The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 70,469 black Americans with Watson as their last name. That represented 28% of the total of 252,579 entries.
This article tracks their numbers in the census since the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Watson.
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 onwards, all black Americans were included.
9,194 people named Watson were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 1,151 as mixed.
There was a total of 47,636 people with the name.
Watson 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 18,830 people with the last name Watson as black within a total of 83,488 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 26,680 people named Watson as black within a total of 135,606.
Historic Black Figures With The Watson Surname
Here are some notable African Americans in history with Watson as their last name.
- Born: 1832
- From: Sharpsburg, Maryland
- Died: 1917
As a child, Hilary Watson was enslaved with his mother on a farm near Sharpburg. He worked on the farm and married his wife Christina in 1865.
The couple were freed in 1864 by the abolition of slavery in Maryland. They built a home near the Methodist Church in Sharpsburg.
The couple were heavily involved in with the church and helped run the public school that used the premises. They went on to provide land for a schoolhouse in 1899.
- Born: 1933
- From: Los Angeles, California
Diane Edith Watson’s father was a police officer, and her mother was a postal worker.
She studied education at the University of California and did a masters in school psychology. Watson taught in L.A., France, and Japan, and was also a school psychologist.
She was only the second African American woman to be elected to the Los Angeles board of education. Taking her seat in 1975, she worked hard on desegregating the public schools.
Watson was elected to the California state senate in 1978. She spent twenty years working to help people in poverty. President Clinton appointed her as Ambassador to Micronesia in 1998.
Watson would later be elected to Congress in 2001 after the death of Julian Dixon. She retired from politics in 2011.
Here are some other African American ambassadors:
- Alexander Clark, Ambassador to Liberia in the 1890s
- Carl T. Rowan, Ambassador to Finland in the 1960s
Watson In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Watson 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 Watson was in August 1867. George Watson was a Recruit in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in August 1867 at Fort Riley, Kansas and Memphis, Tennessee.
One of the later entries was in May 1915. Clifton Watson was a Corporal 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 Watson was for Robert Watson from Brooklyn, New York. He enlisted in December 1861 at New York when he was aged 27.
The record shows that Robert was assigned on December 1866 to the ship Shenandoah.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Mariner. His naval rank was Seaman.
A seaman in the Navy is a sailor who is not an officer.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at New York in Waiter/Servant. James was aged 19 and was from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
He was assigned to the ship Estrella on April 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Waiter/Servant. 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. They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.
Dudley Watson graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in May 1943. He qualified as a fighter pilot. Dudley was from Frankfort, Kentucky.
Spann Watson came from Hackensack, New Jersey. He graduated in July 1942 as a fighter pilot.
You can find a full list of graduate pilots in our list of Tuskegee Airmen.