The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 47,834 black Americans with Hamilton as their last name. That represented 24% of the total of 201,746 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Hamilton in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Hamilton 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 Hamilton 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 421 people named Hamilton who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 152 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 21,826 free citizens named Hamilton 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.
6,129 people named Hamilton were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 997 as mixed.
There was a total of 40,258 people with the name.
Hamilton 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 12,748 people with the last name Hamilton as black within a total of 69,907 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 17,666 people named Hamilton as black within a total of 108,813.
Historic Black Figures With The Hamilton Surname
Here are some notable African American people in history with Hamilton as their surname.
- Born: About 1806
- From: New York or Haiti
- Died: 1875
Jeremiah Hamilton amassed a fortune of several hundred million dollars in New York before the Civil War.
It’s fair to say that Hamilton was a man of sharp business practices. He was caught smuggling counterfeit coins to Haiti in 1828 but managed to escape before he was sentenced in Port-au-Prince to be shot.
The current Haitian authorities don’t hold a grudge. They have a somewhat celebratory article about the absconder on their embassy website!
When the Great Fire of New York in 1835 left many damaged property owners in financial distress, Hamilton swooped in to buy up the land.
This didn’t make him any more popular in the city. His nickname was the Prince of Darkness.
When he died in 1875, obituaries noted that he was the wealthiest African American of the times.
Other wealthy African Americans in the 18th century
Here are some more African Americans who amassed significant wealth before 1900.
Grace Towns Hamilton
- Born: 1907
- From: Atlanta, Georgia
- Died: 1992
Grace Towns’ parents were educated community activists in Atlanta. Grace married Henry Hamilton in 1930, a year after she obtained a master’s in psychology from Ohio State University.
That was where she first experienced segregation. Grace Hamilton led the Atlanta Urban League in its efforts to gain better housing and education for Atlanta’s black communities.
She also launched voter registration drives in the 1940s and 50s. She served on many state and national organizations in the early 1960s.
She was the first black woman to be elected to the Georgia General Assembly in 1966. She focused on electoral reform and voting rights during her near twenty-year tenure.
Other firsts in legislature
If you want to learn about more pioneers in politics, here are a few:
- John Patterson Green, first black Ohio senator
- Gwen Giles, first black woman elected to the Missouri state senate
- Barbara Jordan, first black woman elected to the Texas Senate
- Frederick Madison Roberts, first black representative in the California General Assembly
- John W.E. Thomas, first black representative in the Illinois General Assembly
Hamilton In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Hamilton 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 Hamilton was for Theodore Hamilton from Norfolk, Virigina. He enlisted in June 1861 at New York when he was aged 35.
The record shows that Theodore was assigned on February 1864 to the ship Glaucus.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Confectioner. 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 Great Western/Helena AR in November 1862. Finney was aged 20 and was from Columbia County, Tennessee.
He was assigned to the ship Fearnot on September 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Fieldhand. His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.
“1st Class Boy” was the rank given to young men who enlisted when they were under eighteen.
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 Hamilton was in October 1867. Edward Hamilton was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in October 1867 at Providence, Rhode Island.
One of the later entries was in May 1914. Samuel Hamilton was a Sergeant 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.
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.
John Hamilton graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in May 1943. He qualified as a fighter pilot. John was from Greenwood, Mississippi.