Rewriting the Biography: James SIMS in the U.S. Federal Census

Rewriting the Biography is an ongoing theme for the rough draft notes of a new/updated biography of my 5th great-grandfather James SIMS (1754-1845) of Nicholas County.

I would like to begin this new series of notes with an analysis of the households of James SIMS and his sixteen children in the U.S. Federal Census from 1810 to 1880.

Generally, when doing census work I start with the most recent and work my way back to the earliest listing, hopefully finding the person of interest with his or her parents.

My 5th great-grandfather James SIMS died before the 1850 census. He was born in 1754 far too early to be found on a census with his parents. As will be seen, even the children of his first marriage born between 1777 and 1794 were not found with him, be it only tick marks, on the pre-1850 census. The reason being six of the eight children were already married and had their own households in 1810.

James was found on four pre-1850 census sheets: 1810, 1820, 1830, and 1840. This was only possible as he was the head of a household. He died between 12 August 1845 and 10 March 18461 missing the 1850 census, which would include his place of birth, by about four to five years. However, four of his youngest children from his second marriage lived long enough to be enumerated on the 1880 census, the first to include the place of birth for parents. Three of the four children had Virginia as the place of birth for their father James SIMS. Only daughter Jane’s listing shows West Virginia which is incorrect as the state was only formed in 1863, 109 years after James’ birth.

In the weeks to come, I will be analyzing the census records of James SIMS’ sixteen children in order of birth. Today I would like to start with James’ listings.

Census Analysis for James Sims 1754-1845

The 1790 and 1800 U.S. Federal Census

In 1830, Congress passed a law requiring the return of all decennial censuses from 1790-1830. At the time it was discovered that many of the schedules had been lost or destroyed. Virginia is one of the states with a complete loss of the census schedules for 1790 and 1800.  Tax lists can be used to re-create the schedules which were lost.

1790 U.S. Federal Census substitute: 1789 Tax List

It is known that James SIMS owned land in Bath County, Virginia, and lived there before going farther west. Bath County was created in 1790 from parts of Augusta, Botetourt, and Greenbrier counties.

1789 Tax List B for Botetourt County, Virginia (headings)

On 6 October 1789, James SIMS was in William Davidson’s district in Botetourt County and listed on the Personal Property Tax List B. To be a bit more certain this was the correct person I looked up Benjamin COTTON who would become James SIMS’ father-in-law in 1796. He was also found on the tax list of Botetourt in 1789.

1789 Tax List B for Botetourt County, Virginia

James SIMS was listed with 1 white, 1 black over 16 years of age, and 1 horse.2 The fact that he was a known slaveholder gives some support to this being his tax record.

1800 U.S. Federal Census substitute: 1802 Tax List
1802 Tax List for Kanawha County, Virginia (headers)

In 1802 we find James SIMS on the list of taxable property within the County of Kenhawa (Kanawha) of which Fleming Cobbs was the commissioner.3

1802 Tax List for Kanawha County, Virginia

James SIMS was listed with 1 white person over the age of 16 years and 3 horses. The two columns for blacks over 12 and over 16 are empty. The slave who was with him in 1789 would have been 29 years or older in 1802. As no slave was listed on the 1802 tax list, this brings up questions which need to be researched. Did James SIMS bring slaves with him when he moved from Bath County to Kanawha County? Or did he acquire the slaves seen in later census schedules only after 1802?

In 1802 James’ oldest sons Martin and William were also seen on this list indicating they were 21 years of age or older. In James’ household, there was one son who would turn 17 during the year, Edward born in June 1785. There is no date listed on any of the 24 pages of the Kanawha tax list.

If the tax list was drawn up after Edward turned 17 why was he not counted? Conclusive evidence that Edward was a son of James has not to date been found. He will, therefore, be included in this census work as well as future posts in relation to the James SIMS family.

The 1810 U.S. Federal Census

Column headers for the 1810 census of Kanawha County, Virginia.

In 1810 James SIMS was 56 years old had been married 16 years to his second wife Elizabeth COTTON. If she bore him children in the first four years of the marriage, they did not survive as no children age 10 years or older were seen on the 1810 census.

1810 U.S. Federal Census for Kanawha County, Virginia. Sheet 207A/132 (penned in) with the SIMMS households at the bottom.

In 1810 when the census was taken, James SIMS and his children were found in Kanawha County in western Virginia. Only one child, his oldest son Jeremiah (1777-1824) had remained in Bath County when the SIMS family moved to Kanawha. Jeremiah moved to Champaign County, Ohio around 1804.

