Joseph As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 54,709 black Americans with Joseph as their last name. That represented 54% of the total of 100,959 entries.

This article tracks their numbers in the census since the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Joseph.

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

After The Civil War

The 1870 census was the first survey after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1850 and 1860, only free African Americans were recorded in the census. The many enslaved were omitted.

From 1870 onward, all black Americans were included.

1,073 people named Joseph were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 271 as mixed.

There was a total of 4,928 people with the name.

Joseph In The 1900 And 1940 Census

The mixed category was dropped from the census in 1900, so we just need to look at the black numbers this time.

The 1900 census recorded 3,408 people with the last name Joseph as black within a total of 11,407 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 6,168 people named Joseph as black within a total of 24,906.

Historic Black Figures With The Joseph Surname

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

John Joseph

  • Born: Early 1800s
  • From: Possibly Boston
  • Died: 1858

There is little known about the life of John Joseph before he made history in Australia. He was probably a sailor who left his ship in Australia for the chance of wealth in the goldfields of Victoria, Australia.

But the miners in Victoria were aggrieved over high prospecting fees and brutal policing that enforced payment. Matters came to a head shortly after Joseph’s arrival in a place called Ballarat.

The miners rose in rebellion against the authorities in 1854 and John Joseph threw himself into the affray.

When the authorities regained order, Joseph was the first to be tried with High Treason. The assumption was that a jury would be more likely to convict a black man and there would be little public support for the American.

The opposite happened. He was swiftly acquitted and carried out of the courts in triumph by the gathered crowd.

Other notable gold miners

John Joseph went a long way to find gold. But there were some other notable black gold miners who were part of the gold rush back home:

James Joseph

  • Born: 1935
  • From: Plaisance, Louisiana
  • Died: 2023

James Joseph studied politics at Southern University and divinity at Yale. While teaching at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, he formed an action committee for civil rights. He was beaten by the KKK in 1963 while leading a protest march.

Four U.S. presidents – Carter, Reagan, George Bush Sr, and Clinton – appointed Joseph to positions in their administrations. Clinton made him Ambassador to South Africa in 1995, a year after Nelson Mandela became president of the country.

After Hurricane Katrina, Joseph served as chairman of an organization helping the disaster recovery in Louisiana. He served on many other boards over decades to help African Americans.

Joseph In Black Military Records

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

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 Joseph was in October 1887. Louie Joseph was a Private in the Ninth Cavalry. He was stationed in October 1887 at Rawlings, Wyoming.

One of the later entries was in January 1910. Leon E. Joseph was a Private in the Tenth 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 Joseph

One of the earliest entries for Joseph was for Isaac Joseph from Boston, Massachusetts. He enlisted in February 1862 at Boston when he was aged 20.

The record shows that Isaac was assigned on December 1862 to the ship Aroostook.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Currier. This job was involved with stretching tanned leather.

His naval rank was Landsman.

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

John Joseph

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at New Orleans in December 1863. John was aged 20.

He was assigned to the ship Oneida on June 1864. His naval rank was Ordinary Seaman.

An ordinary seaman in the Navy is an apprentice who serves on the deck.