The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 10,042 black Americans with Gilliam as their last name. That represented 34% of the total of 29,414 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Gilliam in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Gilliam 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 Gilliam 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 26 people named Gilliam who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 27 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 1,127 free citizens named Gilliam 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.
764 people named Gilliam were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 125 as mixed.
There was a total of 2,301 people with the name.
Gilliam 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 1,771 people with the last name Gilliam as black within a total of 5,669 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 0 people named Gilliam as black within a total of 0.
Historic Black Figures With The Gilliam Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Gilliam as their last name.
- Born: 1829
- From: Richmond, 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.
William Gilliam appears in the book as part of a trio of fugitives who escaped from Richmond on a steamboat.
Gilliam had made several previous attempts to escape. He and his friends had a difficult journey as they were hidden near the boiler of the steamboat.
They were helped by a black steward on the boat who concealed them.
You can read the full account in our excerpt on William Gilliam and The Underground Railroad.
James Junior Gilliam
- Born: 1928
- From: Nashville, Tennessee
- Died: 1978
The baseball color line was firmly established in the late 19th century to bar black players from major and minor league baseball.
Several black leagues were formed with professional and semi-professional clubs. Some of the outstanding players were the best of their generation, regardless of color.
The color line was eventually broken by Jackie Robinson in 1945.
James Gilliam was playing semi-pro baseball in his mid-teens and joined the Negro National League when he was eighteen. Nicknamed Junior, he was an All-Star for three years running.
Junior made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers at second base in 1953. To accommodate Junior, the famed Jackie Robinson moved to third base.
He was a star player during his stint in Brooklyn and continued a leading role when the Dodgers moved to LA.
He went into coaching with the Dodgers for over ten years until he died from illness at forty-nine.
Other great players from the early black leagues
Here are more outstanding players and/or coaches from the first black professional leagues:
Gilliam In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Gilliam surname from three different military services:
- Buffalo soldiers
- Black civil war sailors
- Tuskegee airmen
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 Gilliam was in October 1907. John M Gilliam was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in October 1907 at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.
One of the later entries was in January 1911. William Gilliam was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. You can see members of the Tenth Cavalry in the picture above from a few years later.
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 Gilliam was for Edward Gilliam from Petersburg, Virginia. He enlisted in July 1862 at James River when he was aged 36.
The record shows that Edward was assigned on September 1864 to the ship Genesee.
His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.
“1st Class Boy” was the rank given to young men who enlisted when they were under eighteen.
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.
William Gilliam graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in April 1945. He qualified as a fighter pilot. William was from New York.