Dade County in 1850-Some Surprises

January 13, 2020

Editor's note: This is a new installment in Joy Odom's ongoing series on the Georgia Land Lottery. For preceding installments, click the history icon on the home page, or "columns," then "history," in the navigator above.


For much of the information I have used in this article, credit must go to Mr..Paul Vance, the Dade County native and lover of history who annotated the 1850 census on which this article is based.


Our county in 1850 was, not surprisingly, very agricultural and not very diverse. There were 1,246 white males here and 1,286 females for a total of 2,532. Adding the 148 slaves present, the total population was 2,680.


In the mid-1800s in the United States, many of the northern states had begun to move heavily into manufacturing with the result that large cities were being formed in those areas with movements toward factory and shop work for the populace. But in Dade County, as in most of the South, the world consisted of small towns and farming communities and almost everyone farmed for a living.


The cultural differences that developed between the two sections of the country as a result of this variation in lifestyles was already contributing to the schism that would result in the Civil War only a few years later. The Compromise of 1850, passed by Congress in the hope of avoiding war, had been signed into law about the time the U.S. Census was taken in 1850, so these differences were very much evident and on the minds of people across the country.


In 1850, there were 235 farms in Dade. If that doesn’t seem like a large number for a population of 2,532, remember that there was little or no technology to agriculture in those days and everything was done by hand. It took a huge number of people to work a farm of sufficient size to support a family and maybe have a bit left to sell for profit. A look at the census shows exactly how families made this happen.


It’s not at all unusual to find families made up of parents and 10 or more children, or of parents, their younger children, and one or more older married children who also lived with them and helped work the farm. In those days, you didn’t hire field hands - you raised them!


The census also furnished a rundown of the crops people grew and how much they produced. Some of this data was not surprising: 147,849 bushels of corn, 17,965 bushels of oats, 2, 098 bushels of wheat--all food crops for people and animals, so very necessary. But I was amazed to also see 2,826 pounds of wool, 645 pounds of cheese, 4,510 pounds of honey and beeswax, 4,773 pounds of tobacco (which I thought was almost totally confined to south Georgia because of the growing requirements) and 63 pounds of rice. If you know anything about the requirements for growing rice, that’s a real eye-opener!


Also interesting was the fact that Dade farmers grew 3,276 bushels of Irish potatoes but 12,257 of sweet potatoes. It didn’t take Dade farmers long to figure out that this is sweet potato country!


In terms of the social services available in the county, they were relatively few. There were seven schools with seven teachers and 250 pupils. As you can tell, these were one-room schools where teachers taught all grade levels and the older kids helped the younger ones as the teacher worked with other groups. These were the old ”3R” schools, sometimes called “blab schools” because the children were encouraged to recite their lessons out loud. The schools taught just the basics of what folks thought was necessary to get along in the world at that time--a no-frills education.

This is a picture of the old Trenton Academy. It was a "subscription" school.  Attendance was paid for by the family of the student and the students often boarded in Trenton. This school was one of the first things incorporated in the city of Trenton.  The original school was a log structure on the same spot.  It was located near the current Masonic Lodge and the Trenton United Methodist Church.


Another school listed on the census was designated an “academy,” which suggests to me that perhaps the academic standards might have been a bit higher--maybe including a little literature, some higher math, et cetera. But since there was one teacher for 60 pupils at the academy, I’m not sure how that poor instructor would have been able to achieve such goals.


Of course, many children of that day got no formal education at all. There was no state school system and parents had to get together and set up schools, hire teachers and provide buildings themselves. Many could not afford this cost, so their children remained uneducated.


Dade County in 1850 had one library; it was called a “Sunday School Library” which probably means it was housed in one of the local churches. It contained a total of 100 volumes which would have been very impressive at the time. It’s heartening to see that we have come a long way regarding schools and libraries since 1850!


Note: Paul Vance was not a citizen of Dade but of Oklahoma.  He was related to many old families in Dade and did graduate work in history at Georgia State. His

 graduate work and much of his other research related to Dade County and his countless genealogical connections. When last heard from he was in very poor health

 in the Southwest and residing with his great-grandchildren.


Next time: Who was here in 1850 --where did they come from and what did they do?


--Joy Odom


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