The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 113,170 black Americans with Lee as their last name. That represented 16% of the total of 693,023 entries.
This article tracks their numbers in the census since the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Lee.
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 onwards, all black Americans were included.
14,694 people named Lee were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 2,156 as mixed.
There was a total of 63,225 people with the name.
Lee 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 34,030 people with the last name Lee as black within a total of 124,295 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 47,911 people named Lee as black within a total of 207,736.
Historic Black Figures With The Lee Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Lee as their last name.
- Born: 1783
- From: Cape May, New Jersey
- Died: 1864
Jarena Lee’s parents were free when she was born in Cape May. She started work as a domestic servant at the tender age of seven.
She moved to Philadelphia in her teens where she was enthralled by the preaching of the Rev Richard Allen (founder of the AME church).
Jarena heard voices in her head commanding her to be a preacher. However, Rev. Allen initially refused to allow a woman preacher in his Methodist Church.
She married a pastor named Joseph Lee, but he too was against her preaching. When her husband died six years after their marriage, Jarena threw herself wholly in into her religious cause.
When Rev. Allen heard her preach at a Sunday service, he changed his mind and encouraged her in ministry. Some were against a woman preacher, but Lee travelled far and wide to preach.
When she wrote her memoirs, it was the first published autobiography of a black woman in the U.S.
Jarena was a trailblazer and more women would follow down the same track. Over a hundred years later in 1984, Leontine Kelly became the first African American female bishop in the United Methodist Church.
Other Early Narratives
Here are some more early narratives:
- Tunis Campbell (also born free)
- George Henry
- Harriet Jacobs
- Paul Jennings
- Born: 1848
- From: Charleston, South Carolina
- Died: 1908
Joseph Lee was born into slavery in Charleston. He worked in a bakery in his early life. Eleven years as a steward for the U.S. Coastal Survey expanded his culinary experience.
He moved to Needham, Massachussets, in the 1870s and opened a restaurant. He was so successful, he purchased a lease on a hotel. His guests included Grover Cleveland and Lady Henry Somerset.
Alongside his business acumen, Lee was intensely interested in ways to speed up the kneading of bread. He invented and patented a kneading machine in the mid 1890s.
But his machine was so efficient, his hotel ended up with too much bread. So he invented a machine in 1895 to make breadcrumbs!
Lee’s breadcrumber machines spread across hotels in America and made him a wealthy man. He moved his family to Boston in 1897 where he established a successful catering company.
Other early black inventors include:
Lee In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Lee surname from several different military services.
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 Lee was in December 1866. Henry Lee was a Private in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in December 1866 at St Louis, Missouri.
One of the later entries was in November 2015. George Lee was a Captain 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.
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 Lee was for James Lee from Baltimore, Maryland. He enlisted in November 1861 at New York when he was aged 34.
The record shows that James was assigned on October 1863 to the ship Roebuck.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Porter. 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 Philadelphia in September 1864. Lewis was aged 24 and was from Cape May, New Jersey.
He was assigned to the ship Unadilla on May 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Mariner. His naval rank was Ordinary Seaman.
An ordinary seaman in the Navy is an apprentice who serves on the deck.