1810 U.S. Federal Census, Kanawha County, Virginia

James was seen on the bottom of sheet 207A followed by his sons Martin and William from his first marriage. In James’ household were his second wife, their four children, and five enslaved persons.

1810 U.S. Federal Census 4
Kanawha County, (West) Virginia
Sheet 207A, Line 23
Name: James Simms
Free White Persons – Males – Under 10: 1 (James Jr.)
Free White Persons – Males – 45 and over: 1 (James)
Free White Persons – Females – Under 10: 3 (Margaret, Sarah, Mildred)
Free White Persons – Females – 26 thru 44: 1 (Elizabeth)
Numbers of Slaves: 5 (Isaac, Jude, Fanny, Robert, and ?)
Number of Household Members Under 16: 4
Number of Household Members Over 25: 2
Number of Household Members: 11

In 1810 James SIMS had a dozen living children. Eight of these children were from his first marriage. Six of these were married and had their own households. The remaining two would marry after 1810 and did not have their own households. As each of the children are discussed in future posts we will see the two unmarried children were likely in siblings’ households.

The 1820 U.S. Federal Census

In 1820 only James’ son John was still in Kanawha County. Had James and his married children pulled up stakes and left the area?

One of the first things I was taught when I began doing genealogy research for my American families was to consider the formation of new counties and the changing county lines of established counties.

Nicholas County, West Virginia, was originally created by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on 30 January 1818, from parts of Greenbrier, Kanawha and Randolph counties. This was 45 years before West Virginia became a state. The county’s boundaries were disputed and altered to its current status by another act of the Assembly on 29 January 1820. The county was named in honor of Wilson Cary Nicholas (1761-1820) who was Governor of Virginia 1814-1816.

Therefore, in 1820 James SIMS, his wife, and their minor children were found in Nicholas County on the same land he bought in 1800 in what was then Kanawha County.

1820 U.S. Federal Census, Nicholas County, Virginia

When the census was taken the information was recorded as of 7 August 1820. (As can be seen in the image above, it was not the easiest to decipher.) James was 66 years old and his wife Elizabeth was less than 45 years old (likely 36-39 as will be seen below per 1830 census). They had two sons and four daughters at home. Their oldest son James was about 19 years old and not seen in this listing. Also in the household were nine slaves, two of whom were young men 14 thru 25 years of age. Three persons in the household were engaged in agriculture. As most of the children were under 10 years old with the exception of two daughters who were 10 thru 15, the three persons engaged in agriculture could only have been James and the two enslaved men. These two men were likely Isaac SIMS and perhaps his brother Robert.

1820 U.S. Federal Census 5
Nicholas County, (West) Virginia
Page No. 204A, Sheet 152, Line 19
Enumeration Date: 7 August 1820
Name: James Sims
Free White Persons – Males – Under 10: 2 (Dryden, Charles)
Free White Persons – Males – 45 and over: 1 (James)
Free White Persons – Females – Under 10: 2 (Jane & Sarah)
Free White Persons – Females – 10 thru 15: 2 (Margaret, Mildred)
Free White Persons – Females – 26 thru 44: 1 (Elizabeth)
Slaves – Males – Under 14: 2 (unknown)
Slaves – Males – 14 thru 25: 2 (Isaac and Robert)
Slaves – Females – Under 14: 3 (unknown)
Slaves – Females – 14 thru 25: 2 (Jude and Fanny)
Number of Persons – Engaged in Agriculture: 3
Free White Persons – Under 16: 6
Free White Persons – Over 25: 2
Total Free White Persons: 8
Total Slaves: 9
Total All Persons – White, Slaves, Colored, Other: 17

Slaves of the Sims family, black Jude and black Fanny were members of the senior class of the Bethel Methodist Church at Poe on Laurel Creek in 1821.6 The five young male and female slaves under 14 were likely not yet born in 1810 when only five slaves were counted on the census.

The 1830 U.S. Federal Census

The decade between the 1820 and 1830 census brought a change in the statistics of the family of James SIMS. His wife Elizabeth gave birth to their eighth and last child about the same time their oldest son James Jr. married Elizabeth STANLEY. This was in 1821. James was now the father of sixteen children born from 1777 to 1821. A range of 44 years.

Besides James Jr., three of James and Elizabeth’s daughters married during the decade. Margaret in 1822, Sarah in 1825, and Milly in 1826. Four children were still at home, a daughter and three young sons. James was by this time 75 years old and Elizabeth was in her late forties.

