Letter from JOHN BIGELOW to GEORGE PERKINS MARSH, dated June 4, 1863.
Your kind favor of the 2 reaches me just as I am preparing to leave town and I am therefore only able to give to your inquiries a hurried reply.
The word "prairies" on page 360 is used in the sense of "meadow," that is, meadow land belonging to a farm--any part of which is under culture, is reported as improved. I could have made the classification a little more clear perhaps if I had quoted the instructions given to the Marshals who took the census of 1850. Sched 4 §§ 2-3. As you may not have them at hand I will append the pertinent passages to this note. These give all the information I had on the subject.
Your question presents but one of may difficulties I have encountered in trying to
understand our census returns, and one
of many illustrations of the utter unreliableness of our American statistics. You have remarked before this that very few of those procured through the agency of government have much value for scientific purposes.
The criticism which you make upon the tables of improved and unimproved land is just,
but is in part susceptible of explanation, new surveys having in many instances
revealed errors in the returns previously made. For example M Kennedy estimates the total land area of the United
States at 3.230.572 square miles, while the Commissioner of the General land office
in 1860 estimates it at 2.943.257. The extent of this difference in the several
States you will be able to ascertain by comparing the returns in the preliminary
report of Mr Kennedy (who, by the way, does not give the area of the territories)
with those of the General Land office
report for 1860. New surveys in some of the States; the substitutes of surveys instead of estimates in some portions of the territories and new estimates in others have probably brought Mr Kennedy to this result, though I believe the superior accuracy of his conclusions is not universally conceded. Such a discrepancy however in the tables ought not to have gone to press without some explanation accompanying it.
It just occurs to me that perhaps you err in stating that all the territory is
included in the category of "improved" or "unimproved land." For example the Census,
I believe takes no account of land set apart for parks, for new cities constantly
springing up especially in the new states, for schools, hospitals, railways etc. In
this way millions of acres are taken out of the category of lands improved or
and it is probably that this circumstance much always vary the report of land area in the United States.
I am obliged to you for pointing out the misprint on page 379. It is one of many I have had to deplore and which together with the imperfect index was partly owing to my desire to get the book before the public as soon as possible after the opening of the which left me less time for revision than such a book required. If you discover anything else that would make the book any less unworthy of the kind language you were pleased to apply to it, I will be greatly obliged to you if you will communicate them to me.
I am happy to hear that your are occupying yourself with the subject of Physical
Geography. That science
has long needed a master man to organize and redact to scientific uses, the mass of materials which have been accumulating for his purpose during the past century. What Adam Smith did for Political Economy, what Buffon did for Natural History and what Wheaton and Grotius did for International law I hope you will do for Geography.
Yours very trulyJohn Bigelow
Instructions to Marshals and Assistants.
Census of 1850. Schedule 4 §§ 2-3.
Under general heading "Acres of land" and under particular heading "improved land," insert the number of acres of improved land; by which is meant, cleared land used for grazing, grass, or tillage or which is now fallow, connected with or belonging to the farm which the assistant Marshal is reporting. It is not necessary that it should be contiguous; but it must be owned or managed by the person whose name is inserted in the column.
Under heading "Unimproved" insert the number of acres of unimproved land connected with the farm. It is not necessary that it should be contiguous to the improved land; but may be a wood lot, or other land at some distance but owned in connection with the farm the timber or range of which is used for farm purposes.
References in this letter:
William Kennedy (1799-1871) was a geographer.
The great Scots political economist, Adam Smith (1723-1790) published An Inquirey into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776.
French naturalist Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788) is the author of Histoire naturelle, 44 vols. 1749-1804.
Henry Wheaton (1785-1848) was an American jurist and diplomat. His great work is Elements of International Law(1836).
Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) was a Dutch jurist and humanist who wrote the first important book on international law De ure belli ac pacis in 1625.
Born in Middlebury, Vermont, John Milton Bigelow (1804-1878) served as a surgeon and botanist on the U.S. and Mexican Boundary survey of 1848 and the Pacific Railroad Surveys of 1853.