Bradley As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 34,303 black Americans with Bradley as their last name. That represented 25% of the total of 136,720 entries.

This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Bradley in the last three centuries.

We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.

Bradley 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 Bradley 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 170 people named Bradley who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 85 were recorded as mixed.

Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.

There was a total of 13,054 free citizens named Bradley 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.

3,381 people named Bradley were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 463 as mixed.

There was a total of 25,438 people with the name.

Bradley 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 8,253 people with the last name Bradley as black within a total of 44,181 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 12,995 people named Bradley as black within a total of 70,506.

Historic Black Figures With The Bradley Surname

Here are some notable African Americans in history with Bradley as their last name.

James Bradley

  • Born: About 1810
  • From: Guinea, Africa

James Bradley was born in Guinea, West Africa, but was captured and transported to America as a small child. He taught himself how to read and write in his teens.

James worked for his owner by day and did extra work at night to save for his freedom.

It took him eight years to earn enough to buy his freedom in 1833. Once free, he entered the Lane Seminary in Ohio as the first black student.

Bradley gave an influential anti-slavery speech at the college as part of what is known as the Lane Debates. His fellow students were inspired to form an anti-slavery group with Bradley as the manager.

An abolitionist journal asked him to send his account for publication. We have reproduced James Bradley’s account of the life of a slave.

When the college authorities cracked down on their activities. Bradley joined forty others known as the Lane Rebels in leaving to join Oberlin College.

Benjamin Bradley

  • Born: 1830
  • From: Anne Arundel, Maryland
  • Died: 1904

Benjamin’s surname was actually Boardley but the inventor is referred to in many archives as Bradley.

He was born into slavery and worked as a teenager in a printing office. His master was so impressed with his mechanical skills that he got him a job in the workshops of the U.S. Naval Academy.

Despite this benefit, the master pocketed all but five dollars of Benjamin’s wages.

However, he used his ingenuity and build model steam engines and sell them to students at the academy.

His professors were so impressed that they contributed to his funds, and he could eventually afford to buy his freedom in 1859.

As a freeman, Bradley worked at the Naval Academy as an instructor. He continued to design new types of steam machines. He died in Mashpee, Massachusetts.

Other early black inventors include:

Bradley In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Bradley surname from several different military services.

Buffalo Soldiers

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 Bradley was in 1872. Levi Bradley was a Wagoner in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in 1872 at Fort Sill, Indian Territory.

One of the later entries was in 1912. William Bradley was a Corporal in the Tenth Cavalry.

If you are researching military ancestors, there is a free index of these records on and

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.

Robert Bradley

One of the earliest entries for Bradley was for Robert Bradley from Drew County, Arkansas. He enlisted in 1863 at Cairo when he was aged 19.

The record shows that Robert was assigned on July 1865 to the ship Chatham.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Farmer. His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.

“1st Class Boy” was the rank given to young men who enlisted when they were under eighteen.

William Bradley

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Baltimore in 1864. William was aged 33 and was from Eastern Shore, Maryland.

He was assigned to the ship Saranac on April 1864.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Servant. His naval rank was Landsman.

“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.