American Places in 1850

Many of our ancestors did not arrive in America until the late 1800s into the early 20th century. Yet, you might have quite a few ancestors on one family tree branch or another who did exist in America (a state or territory) in 1850 or earlier.


So what was the United States and individual regions, counties, states like in mid-19th century? By using the onlineFanning’s Illustrated Gazetteer of the United States of 1850 which covers every state, territory, county, city, town and post office across the land – from Atlantic to Gulf to Pacific.

The descriptions and compiling of data, numbers and location is wonderful. Once you can identify hometowns of any number of relatives, start researching each location with this gazetteer.

The District of Columbia – the nation’s capital is listed, along with territories and then each state as of 1850. Looking at Iowa, its two major cities then were Iowa City and Burlington. Click on the state name and learn more about that state’s history and people. Some of the main products of Iowa in 1850 were horses, mules, neat cattle, sheep, swine, poultry, butter, cheese, wax, wool and hay. it also provides population figures for 1840 and 1950. For Iowa in 1840 it was 43,111 people and by 1850 was 192,214 residents. Your ancestors could well have been part of that major increase of new settlers.


Then there is a listing of counties in that state or territory. Location, dates and popular figures for each county is given. If a county did not exist by 1850, it would not be listed. Yes, the land is there, but it may have been part of a larger county.

A good example, Dade County in Florida in 1850 covered all of the Florida Keys, southeast land, up the coast to Daytona area, some 5,000 square miles, the largest in the state. Yet it was mostly unsettled and the population was only 159 people living in that vast wilderness.

So these fact-filled 1850 gazetteer and one 1853 from the National Archives can provide quite a bit of information.

Photos:  The Fanning’s Gazetteer of 1850s showing Arkansas and illustration of Pittsburgh, PA. 


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