The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 155,266 black Americans with Washington as their last name. That represented 88% of the total of 177,386 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Washington in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Washington 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 Washington 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 530 people named Washington who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 193 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 2,073 free citizens named Washington 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.
21,781 people named Washington were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 2,558 as mixed.
There was a total of 26,758 people with the name.
Washington 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 46,979 people with the last name Washington as black within a total of 50,187 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 61,268 people named Washington as black within a total of 69,210.
Historic Black Figures
Here are some notable African American people in history with Washington as a last name.
Booker T Washington
- Born: 1856
- From: Hale’s Ford, Virginia
- Died: 1915
Booker T. Washington was nine when he and his mother were emancipated. He worked in coal mines to pay for school and college.
His teacher and head of the Hampton Institute recommended him to lead the new Tuskegee Institute. Washington built it up into a major industrial school that is now Tuskegee University.
Washington became a major leader who believed that access to education and skills would bring acceptance from white America.
As a moderate who opposed confrontation, he fell out of step with leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois. Yet Washington used his leverage and network to raise funds for over five thousand schools in the South.
His close friends and allies included the prominent church leader William Derrick.
If you want to read more, we have an excerpt about Booker T Washington written by his colleague shortly after his death.
Other pioneering black educators
Here is just a selection of other black educators on this website:
- Born: 1838
- From: Fredericksburg, Virginia
- Died: 1918
John Washington was born into slavery in Virginia. His mother taught him to read and write and he also saw how she tried to escape but was captured several times.
During the Civil War, the Union Army occupied Fredericksburg. John was working as a waiter in the town and he escaped across the Union lines. As a literate man, he got work at the headquarters of General Rufus King.
Washington accompanied Union officers through Fredericksburg and helped identify prominent confederates. The arrests included the notorious spy, Belle Boyd.
After the war, Washington found work in Washington D.C. He was followed there by his wife and mother.
Washington wrote an account of his life called “Memories of the Past”. Although unpublished at the time, the manuscript was edited and published in 2008.
Washington In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Washington 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 Washington was in August 1867. George Washington was a Corporal in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in August 1867 at Fort Riley, Kansas.
One of the later entries was in June 1915. William Washington was a Sergeant 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 Washington was for Isaac Washington from Mathews County, Virginia. He enlisted in August 1861 at Old Point, Virginia when he was aged 31.
The record shows that Isaac was assigned on March 1864 to the ship Young America.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Farmer. 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 New Orleans in January 1865. William was aged 19 and was from Charleston, South Carolina.
He was assigned to the ship Clematis on December 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Carpenter. His naval rank was Wardroom Steward.
The wardroom was the living space of commissioned officers on a ship. The stewards prepared the meals.
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.
Samuel Washington graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in June 1944. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Samuel was from Cleveland, Ohio.
Morris Washington came from Atlantic City, New Jersey. He graduated in November 1944 as a bomber pilot.
You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.