The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 13,781 black Americans with Atkins as their last name. That represented 27% of the total of 51,671 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Atkins in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Atkins Before The Civil War
The 1850 census was the first to record all free members of households together. Before this, people who were not white were not named in the federal census.
In 1850, there was a box to enter color on the census. There were three categories: white, black, and mulatto. The third term is the language of the time, and I will use mixed in this article.
If you are researching your black Atkins ancestors in census archives, be sure to check the two non-white categories. Do not assume that the people recording the information were always correct.
1850 Federal Census
There were 65 people named Atkins who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 23 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 4,114 free citizens named Atkins that year. There would be one more census in 1860 before the Civil War.
After The Civil War
The 1870 census was the first survey after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. All African Americans were included.
Those who were omitted in 1850 and 1860 because they were enslaved were now recorded.
1,072 people named Atkins were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 127 as mixed.
There was a total of 7,485 people with the name.
Atkins In The 1900 And 1940 Census
The mixed category was dropped in 1900, so we just need to look at the black numbers this time.
The 1900 census recorded 2,450 people with the last name Atkins as black within a total of 13,493 that year.
By the way, the mixed category returned in the 1910 and 1920 censuses. It was dropped again in 1930, but replaced with extra categories for colored and non-white in a way that seems confusing now.
This changed again in 1940 and we can simply focus on one black category.
The 1940 census recorded 4,523 people named Atkins as black within a total of 26,410.
Historic Black Figures With The Atkins Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Atkins as their last name.
William Henry Atkins
- Born: early 1830s
- From: Norfolk, Virginia
The Underground Railroad was a network of safe houses and travel routes organized by many church and community leaders, civil rights activists, and abolitionists. Thousands of enslaved people were helped to escape from the South.
William Still kept substantial notes on fugitives who were helped on their way through Philadelphia. He published the notes in a book in 1872.
Henry Atkins appears in the book as a fugitive who escaped on a steamboat to Philadelphia. The committee helped him on his way to freedom in Canada.
The book also reproduces letters that Atkins wrote from St Catherines in Canada’s Niagara region.
He was most anxious to arrange for his wife to be smuggled out to join him. You can read the full account in our excerpt on William Henry Atkins and The Underground Railroad.
- Born: 1923
- From: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
- Died: 2010
Hannah Diggs married Charles Atkins in 1943 and graduated in the same year with a science degree. While working as a librarian, she continued her studies in law and public administration.
Hannah Atkins was the first African American woman to be elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. She was heavily involved in legislation protecting civil rights, women’s rights, and healthcare.
After a stint at the United Nations, Atkins was appointed Oklahoma’s Secretary of State in 1987.
Hannah isn’t the only black female activist from Winston-Salem to make her mark in politics. Madie Hall married a South African in 1940 and became prominent in the ANC.
Atkins In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Atkins surname from several military services.
Five regiments for black soldiers were formed during the Civil War. They were known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Their records are part of the national archive of military monthly returns. The information includes the year and place of birth, where they enlisted, their occupation, and their height.
One of the earliest military entries for Atkins was in January 1876. Jackson Atkins was a Private in the Ninth Cavalry. He was stationed in January 1876 at Fort Clark, Texas.
One of the later entries was in February 1913. Morris M Atkins was a Private in the Ninth Cavalry.
If you are researching military ancestors, there is a free index of these records on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. You have to create an account on either website, but you do not need to pay for the Buffalo Soldiers archive.
Black Civil War Sailors
The National Parks Service has a free archive of African American sailors during the Civil War.
The information includes their age, height, rank, occupation, and where and when they enlisted. It also includes every ship that they served on.
You can search the database on the National Parks website.
One of the earliest entries for Atkins was for Theodore Atkins from Norfolk, Virginia. He enlisted in January 1864 at New York when he was aged 23.
The record shows that Theodore was assigned on March 1864 to the ship Estrella.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Laborer. His naval rank was Landsman.
“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at New York in May 1864. John was aged 21 and was from Atlanta, Georgia.
He was assigned to the ship Lehigh on September 1864.
His naval rank was 2nd Class Fireman.
Firemen in the Navy worked in the engine room and with other machinery.