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June 2015

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U.S. Census Bureau History: The Battle of Bunker Hill

Statue of Colonel William Prescott
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Colonel William Prescott and 1,200 milita thwarted
two assaults before retreating from a third. The
British won the battle, but suffered such severe
casualties (50 percent killed or wounded), that
they were unable to continue their advance.
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

June 17 is the anniversary of the American Revolution's Battle of Bunker Hill—the first major battle between British and American troops. Prior to the battle, the Americans learned of British plans to capture the high ground overlooking Boston Harbor, including Charlestown and Dorchester. Under the command of Colonel William Prescott, 1,200 colonial militia sought to block the British advance by fortifying positions on Bunker and Breed's Hills. When a bombardment by British naval vessels and troops positioned on nearby Copp's Hill failed to dislodge the American defenders, approximately 3,000 British "Red Coats" prepared to take the hills by force.

Over the next 2 hours, British troops were twice forced to retreat in the face of surprisingly accurate fire from the hills' defenders and nearby snipers. Lacking ammunition to continue the fight, Prescott ordered a withdrawal to fortified positions in Cambridge in response to a third and final British assault on Breed's Hill. The British gained control of the high ground, but victory came at a tremendous cost. Although American troops suffered approximately 450 casualties, the battle inflicted the highest casualty count suffered by the British during any single encounter during the war with 226 dead and 828 wounded. British troops recognized that the "colonial rebellion" would not be as easily squashed as they first believed.

Census data and other statistical sources can help you learn more about colonial America and the birth of the United States. For example:

  • In 1770, Boston, MA, was the third largest colonial city (behind Philadelphia, PA, and New York, NY) with 15,520 inhabitants. Many families left the city during the British occupation so that by 1780, its population had declined to approximately 10,000. Ten years later, the first census of the United States counted 18,320. Following the 2010 Census, Boston was the nation's 24th largest city with a population of 617,594.
  • The 1780 population of the colonies was 2,780,369. The largest colonies were Virginia (538,004), Pennsylvania (327,305), North Carolina (270,133), Massachusetts (268,627), and Maryland (245,474). Approximately 78 percent of the colonies' White population were English, Scottish, Scotch, or Irish.
  • Charlestown, MA, home to Bunker and Breed's Hills, was settled in 1628, became the first capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The 1790 Census counted 1,583 people living in Charlestown. The 1870 Census, the last before Charlestown's 1874 annexation by Boston recorded 28,323 inhabitants. According to the 2010 Census, the neighborhood is home to 16,439.
  • Lemuel Cook was one of the oldest survivors of the American Revolution as proven his federal 1860 Census record and pension records. Cook enlisted in the Continental Army at the age of 16, serving as a private in the 2nd Light Dragoons Connecticut Regiment and fought at Brandywine, the Virginia campaign, and was present for the surrender of General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, VA. He died on May 20, 1866, at the age of 107, in Clarendon, NY.
  • The U.S. Constitution required that a census be conducted in 1790 and every 10 years thereafter to apportion Congress and to determine each state's share of Revolutionary War debt. The 1790 Census found the new nation was home to 3,929,214.
  • In 1790, the combined population of the ten largest urban areas in the United States totaled approximately 150,000. These cities were New York City, NY (33,131); Philadelphia, PA (28,522); Boston, MA (18,320); Charleston, SC (16,359); Baltimore, MD (13,503); Northern Liberties Township, PA (9,913); Salem, MA (7,921); Newport, RI (6,716); Providence, RI (6,380); and Marblehead, MA, and Southwark district, PA, (5,661).
  • A comparison of the largest urban areas from the 1790 and 2010 Censuses shows how our nation has expanded west and moved away from colonial maritime centers. New York City, NY, remains the nation's most populous with 8,175,133, followed by Los Angeles, CA (3,792,621); Chicago, IL (2,695,598); Houston, TX (2,099,451); Philadelphia, PA (1,526,006); Phoenix, AZ (1,445,632); San Antonio, TX (1,327,407); San Diego, CA (1,307,402); Dallas, TX (1,197,816); and San Jose, CA (945,942).

Battle of Bunker Hill painted by Percy Moran

E. Percy Moran's painting, "Battle of Bunker Hill" depicts one of the three charges British troops made
in there attempt to dislodge colonists from their positions on Breed's and Bunker Hill.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

This Month in Census History

During the 1830 to 1900 Censuses, the count was taken as of June 1 or 2. In addition to June, the first four censuses (1790 to 1820) were conducted in in August, the 1910 Census was taken as of April 15, and the 1920 Census was taken January 1. Our nation's current Census Day has been on April 1, since 1930.

1903 Ford Automobile
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On This Day in History

On June 16, 1903, Henry Ford founded Ford Motor Company Link to a non-federal Web site. In that year, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 11,000 automobiles were manufactured and a total of 38,083 automobiles had been registered in the United States. Twenty years later, annual automobile production had risen to 4,086,997 (nearly half of which were manufactured by Ford) and 15,092,177 registered automobiles drove America's roads.

Today, there are more than 246 million registered automobiles in the United States. The 2012 Economic Census found that the total value of shipments from auto manufacturers was $108.8 billion. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of April 2015, 915,000 people were employed by motor vehicle and parts manufacturers and 1,217,600 worked for auto dealerships.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Revolutionary War veteran Lemuel Cook
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Did You Know?

Lemuel Cook (photographed in 1864 at age 105) was the last verifiable surviving veteran of the American Revolution. Cook enlisted in the Continental Army at the age of 16, and served as a private in the 2nd Light Dragoons Connecticut Regiment. He fought at the Battle of Brandywine, the Virginia campaign, and was present for the surrender of General Charles Cornwallis in Yorktown, VA. Cook was one of approximately 25,000 pensioners listed in A Census of Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Services, [ZIP 29MB] having been enumerated in the Orleans County town of Clarendon, NY (page 92). Cook died May 20, 1866, at the age of 106, in Clarendon, NY.

The 1840 Census was the first in which veterans' data were collected. In that year, Lemuel Cook and approximately 25,000 other surviving Revolutionary War and military veterans supplied data, including name, age, and place of residence. Today, the U.S. Census Bureau collects demographic, social, and economic data on veterans of the armed forces using three national surveys—the American Community Survey, Current Population Survey, and Survey of Income and Program Participation. The Survey of Business Owners provides the only comprehensive, regularly collected source of information on selected economic and demographic characteristics for businesses and business owners by gender, ethnicity, race, and veteran status.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Visit https://www.census.gov/history every month for the latest Census History Home Page!

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: May 23, 2022