The Census of 1790

In the second half of the 18th century, the ideas of cameralism and the science of statistics developed in the Age of Enlightenment, had a substantial impact on the changes in the principles of rule in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The ideas of cameralism called for the creation of a unified and strong state as well as for a stronger control over many areas of social life. In turn, the science of statistics, that became a separate subject in European universities from 1746, suggested the concentration of efforts at the financial analysis of the national economics aimed at balancing the budget and improvement of the administration system. A number of proposals as to how to reform the financial system were put forward both in Poland and Lithuania. The proposed solutions included raising taxes, the introduction of strict stocktaking of households and inhabitants. The most radical proposal to the Four-Year Sejm (1788–1792) came from Fryderyk Moszyński, the Grand State Secretary of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. He advised taxing household incomes rather that the households themselves. This is how he intended to reveal the level of economic capability of each individual household. After the Sejm rejected his project, Moszyński worked hard to reach the approval of the law on the first general census that would encompass all layers of the society, excluding noblemen and clergy. The names of the noble landowners had to be collected in the landowners’ book.

The groups of the populace: from gardeners to beggars

The resolution on the general census of households in the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was passed by the Sejm of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth on 22nd June 1789. The resolution says that while conducting the census in cities and rural areas, the officials must record the number of people in each household. The census was commenced by the commissions collecting the donation tax. The census was completed by the civil commissions of military order established in all districts by the law passed by the Sejm on 24th November 1789. Special schemes were prepared for the census in Poland to classify the population into several groups: land working peasants, gardeners paying land tax, inmates, merchants, fabricants, craftsmen, innkeepers, free hinds, and beggars. In Lithuania, the household lustration books were used to complete the census. They included records of villages, homesteads and towns owned by noblemen. To the left of the name of a location stood the number of households while to the left the number of inhabitants was entered dividing the people by their age into five groups: from one to 16 years old, from 16 to 30, from 30 to 45, from 45 to 60, and 60 and more years old. In addition to that, people in each age group were divided by gender. The books indicated separately the number of Jews and Karaites in particular locations.

The census in progress: the united forces of commissioners and parsons

Beginning with 1790, two civil commissions of military order carried out the census. They had to select special workgroups of commissioners, each group consisting of at least two persons to cover the whole parish of a district and to complete the task in two months. The commissions had a duty to deliver the tally of the total population and natural resettlement every year.

Local parsons had to provide the number of people within their parish, as well as data on marriages, births, and deaths to the civil-military commissions at the beginning of each year.

The ones daring to disobey the obligation against the civil military commissions would face a fine of 100 golden złotys. The collected data was used to register all inhabitants of a district with individual lists for Christians, Jews, Tatars and Karaites. The records would eventually be presented to the Treasury Commission of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania which, in turn, had an obligation to inform the Sejm on the demographics of the country.

Late responses were a common occurrence. In the Upytė district the group of commissars set up on the 18th of May 1790 performed the lustration of households in accordance to the scheme delivered by the Treasury Commission and prepared a list, or the so-called tariff, one month later than it had to. According to the commissars of the district of Upytė, “due to the late arrival of the instruction as to how to describe the economic capacity of the households”, they had not completed the job. Lustration in Upytė was performed by 18 commissars, members of the civil military commission, led by the marshal of the district, Michał Straszewicz. The civil commission of military order of the Rechytsa district was among the first to send the consolidated tables of the general census featuring the data from parishes to the Treasury Commission on 16th February 1791. The commission in Brest completed the task on 20th March 1791, in Navahrudak on 10th October 1791, in Braslaw on 17th October 1791. In the Šiauliai repartition of the Duchy of Samogitia the task was completed as late as on 16th January 1792.

The result of the census: three million

The surviving data of the general census from eleven Lithuanian districts which represent half of all the country’s households reveal that in terms of social groups, peasants was an absolute majority accounting for 80 percent of the country’s population.

The nobility accounted for 6 percent countrywide and 7.3 percent in the district of Trakai, 9 percent in the district of Šiauliai, 8.6 percent in the district of Navahrudak, 3.7 percent in the district of Reczytsa, 2.6 percent in the district of Mazyr. Jews made up 5.3 percent of the entire population while Christians living in cities accounted for 5 percent of all people.

According to the census data, 52.8 percent of all people were male, the remaining 47.2 percent female in 1790. Babies, children and teenagers from one to 17 years old accounted for 42 percent of all male Christians in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania while persons older than 50 made up 10.4 percent of all. The nobility usually outlived peasants. In the district of Šiauliai, for instance, peasants older than 50 accounted for 8.8 percent of all the people of the group, while the percentage of the nobility was higher, at 13.8 percent.

A total of 55,800 children were born in the eleven Lithuanian districts in 1790, or almost 40 newborns for every 1,000 of the population. The average birth rate stood at 39 babies for every 1,000 inhabitants at that time in Europe. Death rate in Lithuania was the highest among people younger than 18, at 51.5 percent of all deceased that year with babies and toddlers accounting for most of the deaths. The natural growth of population in the eleven Lithuanian districts in 1790 was just over 13 men and women for every 1,000 of the population.

All in all, about 3.6 million people lived in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1790.

Do You Know?

The data collected during the census enabled the government to implement financial, economical and administration reforms.

Literature: R. Jasas, L. Truska, Lietuvos Didžiosios Kunigaikštystės gyventojų surašymas 1790 m., Vilnius, 1972.

Ramunė Šmigelskytė-Stukienė