1830 U.S. Federal Census, Nicholas County, Virginia

1830 U.S. Federal Census 7
Nicholas County, (West) Virginia
Enumeration Date: 1 June 1830
Name: James Sims
Free White Persons – Males – 5 thru 9: 1 (George W.)
Free White Persons – Males – 15 thru 19: 2 (Dryden & Charles)
Free White Persons – Males – 70 thru 79: 1 (James)
Free White Persons – Females – 15 thru 19: 1 (Jane)
Free White Persons – Females – 40 thru 49: 1 (Elizabeth 46-49)
Slaves – Males – 10 thru 23: 1 (1 of 2 seen in 1820?)
Slaves – Males – 24 thru 35: 1 (Isaac?)
Slaves – Females – 10 thru 23: 2 (July Helen and another from 1820?)
Slaves – Females – 24 thru 35: 1 (Jude or Fanny)
Free White Persons – Under 20: 4
Free White Persons – 20 thru 49: 1
Total Free White Persons: 6
Total Slaves: 5
Total – All Persons (Free White, Slaves, Free Colored): 11

The 1840 U.S. Federal Census

During the 1830s the last single daughter of James and Elizabeth was married as well as one of their three unmarried sons. Jane married Joseph DARLINGTON in 1831 and Dryden married Rebecca BAYS in 1837. This left two unmarried sons Charles, who had his own household, and George.

James, Elizabeth, their youngest son George, two young boys who may be grandsons, and a young slave made up the household. Four persons were engaged in agriculture. James was by this time 86 years old. Was he included in the count of working persons? It seems likely as only 5 males were in the household with the youngest being under 5 years of age.

The decline in the number of slaves in the household in 1830 to only one in 1840 can be explained. By March 1836 James SIMS had disposed of all slaves with the exception of Isaac who he emancipated in July 1836.8

The sale of one woman slave was recounted to June Settle Ciocca by Lawrence M. Huddleston in 1990. In 1833 a young girl July Hulen (per bill of sale) was sold by James SIMS to John HUDDLESTON. July Helen’s mother had been sold to the Huddlestons earlier and both mother and daughter were so heart-broken that James SIMS agreed to sell the child as well. Mr. Huddleston was in possession of the bill of sale for the young girl.9

1840 U.S. Federal Census 10
Nicholas County, (West) Virginia
Enumeration Date: 1 June 1840
Name: James Sims Sr.
Free White Persons – Males – Under 5: 1 (unknown)
Free White Persons – Males – 10 thru 14: 1 (unknown)
Free White Persons – Males – 15 thru 19: 1 (George W.)
Free White Persons – Males – 80 thru 89: 1 (James)
Free White Persons – Females – 50 thru 59: 1 (Elizabeth)
Slaves – Males – 10 thru 23: 1 (poss. a male age 20 thru 23 from 1830)
Persons Employed in Agriculture: 4
Free White Persons – Under 20: 3
Total Free White Persons: 5
Total Slaves: 1
Total All Persons – Free White, Free Colored, Slaves: 6

James SIMS’ wife Elizabeth predeceased him and like James would not be found in the 1850 census. Elizabeth’s date of death is unknown. James lived to see his last two children marry: Charles married Minerva J. SUMMERS in 1842 and George married Margaret Jane DORSEY in 1845.

Coming next…

The census work of James SIMS and his first wife Phebe’s oldest son Jeremiah SIMS.

© 2018, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

U.S. Federal Census Analysis of James SIMS 1754-1845

  1. The range for the date of death was explained in Rewriting the Biography: When Did James Sims Die? 
  2. 1790 / 1800 Virginia Tax List Censuses (Binns Genealogy, original records from Library of Virgina, Richmond, Virginia or Family History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah), Botetourt, 1789 Personal Tax List B, page 13. ( : accessed 13 March 2018). 
  3. Ibid., Kanawha, 1802 Personal Tax List, image 21. ( : accessed 13 March 2018). 
  4. 1810 U.S. Federal Census, (index and images), Ancestry, citing Third Census of the United States, 1810 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C. NARA microfilm publication M252, 71 rolls, FHL 0181429, roll 69, image 405, Virginia, Kanawha, Kanawha, page 129, sheet 207A, line 23, James Simms ( : accessed 6 February 2018). 
  5. 1820 U.S. Federal Census, (index and images), Ancestry, citing Fourth Census of the United States, 1820 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., NARA microfilm publication M33, 142 rolls, NARA Roll M33_130, image 388, Virginia, Nicholas, page 204A, line 19, James Sims. ( : accessed 21 February 2018). 
  6. William Griffee Brown, History of Nicholas County, West Virginia, Dietz Press, 1954, p. 166. 
  7. 1830 U.S. Federal Census, (index and images), Ancestry, citing Fifth Census of the United States, 1830 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C. NARA microfilm publication M19, 201 rolls, FHL Film: 0029677, NARA Roll M19_198, Nicholas, Virginia, image 35+36 of 42, page 189A+B, line 17, James Sims. ( : accessed 3 March 2018). 
  8. Isaac SIMS was featured in Black History Month: The Slaves of James SIMS, Part 2 and Black History Month: The Slaves of James SIMS, Part 3 
  9. A photo of the bill of sale for  July Hulen can be found in Black History Month: The Slaves of James SIMS, Part 1 
  10. 1840 U.S. Federal Census, (index and images), <i>Ancestry</i>, citing Sixth Census of the United States, 1840 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., NARA microfilm publication M704, 580 rolls, FHL Film 0029690, NARA Roll M704_571, Virginia, Nicholas, image 26+27 of 67, page 10A+B, line 8, James Sims. ‎( : accessed 5 March 2018). 

