The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 18,298 black Americans with Gilbert as their last name. That represented 16% of the total of 114,940 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Gilbert in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Gilbert 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 Gilbert 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 159 people named Gilbert who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 52 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 13,818 free citizens named Gilbert 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.
2,595 people named Gilbert were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 337 as mixed.
There was a total of 23,878 people with the name.
Gilbert 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 4,868 people with the last name Gilbert as black within a total of 39,779 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 7,291 people named Gilbert as black within a total of 64,642.
Historic Black Figures With The Gilbert Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Gilbert as their last name.
- Born: 1820s
- 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 kept substantial notes on fugitives who were helped on their way through Philadelphia. He published the notes in a book in 1872.
Charles Gilbert was one of the documented fugitives who escaped from Richmond, Virginia.
This is one of the most extraordinary tales in the book. Gilbert kept moving from one hiding place to another. He escaped capture by dressing in women’s clothing and walking past his would-be captors.
You can read the full account in our excerpt on Charles Gilbert and The Underground Railroad.
John Wesley Gilbert
- Born: 1863
- From: Hephzibah, Georgia
- Died: 1923
John Gilbert grew up in Augusta and graduated from Brown University in 1888. He went to Greece to study the Classics and also worked on archaeological digs there.
Gilbert returned to Augusta to teach Greek and Latin at Paine College despite protests at his appointment as the first black faculty member.
He travelled to the Congo in 1911 to establish Methodist schools and churches. Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minster of the DRC, would later receive his education in on of these schools.
Other black Americans who had influence in Africa
Andrew Foster was a deaf graduate from Alabama who established schools for the deaf in fourteen African countries in the 1950s.
Phyllis Jenkins helped to establish the Swaziland Institute for Health Sciences.
Madie Hall met her South African husband when studying at Columbia University. She moved to Cape Town in 1940 and became prominent in the ANC.
Gilbert In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research.
Here are examples of the Gilbert 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 Gilbert was in June 1867. Nelson Gilbert was a Recruit in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in June 1867 at Fort Leavenworth, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
One of the later entries was in January 1914. William Gilbert was a Cook 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 Gilbert was for Edward Gilbert from New York. He enlisted in July 1863 at New York when he was aged 31.
The record shows that Edward was assigned on March 1864 to the ship Corypheus.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Teamster/Cook. His naval rank was Landsman.
“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Cincinnati in August 1864. Marcellus was aged 17 and was from Cincinnati, Ohio.
He was assigned to the ship Mound City on October 1864.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Fireman. His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.
“1st Class Boy” was the rank given to young men who enlisted when they were under eighteen.