The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 36,890 black Americans with Cole as their last name. That represented 19% of the total of 195,289 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Cole in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Cole 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 Cole 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 623 people named Cole who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 322 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 26,524 free citizens named Cole 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.
4,594 people named Cole were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 844 as mixed.
There was a total of 42,533 people with the name.
Cole 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 9,380 people with the last name Cole as black within a total of 67,225 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 13,300 people named Cole as black within a total of 102,923.
Historic Black Figures With The Cole Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Cole as their last name.
- Born: 1846
- From: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Died: 1922
When Rebecca Cole graduated from medical college in 1867 in Pennsylvania, she became the second female black doctor in the United States.
Cole focused on medical services for impoverished women and children. She was the superintendent of a home for the destitute in Washington, D.C.
Cole held her own against W.E.B. DuBois when he wrote that high consumption rates amongst African Americans in Philadelphia was due to ignorance of hygiene.
She argued strongly that white doctors were not attending black patients properly.
Other black pioneers in medicine
Here are some other pioneers in health and medicine.
- Caroline Still Anderson, qualified as a doctor in 1879
- Sadye Curry, first female African American gastroenterologist
- Ida Gray, qualified as a dentist in 1890
- Grace James, first black physician to teach medicine at the University of Louisville
Sadie Chandler Cole
- Born: 1865
- From: Cincinnati, Ohio
- Died: 1941
Sadie Chandler’s parents were active in the Underground Railroad helping enslaved people escape north to Canada. She married Thomas Cole and eventually settled in Los Angeles.
Sadie Chandler Cole joined the LA chapter of the NAACP in 1913. As a vice-president of the chapter, she spoke at rallies and organized opposition to segregated areas and beaches.
She tore up a “Negroes Not Wanted” sign at a food stand on Broadway that refused to serve her. Cole swam at a whites-only beach in California as part of a protest in 1927.
Chandler Cole was also a talented singer and musical instructor.
Cole In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Cole 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 Cole was in 1867. Pollard Cole was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in 1867 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
One of the later entries was in 1911. Bird Cole was a Saddler Sergeant in the Ninth Cavalry.
A Saddler Sergeant in the army was in charge of the saddlers who looked after the saddles and harnesses for the horses.
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 Cole was for William Cole from Troy, New York. He enlisted in 1863 at New York when he was aged 39.
The record shows that William was assigned on January 1864 to the ship Vincennes.
His naval rank was Quartermaster.
Charles H Cole
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Baltimore in 1864. Charles H was aged 26 and was from Baltimore, Maryland.
He was assigned to the ship Vanderbilt on November 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.
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. They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.
Robert Cole graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in December 1944. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Robert was from Northfield, Vermont.