The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 35,175 black Americans with Douglas as their last name. That represented 35% of the total of 101,458 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Douglas in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Douglas 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 Douglas 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 108 people named Douglas who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 64 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 3,771 free citizens named Douglas 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.
2,363 people named Douglas were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 387 as mixed.
There was a total of 11,572 people with the name.
Douglas 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 5,103 people with the last name Douglas as black within a total of 20,963 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 14,021 people named Douglas as black within a total of 60,753.
Historic Black Figures With The Douglas Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Douglas as their last name.
Hezekiah Ford Douglas
- Born: 1831
- From: Virginia
- Died: 1865
H. Ford Douglas escaped from slavery in Virginia to Cleveland where he found work as a barber. He became renowned as an abolitionist speaker and travelled across the country giving anti-slavery lectures.
Douglas bought a Canadian newspaper, the Provincial Freeman, that was popular amongst the black community. The newspaper was distributed in American states and promoted civil rights.
Douglas fought in the Civil War with an artillery regiment. As captain, he was the only black soldier to command a unit.
He died young from malaria in 1865. His widow, Sattira Douglas, was an influential activist in her own right.
Sattira Steele Douglas
Sattie Steele attended Oberlin College in Ohio in the 1850s. She was an activist against slavery and distributed issues of H. Ford Douglas’ newspaper.
She married H. Ford in 1857 and settled with him in Chicago. During the Civil War, Sattie wrote for several black newspapers and urged African Americans to support the Union.
Sattie Douglas co-founded a women’s organization in Chicago to support black soldiers and their families. The indomitable Mary Richardson Jones was the president.
When her husband died in 1865, Sattie continued to teach and was active in the campaign for women’s rights to vote.
She married Robert McCary, a minister, and would also outlive him.
- Born: 1899
- From: Topeka, Kansas
- Died: 1979
The Harlem Renaissance after the First World War was a period when African American art, literature, and music flourished around Harlem.
Painters, poets, writers, and musicians established a creative hub of black culture in the United States. The movement was hugely influential on the development of black literature and art through the twentieth century and today.
Aaron Douglas left his high school position teaching art in Kansas to pursue an art career in Harlem in 1925. He did illustrations for journals ranging from the NAACP newsletter to Vanity Fair.
In these early years, Douglas became interested in bringing African styles into his works.
During the 1930s, Douglas received many commissions for murals from institutions like the New York Library and Fisk University. His murals featured themes from African life to bondage and segregation in the United States.
Perhaps his most famous works are the murals in a series called Aspects of Negro Life. You can find reproductions online at the New York Public Library Digital Collections website.
This is Song of the Towers from 1934:
Here are some other authors and artists that formed the Harlem Renaissance:
And here are some other notable African American painters:
Douglas In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Douglas surname from several 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 Douglas was in 1874. Preston Douglas was a Blacksmith in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in 1874 at Fort Sill, Indian Territory.
One of the later entries was in 1913. Arthur Douglas was a Cook in the Ninth Cavalry.
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 Douglas was for Singleton Douglas from Sunflower County, Mississippi. He enlisted in 1863 at Mouth of White River when he was aged 28.
The record shows that Singleton was assigned on June 1864 to the ship Marmora.
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.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Tunica Bend, Louisiana in 1864. David was aged 40 and was from Attakapas, Mississippi.
He was assigned to the ship Ozark on August 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was also as a Fieldhand. His naval rank was Coal Heaver.
Coal heavers in the Navy shoveled coal into the furnace in the engine room.