Is Jones An African American Last Name?

There were 548,521 black Americans with Jones as their last name in the 2010 U.S. Census. This was 38% of the total number with that name in the country.

This article looks at:

  • 19th and early 20th-century black census numbers for the name
  • notable African American people named Jones
  • early black military records and how to find them

Jones 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. It was left blank to denote white, b for black, or m for mulatto. The third term is the language of the time. I will use mixed in the rest of this article.

If you are researching your black Jones ancestors in census archives, be sure to search under both categories. Do not rely on the census taker picking the correct choice of category.

1850 Federal Census

There were 4,570 people named Jones who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 1,976 were recorded as mixed.

Because they are in the main federal census, these are free citizens.

There was a total of 116,578 free citizens named Jones that year.

1860 Federal Census

The 1860 federal census recorded 4,576 people named Jones as black, and 2,683 as mixed.

That is out of a total of 146,685 free citizens.

Of course, census-taking would change after the Civil War.

After The Civil War

1865 newly freed family in Richmond, Virginia

The 1870 census was the first after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. At last, all African Americans are included.

Those who were omitted in 1860 because they were enslaved are now in this census. Here are the numbers.

65,799 people named Jones were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 9,388 as mixed.

The increase is clear. The overall total (all Americans) was 246,648.

The 1880 census recorded 92,134 as black and 15,224 as mixed out of a total of 318,171.

Now we jump to the end of the 19th century – or the beginning of the 20th.

Jones In The 1900 And 1940 Census

In 1900, the mixed category was dropped.

However, not all enumerators followed those instructions. I have found a small number of records where “m” was still used in the box for color.

I will focus here on the black numbers.

The 1900 census recorded 145,140 people named Jones as black within a total of 446,127.

There were 210,843 people named Jones recorded in the 1940 census as black within a total of 725,466.

Historic Black Figures

Here are some notable African Americans who had the Jones surname.

Mary Richardson Jones

Born: 1819
Died: 1909
From: Memphis, Tennessee

Mary Richardson was born to free parents in Tennessee and married John Jones in 1841. The couple were abolitionists and moved to Chicago to be part of the growing anti-slavery movement.

They taught themselves to read and write in Chicago and John established a successful tailoring business. Meanwhile, Mary became a church leader and turned her family home into a center for abolitionists.

She used a local church as a refuge for fugitive slaves. She personally escorted them to the trains bound for Canada.

Mary and her husband didn’t support John Brown’s militant uprising, but she gave him and his crew accommodation and clothing on their way to Harpers Ferry.

John Jones was one of the wealthiest businessmen in Chicago, and Mary inherited the wealth when he died in 1879. She engaged in philanthropy and supported younger black activists, businessmen, and artists.

Mary supported Daniel Hale Williams in his efforts to build an integrated hospital to serve black Chicago residents.

She also supported Jane Edna Hunter in the establishment of residences for black women arriving from the South looking for work.

She was president of a women’s organization that supported black soldiers and their families during the civil war. The group was set up by Sattie Douglas, another noted activist.

In her older years, she collaborated with Ida Bell Wells, a younger and more strident activist in Chicago, to form women’s clubs to promote voting rights for women.

William Peel Jones

  • Born: 1834
  • From: a southern state

The owner of William Peel Jones was a grocer who had sold some slaves on the auction-block. William decided that it was time to strike for freedom.

A friend helped him into a box filled with straw and arranged for the box to be delivered by steamboat to Philadelphia.

The passage was difficult for the young fugitive but the arrival was almost worst. His friend had traveled by train to Philadelphia to take the box away.

But when the steamboat officer took the friend to the correct box, the man hidden inside let out a cough!

When I tell you that William became later known as “William Box Peel Jones”, then you can guess that this escape story has a successful ending.

William was helped on his way to sure freedom in Canada by the Philadelphia members of the Underground Railroad. The Railroad was a network of agents and safe houses that helped thousands of slaves escape.

The black abolitionist William Still was a member of the Philadelphia committee. He documented the fugitives that passed through, and later published the accounts in a book in 1872.

You can read the full account in our excerpt of the escape of William “Box” Peel James on the Underground Railroad.


Sophia B. Jones

  • Born: 1857
  • From: Chatham, Ontario, Canada
  • Died :1932

This article is about African Americans, but we want to include one of many black children born in Ontario to parents from the American South who departed for freedom.

Sophia Bethena Jones was born in Chatham, Ontario. Her father was a gunsmith who was able to give his two sons and three daughters a good education.

Sophia’s two sisters became teachers, but Sophia was determined to go into medicine.

She was the first black woman to graduate from the medical school at the University Of Michigan.

It was around this time that Sophia was witness to the marriage of her friend Mollie Graham to Ferdinand Lee Barrett. Mollie was also born in Ontario, and had been the first black woman to graduate from Michigan.

After Sophia Jones graduated in 1885, she joined Spelman College as the first black member of the faculty. Jones ran Spelman’s nursing program.

She would go on to practice as a doctor in St Louis and Kansas City.

Frederick McKinley Jones

  • Born: 1893
  • Died: 1961

Frederick McKinley Jones left school aged 11 and worked in a garage. His natural curiosity and sharp mind led him from cleaning cars to becoming a mechanic

Jones patented over sixty of his mechanical inventions. His refrigeration systems led to the formation of Thermo King, now a global manufacturer.

Other notable African American inventors

Here are some more black inventors from the 19th and twentieth centuries.

Alberta Odell Jones

  • Born: 1930
  • Died: 1965
  • From: Louisville, Kentucky

Alberta Odell Jones graduated from Howard University in 1958 with a degree in law.

She negotiated the first professional fighting contract for Cassius Clay (later Muhammed Ali).

Alberta participated in the March On Washington in 1963 and was a powerful advocate for voter registration in Louisville.

A year after her historic appointment as city attorney in Jefferson County, Jones was murdered. The case is still open.

Jones In Black Military Records

You may be surprised at the amount of genealogy information available from military records.

Here are some examples of the Jones surname from three different military services:

  • Buffalo soldiers
  • Black civil war soldiers
  • 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 entries for Jones was in 1867.

William Jones was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in 1867 at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.

One of the last entries was in 1914. George Jones was a Saddler Sergeant in the Ninth Cavalry that year.

If you want to do your own research, there is a free index of these military records on and

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.

Fortune Jones

One of the earliest entries for the surname concerned Fortune Jones from Newburg, North Carolina. He enlisted in 1861 aged 24.

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

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

James Jones

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted in 1864. James was aged 16 and was from Louisville, Kentucky.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Bricklayer. His naval rank was Coal Heaver.

Coal heavers in the Navy shoveled coal into the furnace in the engine room.

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. They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.

Frank Jones graduated as a Flight Officer from the Tuskegee Institute in 1945. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Frank was from Hyattsville, Maryland.

Hubert Jones came from Institute, West Virginia. He trained as a fighter pilot and graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1943.