Author: Cathy Meder-Dempsey

When I’m not doing genealogy and blogging, I spend time riding my racing bike with my husband through the wonderful Luxembourg countryside.

20 thoughts on “Rewriting the Biography: James SIMS in the U.S. Federal Census”

  1. I have never had occasion to look at any census before 1850 as none of my ancestors were here as early as 1840, so it was really interesting to see these census records. Am I seeing the 1820 census correctly—that it included the names of all members of the household, not just the head of household with tick marks? I tried zooming in on the image, but it was too blurry for me to tell for sure.


    1. Correction: I do have three 1840 census records in my files for non-relatives and one 1830 census for some reason (I can’t recall who it was for). Just no direct ancestors that far back. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No need to apologize! I didn’t think they’d have moved to more details in 1820 and then reverted back in 1830. But I thought I could see several people named Sims in a row. I am glad I don’t have to rely on those old census tick marks too often!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Love your post Cathy! By the way, I have Simms in my family as well, although I know they came from Maryland, and the original surname was Semmes. Keep it up! Brian

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also enjoy doing the analysis of the family group especially narrowing the estimated years of birth from one decade to the next.
      The ideal solution with tax lists as substitutes for the census would be to have access to all years but this would mean having to visit the county courthouse or state archives. Maybe a task for one of the interested descendants who live closer to the source.
      Thank you, Margaret. 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  3. A very enjoyable read, and an incredible piece of research! Thanks for sharing your hard work, Cathy! As you may remember James Sims is my fifth great grandfather as well (the reason for our first communication), and I appreciate all of the research you are doing for me!! My connection to James Sims makes the information incredibly interesting. I’m impressed that you found James in Nicholas County after the division of Kanawha County. That is some really great detective work!

    On a slightly related note, as I reviewed your previous post about July Hulen and the sale of her and her mother to John Huddleston, I saw a statement by June Settle Ciocca that said, “Lawrence M. Huddleston . . . had no children and my understanding is that his immense genealogical collection was donated to the archives in Charleston.” By coincidence I happen to be going to Charleston for a few days this weekend, and will be staying just a few blocks from the Charleston Public Library that contains their genealogical collection. I’m going to try to get by there and see what I can find. Anything you want me to look for?

    Tim Hughes

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Darn! I was going to have you look up all the tax records of Kanawha and Nicholas County. Just kidding. It only came to mind while replying to another comment.
      The new biography may be book length by the time I finish. But I’m getting a lot of positive response to the work I’m doing on James Sims and his family so the effort is worth it. I just don’t know how long it will take.
      Thank you, Tim!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. The loss of Virginia’s 1790 and 1800 census enumerations is a real heartbreak!

    So are you thinking it’s possible that daughter Jane’s 1880 census response of “West Virginia” is a clue that narrows where in Virginia James was born? Perhaps a county that was once part of Virginia, but now part of WV? Or the earliest location for James that Jane remembered was Nicholas County, and she therefore pinpointed that as his birth location?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. From James Sims’ own declaration when he applied for his Revolutionary War pension, he was born in Culpeper County, Virginia.
      I believe it is the last. Jane always lived in Nicholas County and probably thought her parents were both born there as well. I mentioned it especially as it is an example of either the informant or the enumerator not knowing their historical facts or Jane being ignorant of the correct reply – 35 years after their death.
      BTW, the pension was withdrawn but the paperwork survived.
      Thank you, Michael.

      Liked by 1 person

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