Murphy As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 35,560 black Americans with Murphy as their last name. That represented 12% of the total of 308,417 entries.

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

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.

3,595 people named Murphy were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 541 as mixed.

There was a total of 83,209 people with the name.

Murphy 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 7,799 people with the last name Murphy as black within a total of 130,967 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 12,772 people named Murphy as black within a total of 184,942.

Historic Black Figures With The Murphy Surname

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

John Henry Murphy

  • Born: 1840
  • From: Baltimore, Maryland
  • Died: 1922

John Henry Murphy was born enslaved in Maryland. During the Civil War, he joined the Union Army and served in a black infantry regiment. After the war, he worked in the printing department of a black church newspaper, the Afro-American.

An active member of the Bethel AME Church, Murphy also printed its church newspaper. His wife inherited land from her father, and they used it to buy the Afro-American and its printing presses. Murphy bought a third black newspaper and merged the three together.

Murphy built his newspaper, the Baltimore Afro-American, into a key part of the black community in Baltimore in the late 19th and early 20th century.

His son Carl took over the paper when John Henry died. John’s daughter was Vashti Murphy McKenzie, the first woman bishop in the AME.

John Henry’s great-grandson, Jake Oliver, took over the newspaper in the 1980s (with his cousin Frances Murphy Draper).

Other Black Newspaper Publishers

Here are some other early newspaper publishers:

Isaac Murphy

  • Born: 1861
  • From: Clark County, Kentucky
  • Died: 1896

Isaac Murphy was born enslaved in Kentucky. His father escaped and enlisted with Union’s Colored Troops and died at the end of the Civil War. The 14-year-old Isaac and his mother moved into the house of a family friend called Eli Jordan. Eli was a renowned horse trainer and encouraged Isaac in horse riding.

The young Murphy embarked on a racing career that saw him win three Kentucky Derbies – 1884, 1890, and 1891. His most famous victory was at Sheepshead Bay in 1890 when he finished in a dead-heat against his major white rival, Snapper Garrison.

When Murphy died young of a heart attack in 1896, he was one of the most renowned black sports stars of his generation.

Murphy In Black Military Records

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

  • Buffalo soldiers
  • Black civil war sailors
  • 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 military entries for Murphy was in July 1867. Joseph Murphy was a Private in the U.S. Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in July 1867 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

One of the later entries was in December 1914. Eugene L. Murphy was a Private in the U.S. Ninth 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.

William Murphy

One of the earliest entries for Murphy was for William Murphy from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in December 12 1861 at Boston when he was aged 28.

The record shows that William was assigned on April 1 1865 to the ship Onward.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Cook/Laborer. His naval rank was Ordinary Seaman.

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

George Murphy

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at New York in February 5 1862. George was aged 26 and was from Washington, District of Columbia.

He was assigned to the ship on January 1 1900.

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

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

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.

David Murphy graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in October 1944. He qualified as a bomber pilot. David was from Whiteville, North Carolina.