The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 73,967 black Americans with Collins as their last name. That represented 22% of the total of 329,770 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Collins in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Collins 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 Collins 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 635 people named Collins who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 491 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 30,016 free citizens named Collins 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.
7,253 people named Collins were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 1,383 as mixed.
There was a total of 62,350 people with the name.
Collins 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 17,669 people named Collins as black within a total of 104,039 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 27,750 people named Collins as black within a total of 168,223.
Historic Black Figures With The Collins Surname
Here are some notable African American people in history with Collins as their last name.
- Born: About 1842
- From: Pennsylvania
- Died: 1865
Julia Collins was appointed in 1864 as a teacher to black children in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Her husband, born a free man, had fought in the Civil War and owned a barbershop in the town.
Chapters of Julia’s first novel were serialized in the Christian Recorder, a weekly African American magazine. “The Curse Of Caste” ran from February to September 1865.
The novel was never finished because the author died of TB.
Despite being incomplete, it’s considered one of the first African American novels.
Other Early Novelists
The first African American novel may still be undiscovered. However, these are what is known:
- William Wells Brown – published in London in 1853
- Frank Webb – published In the U.S. in 1857
- Harriet Wilson – published in the U.S. in 1859
- Born: 1940
- From: Tennessee
Lucretia Collins was a student at Tennessee State when she volunteered for the Freedom Ride from Nashville to Montgomery, Alabama in May 1961.
James Farmer, a leading older activist, was the first to step off the bus at Jackson. Lucretia Collins followed and locked arms with him as they walked into the white waiting room.
They were arrested by the Jackson City police chief.
The Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode on segregated buses in the South from 1961. They sat in mixed groups to challenge seating segregation.
If they weren’t arrested on the bus, they would disembark and sit in segregated cafes and terminals.
The activists endured violent arrests from local police who would also let gathering mobs attack them. Many of the Freedom Riders were young college students.
Other freedom riders in 1961
Collins In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research.
Here are examples of the Collins 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 Collins was in December 1867.
John Collins was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in December 1867 at Fort Harker, Kansas.
One of the later entries was in January 1915. William Collins was a Sergeant in the Tenth 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 Collins was for William Collins from Washington D.C.. He enlisted in September 1861 aged 20.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Waiter/Cook. 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 in October 1864. Charles was aged 24 and was from Baltimore, Maryland.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Laborer. His naval rank was 1st Class Fireman.
Firemen in the Navy worked in the engine room and with other machinery.
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.
Gamaliel Collins graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in October 1944. He qualified as a bomber pilot. Gamaliel was from Los Angeles, Califorinia.
Russell Collins came from Davenport, Iowa. He graduated in August 1945 as a fighter pilot.
You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.