 1 cupola tender 1 cement worker 1 coachman 1 grocer 1 watchman 1 yardman 1 umbrella repairman 1 house mover 1 ice cream maker 2 painters 2 pastors 2 firemen 3 porters 4 machinist hands 5 carpenters 5 teamsters 6 cooks 7 janitors 8 masons 19 domestic 74 undefined (likely day laborers) 98 laborers
A chart detailing the percentage of Ypsilanti’s African-American population residing by ward between the years 1860 and 1920. In 1860 blacks were living in all the city’s wards with no single ward predominate. By 1870 the First Ward, with its church and school, was becoming a population center. However, blacks continued to live in most of the city’s neighborhoods. By 1880 a majority of blacks were living in the first ward. By 1894 the Color Line had been sharply drawn and two-thirds of Ypsilanti blacks were living in the First Ward. In 1904 it was over eighty percent. By 1920, just before the Great Migration would double Ypsilanti’s black population, nearly all blacks were living in the first ward. It should also be noted that a number of those counted in other wards at the time were living there as domestic servants. Segregation was complete.
Black population of Ypsilanti and as percentage of the total city population. In 2010, Ypsilanti’s black population was counted as 29.2%.
1860: 222 5.6%
1870: 435 8%
1880: 446 9%
1894: 583 10.5%
1900: 638 9%
1910: 634 8.7%
1920: 643 8.6%
1930: 1294 12.7%
We know that many African Americans arrived in Ypsilanti in the years before the Civil War on the Underground Railroad, or from communities closely associated with the Underground Railroad, like those in Ohio and Indiana. Between 1850 and 1860 the black population of Ypsilanti tripled to over 220, largely due to Underground Railroad activity.
The first chart shows that a little under half of the people in 1860 said they were born in a slave state. Next in numbers are those said to be born in Canada, followed closely by Michigan and other Northern states. Many of those born in Canada were the young children of adults who had fled there before coming to Ypsilanti; others undoubtedly answered ‘Canada’ as a way to disguise their status as fugitives from slavery. Nearly all of those who answered from other Northern states came from rural, free black refuge communities in Ohio and Indiana associated with Underground Railroad activity. Nealy all of those who claimed to be born in Michigan were under 18 and the children of those who had come from slave states or Canada.
The second chart shows which slave states respondents claimed to have been born in. By far the largest group comes from Kentucky, the closest slave state to Michigan; second is Virginia (which at that time included what is now West Virginia) which was also just one state, Ohio, away from Michigan at the time. Maryland and Delaware are also well represented, these two states had some of the highest percentages of free blacks of any of the slave states. Those born in the Carolinas all come from families which were emancipated and moved to Quaker communities in Indiana in the 1820s and 30s. Not surprisingly, the smallest number come from the Deep South, where distance and the nature of the slave system there made flight to the North extremely difficult and rare.
Many people hid their past to protect themselves and their families, for example, answering ‘Born in Canada’ automatically removed the question of whether you were ever enslaved or not, and some of the Census answers undoubtedly reflect that. The environment created by the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, the later Dred Scott decision, and John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry (which took place just months before this Census was taken and was organized from within the very Canadian border community of which black Ypsilanti was an integral part) gave many reasons for black people to lie about their origins in 1860, even if they were not fugitives. One thing is clear from the results, Ypsilanti’s historic black community was a creation of the Underground Railroad and the experience of Canadian exile.
Click for a newspaper archive of articles related to the City’s building, infrastructure and censuses.