Giles As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 10,616 black Americans with Giles as their last name. That represented 26% of the total of 40,598 entries.

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

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

Giles 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 Giles 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 186 people named Giles who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 60 were recorded as mixed.

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

There was a total of 4,241 free citizens named Giles 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.

1,796 people named Giles were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 215 as mixed.

There was a total of 7,842 people with the name.

Giles 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 3,533 people with the last name Giles as black within a total of 13,339 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 4,288 people named Giles as black within a total of 21,102.

Historic Black Figures With The Giles Surname

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

Charlotte Giles

  • Born: 1830s
  • From: Baltimore, Maryland

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.

One of the more extraordinary escapes in the book is that of Charlotte Giles and her friend Harriet Eglin from Baltimore.

The two ingenious young women dressed in black mourning clothes and veils and boarded the train for Philadelphia.

There was a near disaster when one of their owners boarded the train to search for the fugitives. He even pulled back their veils to question them.

But their quick wits led to their safe arrival in Philadelphia. You can read the full account in our excerpt on Charlotte Giles and The Underground Railroad.

Illustration from the book

Gwen Giles

  • Born: 1932
  • From: Atlanta, Georgia
  • Died: 1986

Although born in Atlanta, Gwen Burdette grew up in St Louis, Missouri. She married Eddie Giles and started working as a campaign manager for Missouri’s first black congressman, William Clay.

She was active in the civil rights movement through the 1960s and 70s. Gwen Giles was elected as a state senator in Missouri in 1977 and served until 1981. She was the first black woman in this role.

Giles strongly pushed legislation for equal rights for minorities and people with disabilities. She resigned her Senate seat in 1981 to become the first black head of the St Louis Assessor’s Office.

Gwen Giles died young from illness in 1986.

Other firsts in legislature

If you want to learn about more pioneers in politics, here are a few:

Giles In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Giles surname from three different military services:

  • Buffalo soldiers
  • Black civil war sailors
  • Tuskegee airmen

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 Giles was in May 1883. IFH Giles was a Blacksmith in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in May 1883 at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.

One of the later entries was in April 1914. Hollie Giles was a Trumpeter in the Ninth 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.

Isaac Giles

One of the earliest entries for Giles was for Isaac Giles from Baltimore, Maryland. He enlisted in January 1862 at Philadelphia when he was aged 35.

The record shows that Isaac was assigned on October 1864 to the ship Canonicus.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Steward. His naval rank was Landsman.

“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.

John Giles

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at New York in January 1865. John was aged 33 and was from New York.

He was assigned to the ship St. Louis on April 1865.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Cook. Like Isaac in the prior section, his naval rank was also that of Landsman.

Tuskegee Airmen

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.

Ivie Giles graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in June 1945. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Ivie was from Kansas City, Kansas.