Gardner As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 27,721 black Americans with Gardner as their last name. That represented 19% of the total of 142,894 entries.

This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Gardner in the last three centuries.

We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.

Gardner 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 Gardner 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 293 people named Gardner who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 148 were recorded as mixed.

Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.

There was a total of 18,914 free citizens named Gardner 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.

3,347 people named Gardner were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 454 as mixed.

There was a total of 30,765 people with the name.

Gardner 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 6,753 people with the last name Gardner as black within a total of 49,859 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 10,196 people named Gardner as black within a total of 76,005.

Historic Black Figures With The Gardner Surname

Here are some notable African Americans in history with Gardner as their last name.

Eliza Ann Gardner

  • Born: 1831
  • From: New York City
  • Died: 1922

Although born in New York, Eliza Ann moved as a child with her family to Boston. Her father was a successful businessman.

Her parents were activists for black rights. The family home provided refuge to fugitive slaves as part of the Underground Railroad.

As an adult, Eliza Anna worked as a dressmaker while also being active in the abolitionist movement.

Gardner had strong beliefs that women should take an active role in church activities too. She founded a women’s group within the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church. She faced down opposition from men within the church.

Eliza Ann was ordained as a chaplain in 1895, again facing down opposition against women chaplains.

She was a co-founder of the Women’s Era Club in the early 1890s, a prominent Boston club for black women. She also co-founded the National Association of Colored Women.

Nathaniel Gardner

  • Born: 1830s
  • From: Virginia

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 was a black organizer (or conductor) on the Railroad. He kept substantial notes on fugitives who were helped on their way through Philadelphia. He published the notes in a book in 1872.

Nathanial Gardner or Gardener was one of over twenty fugitive slaves who were smuggled to freedom on a schooner from the South to Philadelphia.

The book describes a dangerous situation when the ship was berthed in Norfolk. The mayor arrived on board with a posse armed with axes.

Thankfully, the captain outwitted the searchers and got his cargo to safety. 

You can read the full account in our excerpt on Nathaniel Gardner and The Underground Railroad.

This illustration from the book shows a scene with the Norfolk posse searching the ship.

Gardner In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Gardner 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 Gardner was in 1876. Henry Gardner was a Private in the Ninth Cavalry. He was stationed in 1876 at Denver, Colorado.

One of the later entries was in 1910. Clarence Gardner was a Corporal in the 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.

Malbro Gardner

One of the earliest entries for Gardner was for Malbro Gardner from North Stonington, Connecticut. He enlisted in 1862 at New London when he was aged 23.

The record shows that Malbro was assigned on October 1862 to the ship Stars and Stripes.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Mariner. His naval rank was Ordinary Seaman.

An ordinary seaman in the Navy is an apprentice who serves on the deck.

Frank Gardner

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Bridgeport, Alabama in 1864. Frank was aged 20 and was from Marshall, Alabama.

He was assigned to the ship General Thomas on June 1865.

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.