Who Settled Georgetown?

 

In 1751 the Maryland Assembly authorized the acquisition of sixty acres to be the site of the future city of Georgetown (of which the eastern half of Glover Park was once part). The city’s founders, it is generally agreed, were agents for the Scottish merchant houses that dominated the tobacco trade in Maryland during the colonial period.

 

One of the very first to establish himself in the business of exporting tobacco, was Robert Peter, who is often spoken of in old records as “George Town’s pioneer business man,” and also as “The merchant prince and land owner.” As a young man of about twenty he had come from Crossbasket near Glasgow, first to Bladensburg and thence to George Town, and in 1752 established himself in business, and in 1790 became its first mayor. He represented the firm of John Glassford & Company of North Britain, Glasgow, well known both in England and in Scotland.

(Grace Dunlop Ecker, A Portrait of Old George Town, 1951, p. 14)

 

But there is also evidence that other nationalities participated in the settlement: Georgetown’s first church, built in 1769, was for a congregation of German Lutherans. (Grace Dunlop Ecker, A Portrait of Old George Town, 1951, p. 69; Rev. Luther Hess Waring, Ph.D., History of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Georgetown, D. C., 1769-1909, 1909)

The first United States census took place in 1790, just one year after Georgetown was incorporated. Unfortunately, it contains no information about ethnicity other than whether a person was white or not. A further inconvenience for the amateur demographer is that the census of 1790 does not distinguish clearly between the city of Georgetown and adjacent farms. To judge by names that can also be found on Georgetown tax rolls, however, the page that corresponds to Georgetown is the one that begins with Benjamin Stoddert, who lived on Prospect Street. This page lists 289 heads of household, and counts 2135 persons: 1402 whites, 69 free blacks (called “Other Free Persons”), and 664 slaves.

There may have been enough Germans in Georgetown to justify the building of a Lutheran church, but they were still outnumbered by the Scots. About 40 white heads of household in the 1790 census have surnames that appear to be Scottish, such as Douglass and Magruder; perhaps 30 white heads of household have surnames, such as Reintzel and Kurtz, that look German.

Of 289 surnames, a full 219 are neither clearly Scottish nor German, and may reasonably be taken as English. This is not surprising: in Maryland, as a whole, the ethnic origin of the population has been estimated as being 40% English, 9% Scottish, 7% German, and 7% Irish (northern and southern), and 3% other (with the unnamed balance of the population being of African origin).  (Surnames in the United States Census of 1790: An Analysis of National Origins of the Population. Annual Report of the American Historical Association, 1931, pp.211, 235, 273, 307)

Assuming, in the absence of specific Georgetown statistics, that Georgetown resembled Maryland as a whole––an admittedly shaky assumption––and adjusting for Scots who had English surnames, and Germans whose surnames had been anglicized––we may arrive at the following rough estimate of the ethnic or national origin of the population of Georgetown in 1790: 34% English, 34% African, 11% Scottish, 9% German, 9% Irish (northern and southern), 3% other.

 

 

 

 

Sources

 

Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790 for the State of Maryland, p.85

Surnames in the United States Census of 1790: An Analysis of National Origins of the Population. Annual Report of the American Historical Association, 1931, pp.211, 235, 273, 307

 

See also:

 

The City of Washington, An Illustrated History, 1977, pp.36-8

Washington, City and Capital, 1937, p.716

Grace Dunlop Ecker, Portrait Of Old Georgetown, 1933

Evening Star, April 1, 1893, p.11

 

 

___________________________________________________________

Carlton Fletcher

 The citation and acknowledgement of my research is greatly appreciated.

All rights reserved.

 

 Questions and corrections may be directed to

carlton@gloverparkhistory.com

 

The support of the Advisory Neighborhood Council (3B) is gratefully acknowledged.