Turner As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 105,041 black Americans with Turner as their last name. That represented 30% of the total of 348,627 entries.

This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Turner in the last three centuries.

We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.

Turner 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 Turner 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 847 people named Turner who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 333 were recorded as mixed.

Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.

There was a total of 30,225 free citizens named Turner 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.

14,085 people named Turner were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 2,197 as mixed.

There was a total of 60,988 people with the name.

Turner 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 30,780 people with the last name Turner as black within a total of 109,899 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 41,379 people named Turner as black within a total of 182,137.

Historic Black Figures With The Turner Surname

Here are some notable African American people in history.

Nat Turner

  • Born: 1800
  • From: Southampton County, Virginia
  • Died: 1831

Nat Turner’s mother had been transported from Africa to Virginia and he grew up on a plantation owned by the Turner family.

The highly religious young man followed the direction of messages and visions in his head. He was convinced that the solar eclipse in 1831 was the sign to prepare for a violent revolt against slavery.

Nat’s preaching had drawn many fellow slaves to follow his word. He took seven with him to murder Nat’s slave owner and his family.

That was the start of a four-day bloody revolt that saw the violent deaths of over fifty white men, women, and children. However, with only seventy followers, the state militia soon suppressed the rebellion.

Turner had wanted to spread terror and alarm. He got his wish. In the following fortnight, many uninvolved African Americans were killed across the South. Nat was captured a month later and was hanged.

Illustration depicts the capture of Nat Turner

James Milton Turner

  • Born: About 1840
  • From: St Louis, Missouri
  • Died: 1915

James Turner’s father bought the freedom of his wife and son with his earnings as a horse doctor. His parents ensured he was secretly educated when this was illegal in Missouri.

James enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War.

After the war, Turner worked for the Missouri schools administration and established many schools for African Americans. He co-founded with Moses Dickson the institute that became Lincoln University in Jefferson City, and was its principal for many years.

President Ulysses S. Grant sent Turner to Liberia as consul general in 1871 where he lived until 1878. However, he wasn’t a supporter of mass resettlement to the African country.

In later life, he campaigned for the Cherokee freedmen. These were formerly black slaves of the Cherokee Indians.

The freedmen claimed tribal rights and a share of the compensation paid in 1883 by the U.S. Congress for acquiring Cherokee land.

Other pioneering black educators

Here is just a selection of other black educators on this website:

Turner In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Turner surname from three 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 Turner was in October 1867. Horace Turner was a Recruit in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in October 1867 at Baltimore, Maryland.

One of the later entries was in January 1914. John Turner was a Wagoner 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.

John Turner

One of the earliest entries for Turner was for John Turner from Snow Hill, North Carolina. He enlisted in October 1862 at New Orleans when he was aged 30.

The record shows that John was assigned on September 1862 to the ship Hollyhock.

His occupation before enlisting was as a turpentine maker. His naval rank was Coal Heaver.

Coal heavers in the Navy shoveled coal into the furnace in the engine room.

Samuel Turner

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Brandywine/Hampton Roads in June 1863. Samuel was aged 26 and was from Baltimore, Maryland.

He was assigned to the ship Squando on July 1865.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Laborer. 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. 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.

Andrew Turner graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in October 1942. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Andrew was from Washington, D.C..

John Turner came from Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated in June 1944 as a bomber pilot.

You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.