The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 75,981 black Americans with Simmons as their last name. That represented 36% of the total of 210,182 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Simmons in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Simmons 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 Simmons 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 340 people named Simmons who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 216 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 16,224 free citizens named Simmons 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.
7,462 people named Simmons were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 915 as mixed.
There was a total of 31,220 people with the name.
Simmons 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 16,750 people named Simmons as black within a total of 56,548 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 26,935 people named Simmons as black within a total of 100,091.
Historic Black Figures With The Simmons Surname
Here are some notable African American people in history.
- Born: 1895
- From: Middletown, Delaware
- Died: 2006
As a young man, Silas Simmons was a talented left-handed pitcher and outfielder in the early black baseball leagues. He played for a semi-pro club in Philadelphia that became the Homestead Grays, one of the big teams of the era.
He wasn’t a Hall-Of-Famer but there is something more remarkable about Silas. He was born in the 19th century and died in the 21st.
A few weeks before he died, he celebrated his 111th birthday. Nearly 40 former players from the Negro Leagues arrived to celebrate.
The baseball color line was firmly established in the late 19th century to bar black players from major and minor league baseball.
Several black leagues were formed with professional and semi-professional clubs. Some of the outstanding players were the best of their generation, regardless of color.
The color line was eventually broken by Jackie Robinson in 1945.
Other great players from the early black leagues
Here are more outstanding players and/or coaches from the first black professional leagues:
- Born: 1928
- From: Charleston, South Carolina
- Died: 2021
When Lucille Simmons graduated high school in 1944, she and her class sought to desegregate the College of Charleston. She continued her activism through working to integrate college organizations across South Carolina.
She married the Reverend Benjamin Whipper and became heavily involved in community politics.
When she was elected to South Carolina’s House of Representatives in 1986, she became Charleston’s first black woman legislator.
Simmons In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research.
Here are examples of the Simmons 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 Simmons was in August 1867.
Robert Simmons was a Recruit in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in August 1867 at Fort Riley.
One of the later entries was in June 1915. Thomas Simmons was a Farrier 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 Simmons was for Henry Simmons from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in July 1861 aged 28.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Seaman. His naval rank was Ordinary Seaman.
An ordinary seaman in the Navy is an apprentice who serves on the deck.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted in January 1864. Joseph was aged 21 and was from Norfolk, Virginia.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Blacksmith. His naval rank was Landsman.
“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.
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.
Paul Simmons graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in November 1943. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Paul was from Detroit, Michigan.
Donehue Simmons came from Chicago, Illinois. He graduated in January 1946 as a bomber pilot.
You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.