The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 14,426 black Americans with Clayton as their last name. That represented 25% of the total of 56,638 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Clayton in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Clayton 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 Clayton 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 123 people named Clayton 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 5,460 free citizens named Clayton 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.
1,857 people named Clayton were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 231 as mixed.
There was a total of 10,410 people with the name.
Clayton 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 3,865 people with the last name Clayton as black within a total of 18,383 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 5,638 people named Clayton as black within a total of 31,239.
Historic Black Figures With The Clayton Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Clayton as their last name.
- Born: late 1820s
- From: Richmond, 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.
John Clayton appears in the book as part of a trio of fugitives who escaped from Richmond on a steamboat.
This was Clayton’s second attempt to escape. He and his friends had a difficult journey as they were hidden near the boiler of the steamboat.
They were helped by a black steward on the boat who concealed them. You can read the full account in our excerpt on John Clayton and The Underground Railroad.
- Born: 1930
- From: Muskoga, Oklahoma
Xernona Brewster married Ed Clayton in 1957. Both she and her husband worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, and Xernona was a close friend of Coretta Scott King.
Xernona was behind the scenes as an organizer of civil rights programs to push desegregation in Atlanta in the 1960s. Under her influence, a Georgia Grand Dragon denounced the Klan.
She hosted a television talk show called the Xernona Clayton Show and then worked for Turner Broadcasting in senior management.
Recently, Atlanta erected a statue to the civil rights icon.
Other women activists who worked with Dr. King
Johnnie Carr was one of the organizers of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Ella Baker organized the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom where Dr. King gave the “Give Us The Ballot” speech.
Clayton In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Clayton surname from three different military services:
- Buffalo soldiers
- Black civil war sailors
- Tuskegee airmen
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 Clayton was in February 1876. Andy Clayton was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in February 1876 at Fort Davis, Texas.
One of the later entries was in September 1913. Ulysses Clayton was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. You can see some officers from this regiment in the picture above from a few years later.
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 Clayton was for Addison Clayton from Surry County, Virginia. He enlisted in July 1862 at Jacob Bell/James River when he was aged 24.
The record shows that Addison was assigned on January 1863 to the ship Jacob Bell.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Laborer. His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.
“1st Class Boy” was the rank given to young men who enlisted when they were under eighteen.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Zouave/Norfolk in February 1865. Alfred was aged 22 and was from Norfolk, Virginia.
He was assigned to the ship Memphis on June 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was also as a Laborer. His naval rank was Coal Heaver.
Coal heavers in the Navy shoveled coal into the furnace in the engine room.
The Tuskegee Airmen were military personnel who served at the Tuskegee Army Airfield or related programs.
Nearly one thousand black pilots graduated from the Tuskegee Institute. The photograph above (from the Library of Congress) shows a class in session.
They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.
Melvin Clayton graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in March 1945. He qualified as a bomber pilot.
Melvin was from Salem, New Jersey.