Tricking the Tallyman

by Jacqueline Davies and S.D. Schindler

“When Phineas Bump rode into the town of Tunbridge, he was heartsick, saddle-sore,... read more

“When Phineas Bump rode into the town of Tunbridge, he was heartsick, saddle-sore, and down on his luck.” The year is 1790, and Phineas is a tallyman working for the U.S. government’s first national census, counting every individual in the country. But the folks in Tunbridge don’t want to be counted, as they know it will mean taxes and conscription, so they trick Phineas into recording a population of one. When the tricksters discover that the count will determine the number of men allowed to represent them in government, they ask for a recount. This time they try to inflate the number of residents with farm animals wearing bonnets and cloaks. Finally, when they understand that the census will determine taxes, conscription, AND representation in national government, Phineas Bump (who it turns out is not easily fooled) gets an accurate figure and Tunbridge is included in the census “fair and true.” A fascinating author’s note gives further details about the census of 1790, including the way in which people were not counted equally at that time, with each slave recorded as three-fifths of a free person and Native Americans not counted at all. (Ages 6–10)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2010

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