Copeland As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 15,794 black Americans with Copeland as their last name. That represented 28% of the total of 55,850 entries.

This article tracks their numbers in the census since the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Copeland.

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 onward, all black Americans were included.

1,415 people named Copeland were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 177 as mixed.

There was a total of 8,010 people with the name.

Copeland 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 3,266 people with the last name Copeland as black within a total of 15,150 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 5,483 people named Copeland as black within a total of 29,151.

Historic Black Figures With The Copeland Surname

Here is a notable African American in history with Copeland as their last name.

John Copeland

  • Born: 1834
  • From: Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Died: 1859

John Copeland was born to free parents and attended high school in Oberlin, Ohio. He was a leader during the successful rescue of a fugitive slave, John Price, in Oberlin in 1850. This is known now as the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue.

He and his uncle, Lewis Sheridan Leary, took part in John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. He was captured and sentenced to death. Copeland was hung in 1859.

His last words are said to be “I had rather die than be a slave”.

The great writer Langston Hughes was a cousin (down a generation) of John Copeland.

Copeland In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Copeland 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 Copeland was in May 1887. Edward Copeland was a Recruit in the U.S. Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in May 1887 at Santa Fe, New Mexico.

One of the later entries was in August 1914. Charles Copeland was a Corporal in the U.S. 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.

James Copeland

One of the earliest entries for Copeland was for James Copeland from Portsmouth, Virginia. He enlisted in June 28 1864 at Young Rover/Hampton Roads when he was aged 21.

The record shows that James was assigned on January 1 1865 to the ship Ashuelot.

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

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