Charles As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 32,442 black Americans with Charles as their last name. That represented 53% of the total of 61,211 entries.

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

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

After The Civil War

The 1870 census was the first survey after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1850 and 1860, only free African Americans were recorded in the census. The many enslaved were omitted.

From 1870 onwards, all black Americans were included.

1,176 people named Charles were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 153 as mixed.

There was a total of 0 people with the name.

Charles In The 1900 And 1940 Census

The mixed category was dropped from the census in 1900, so we just need to look at the black numbers this time.

The 1900 census recorded 2,218 people with the last name Charles as black within a total of 10,511 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 4,383 people named Charles as black within a total of 19,886.

Historic Black Figures With The Charles Surname

Sam Charles

  • Born: 1869
  • From: Pensacola, Florida
  • Died: 1932

Sam Charles worked as a janitor as a young man in Pensacola before starting a small shoe-repair business.

Sam was diligent about saving his money, which he slowly invested in real estate. By twenty-eight, he had built and rented out nine houses.

He expanded from shoe repair into large-scale shoe making and sales. The turnover of his shop in Pensacola’s main business district was estimated at $15K per year in 1904.

That is about half a million dollars in today’s money.

When he died in 1932, the local newspaper reported that he had controlled the wholesale leather trade in the city.

Some other wealth estimations

Sam Charles wasn’t the only successful business person of that era.

Annie Fisher was two years younger and was worth a million dollars (today’s money) in 1927.

Jeremiah Hamilton made his fortune of several hundred million dollars before the Civil War. He is a more controversial figure than the others I’ve mentioned.

Charles In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Charles 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 Charles was in October 1867. George Charles was a Private in the Ninth Cavalry. He was stationed in October 1867 at Memphis, Tennessee.

One of the later entries was in February 1904. Byron Charles was a Private in the Ninth 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.

Tony Charles

One of the earliest entries for Charles was for Tony Charles from . He enlisted in June 1862 at Cape Fear when he was aged 27.

The record shows that Tony was assigned on July 1861 to the ship Monticello.

His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.

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

Edward Charles

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Cadiz in April 1865. Edward was aged 20 and was from Baltimore, Maryland.

He was assigned to the ship Niagara on June 1865.

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

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