The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 22,758 black Americans with Dorsey as their last name. That represented 52% of the total of 43,631 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Dorsey in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Dorsey 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 Dorsey 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 632 people named Dorsey who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 214 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 3,645 free citizens named Dorsey 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.
3,124 people named Dorsey were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 575 as mixed.
There was a total of 9,155 people with the name.
Dorsey 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 6,817 people with the last name Dorsey as black within a total of 15,103 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 9,332 people named Dorsey as black within a total of 21,586.
Historic Black Figures With The Dorsey Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Dorsey as their last name.
- Born: 1812
- From: Maryland
- Died: 1875
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.
Thomas Dorsey was captured in Philadelphia after fleeing slavery, but friends helped him purchase his freedom. He became a successful and prominent businessman.
One day, a leading pastor stopped him in the street and demanded that Dorsey help find a recently escaped slave. William Still’s book recounts the story of how the businessman responded in no uncertain terms.
You can read the full account in our excerpt on Thomas Dorsey and The Underground Railroad.
Osbourne Dorsey was sixteen when he was granted a patent from the United States Patent Office in 1878. His inventions were the modern doorknob and doorstopper.
We know very little about the rest of Osbourne’s life.
However, his description of a door-handling device is considered the first patent for the modern manufacture of one of the most common objects in the western world.
Here is a copy of the original illustration that Dorsey got approved:
Other notable African American inventors
Here are some more black inventors from the 19th and twentieth centuries.
Dorsey In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research.
Here are examples of the Dorsey surname from different military services.
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 Dorsey was in September 1867. James Dorsey was a Recruit in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in September 1867 at Fort Riley, Kansas, and Washington DC.
One of the later entries was in July 1912. Osborne Dorsey was a Private in the Ninth 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 Dorsey was for Thomas Dorsey from Frederick, Maryland. He enlisted in October 1861 at New York when he was aged 23.
The record shows that Thomas was assigned on October 1864 to the ship San Jacinto.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Barber. His naval rank was Seaman.
A seaman in the Navy is a sailor who is not an officer.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at St Joseph LA in November 1863. Robert was aged 35 and was from Montgomery County, Maryland.
He was assigned to the ship Forest Rose on August 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Fieldhand . His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.
“1st Class Boy” was the rank given to young men who enlisted when they were under eighteen.