The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 27,479 black Americans with Miles as their last name. That represented 32% of the total of 84,942 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Miles in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Miles 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 Miles 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 223 people named Miles who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 107 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 8,682 free citizens named Miles 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.
3,327 people named Miles were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 475 as mixed.
There was a total of 16,698 people with the name.
Miles 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 8,557 people with the last name Miles as black within a total of 29,197 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 10,627 people named Miles as black within a total of 43,821.
Historic Black Figures With The Miles Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Miles as their last name.
- Born: 1824
- From: Revel’s Neck, Somerset County, Maryland
The Underground Railroad was a network of safe houses and travel routes organized by many church and community leaders, civil rights activists, and abolitionists.
Thousands of enslaved people were helped to escape from the South.
Samuel Miles was born into slavery in Maryland. He had a wife in child but was not allowed to see them.
Samuel escaped in 1855 to Canada with the aid of the Philadelphia committee of the Underground Railroad who put him on the train to the North.
Once he reached freedom, he wrote to the Philadelphia committee to arrange for his wife to follow him.
You can read the full account in our excerpt of the letter from Samuel Miles to the Underground Railroad.
- Born: 1838
- From: Pickaway County, Ohio
- Died: 1918
Alexander Miles worked as a barber in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He had a successful barbershop in a quality hotel in Duluth and was the first black member of the local chamber of commerce.
He also sold real estate and was one of the wealthiest African Americans in Minnesota.
Miles was in an elevator with his young daughter when he noticed with concern that the shaft door was open. There was a common problem with people forgetting to close the doors, which was a significant safety hazard.
Miles designed an elastic belt that would fit on the doors and close them automatically. He was granted a patent on the design which is still used today.
- Born: 1934
- From: Hearne, Texas
- Died: 2020
Walter Miles completed his PhD on government in 1962 after serving in Korea. He was an activist in the 1960s against segregation in Texas and North Carolina.
When he joined the faculty of San Diego University, he was the only black professor. Miles focused on research into the U.S. Constitution and the judiciary.
Outside his professorial work, Miles continued his activism as a chair of the local ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). He was renowned for promoting the hiring of African American lecturers and their growth.
Miles In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Miles 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 Miles was in 1867. Joseph Miles was a Corporal in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in 1867 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
One of the later entries was in 1913. John W Miles was a Trumpeter in the Tenth 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 Miles was for Silas Miles from Silver Creek, Mississippi. He enlisted in 1863 at Vicksburg when he was aged 21.
The record shows that Silas was assigned on September 1864 to the ship Judge Torrence.
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.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Philadelphia in 1862. Joseph was aged 17 and was from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
He was assigned to the ship New Ironsides on July 1863.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Waiter. His naval rank was Landsman.
“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.