The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 40,270 black Americans with Matthews as their last name. That represented 31% of the total of 131,303 entries.
This article tracks their numbers in the census since the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Matthews.
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.
1,968 people named Matthews were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 326 as mixed.
There was a total of 12,309 people with the name.
Matthews 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 5,029 people with the last name Matthews as black within a total of 25,508 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 11,172 people named Matthews as black within a total of 57,267.
Historic Black Figures With The Matthews Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Matthews as their last name.
- Born: 1844
- From: New Haven, Connecticut
- Died: 1930
James Matthews grew up in Albany. A bright student, he entered a prestigious boys’ prep school on a scholarship despite objections. He went on to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1870.
Matthews established a legal practice in Albany and became active in politics. He was unusual amongst African Americans at the time in terms of switching his political allegiance to the Republican Party.
He was elected as Judge of Albany’s Recorder’s Court in 1895 and served until the Republicans were able to oust him four years later. During his tenure, he was the highest-ranking African American in judicial circles.
- Born: 1861
- From: Fort Valley, Georgia
- Died: 1907
Victoria Smith was born enslaved in Georgia. Her mother escaped to New York and started a legal battle to obtain her children. The young Victoria worked as a domestic servant but her employer let her read the books in the house library. She married William Matthews when she was eighteen.
Victoria Matthews started working as a journalist for the Washington Bee in 1887. She organized a dinner in 1892 to celebrate Ida B. Wells’ anti-lynching campaign and later became chairman of the National Association of Colored Women.
When her teenage son died, Matthews threw herself into helping the black community. She set up a safe house for young women arriving to the city and provided training in dressmaking and other domestic work.
Matthews In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Matthews 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 Matthews was in August 1867. Pilar Matthews was a Recruit in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in August 1867 at Fort Riley (Kansas) and Memphis, Tennessee.
One of the later entries was in January 1915. Oscar Matthews was a Private 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 Matthews was for Henry Matthews from Providence, Rhode Island. He enlisted in February 18 1862 at Boston when he was aged 33.
The record shows that Henry was assigned on February 1 1864 to the ship Constellation.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Barber. 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 Off Wilmington NC in June 24 1862. Abram was aged 20 and was from Little River, South Carolina.
He was assigned to the ship Mount Vernon on March 31 1863.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Farmhand. 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. They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.
Charles Matthews graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in March 1946. He qualified as a bomber pilot. Charles was from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Samuel Matthews came from Birmingham, Alabama. He graduated in September 1944 as a fighter pilot.
You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.