The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 59,146 black Americans with Ford as their last name. That represented 32% of the total of 184,832 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Ford in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Ford 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 Ford 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 362 people named Ford who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 195 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 17,539 free citizens named Ford 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.
6,346 people named Ford were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 958 as mixed.
There was a total of 36,168 people with the name.
Ford 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 14,844 people with the last name Ford as black within a total of 63,443 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 24,347 people named Ford as black within a total of 100,189.
Historic Black Figures With The Ford Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Ford as their last name.
- Born: 1822
- From: Stafford, Virginia
- Died: 1902
Barney Ford ran away from slavery in Virginia in his late teens.
He became an enterprising businessman who opened hotels and restaurants in territory that would become Nicaragua.
During the Colorado Gold Rush of the late 1850s, Ford staked a claim but was denied his profits.
A black cattle-herder named Fred Coleman spotted gold in a California creek in 1869. Sarah “Aunt Sally” Campbell found a silver lode in the Black Hills. These claims were after the Civil War so they fared better.
Ford was accompanied in his business ventures by his wife Julia (Lyon). They opened a barbershop in Denver and build up several bars, restaurants, and hotels.
A wealthy man, Ford was known as the Black Baron of Colorado. His many businesses also saw downturns.
Ford was also a committed abolitionist and activist for African American education and economic rights. He founded schools for black children and adults in Colorado.
He was elected to the state General Assembly in the 1870s. In recent years, the Assembly has been debating recognizing a date in February as “Barney Ford Day”.
Other wealthy African Americans in the 18th century
Here are some more African Americans who amassed significant wealth before 1900.
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.
The book includes the escape from slavery of Sheridan Ford who hid for days in the woods of Virginia after learning he was about to be auctioned away from his family.
Sheridan had help from several friends who put their own lives at great risk under the punitive laws of Virginia in the 1850s. He eventually managed to hide on a steamboat bound for Philadelphia.
You can read the full account in our excerpt on Sheridan Ford and The Underground Railroad.
Ford In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Ford surname from three different military services:
- Black civil war sailors
- Buffalo soldiers
- Tuskegee airmen
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 Ford was for William Ford from Camden County, North Carolina. He enlisted in July 1862 at New Orleans when he was aged 16.
The record shows that William was assigned on July 1865 to the ship Connecticut.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Farmer. 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 Off Natchez in February 1864. Lewis was aged 25 and was from Hinds County, Mississippi.
He was assigned to the ship Samson on August 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Fieldhand/Bricklayer. His naval rank was Landsman.
“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.
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 Ford was in May 1867. Thomas Ford was a Recruit in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in May 1867 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
One of the later entries was in February 1914. Charles Ford was a Trumpeter 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.
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.
Harry Ford graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in August 1945. He qualified as a bomber pilot. Harry was from Detroit, Michigan.