The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 87,370 black Americans with Richardson as their last name. That represented 34% of the total of 259,798 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Richardson in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Richardson 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 Richardson 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 817 people named Richardson who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 414 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 25,931 free citizens named Richardson 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.
9,368 people named Richardson were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 1,540 as mixed.
There was a total of 47,160 people with the name.
Richardson 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 21,288 people named Richardson as black within a total of 80,341 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 31,877 people named Richardson as black within a total of 129,765.
Historic Black Figures
Here are some notable African American people in history with Richardson as their last name.
Mary Jane Richardson
- Born: 1819
- From: Memphis, Tennessee
- Died: 1909
Mary Jane Richardson was born in Mississippi to free parents.
She married John Jones, a free man, in 1841 and moved to Chicago in 1845. On the way, they were arrested under suspicion of being runaway slaves but managed to reach the city.
Mary became a leader in the local African Episcopal Church and was key in turning it into a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Her family home became a safe house for fugitives whom she personally escorted onto trains bound for Canada.
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.
Catherine Harris was another wife of a successful businessman who turned their home into a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Gloria Hayes Richardson
- Born: 1922
- From: Baltimore, Maryland
- Died: 2021
Gloria (Hayes) Richardson graduated in 1942 with a degree in sociology from Howard University.
She was active in protests against segregation at drug stores and restaurants in Washington D.C. She was arrested three times.
While running a family business in Cambridge, Maryland, she became a prominent civil rights leader in the local community.
Richardson was more radical than Martin Luther King and was at odds at times with other activists. But she blazed a path for subsequent female leaders in the movement.
Richardson In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research.
Here are examples of the Richardson 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 Richardson was in 1867.
William Richardson was a Recruit in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in 1867 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
One of the later entries was in 1914. James Richardson 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 Richardson was for Cornelius Richardson from Richmond, Virginia. He enlisted in 1861 aged 19.
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.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted in 1865. Charles was aged 21 and was from New York.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Barber. His naval rank was Seaman.
A seaman in the Navy is a sailor who is not an officer.
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. The photograph above (from the Library of Congress) shows a class in session.
They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.
Virgil Richardson graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in 1943. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Virgil was from the Bronx, New York.
Eugene Richardson came from Camden, New Jersey. He trained as a fighter pilot and graduated in 1945.
You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.