African American Migration

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Beginning Research
Original Records
Compiled Sources
Background Information
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A record of major migrations of African Americans and precipitating events.

American Revolution[edit | edit source]

American slaves migrated to Canada in search of freedom after the American Revolution See: Africans in Canada

Emigration to Canada[edit | edit source]

Underground Railroad[edit | edit source]

Nework to Freedom - National Park Service[edit | edit source]

Reference Sources

State and Local Source

District of Columbia



New Jersey

New York




Archives and Libraries[edit | edit source]

Ohio Historical Society

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Harvard Library

Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Additional Sources

There was a notable community in Nova Scotia. Some of the newly free slaves would intermingle with Canadian Indians, as they often did in the U.S. Don't ignore Canada when looking for your African American ancestors! Check out this site about Harriet Tubman

For more, see: Canada First Nations Genealogy Research Community

Fugitive Slave Laws[edit | edit source]

National Archives Catalog - US District & Circuit Courts Records of Fugitive Slaves Cases

National Archives at New York City

FamilySearch Wiki Coverage Table

FamilySearch Catalog

Runaway Enslaved Advertisments[edit | edit source]

Online Websites


Family History Library Catalog

Emigration to Liberia[edit | edit source]

Liberia History

American Colonization Society Sources

Library of Congress

State Sources

National Archives


Migration within the United States[edit | edit source]

Slave Populations before the Civil War

By 1790, nearly all Africans to be imported to the United States had already arrived. They lived in primarily four states.

  • Virginia—293,000
  • South Carolina—107,000
  • Maryland—103,000
  • North Carolina—101,000
  • No other state had more than 30,000 enslaved people.

Between 1820 and 1860, huge increases in slave population occurred across the South. Slave populations in 1860 are listed below:

  • Virginia—491,000
  • Georgia—462,000
  • Mississippi—437,000
  • Alabama—435,000
  • South Carolina—402,000
  • Louisiana—332,000
  • North Carolina—331,000
  • Tennessee—275,000
  • Kentucky—225,000
  • Texas—183,000
  • Missouri—115,000
  • Arkansas—111,000

Migration after the Civil War
Between 1790 and 1900, 90% of African Americans lived in the South.
By 1960, 50% of African Americans lived in the South.

  • 100,000 African Americans moved to Kansas in late 1870's, early 1880's
  • 500,000 African Americans left the south during WWI (1916-1919)
  • 90,000 to Pennsylvania
  • 73,000 to Illinois
  • 43,000 to Michigan
  • 1 million African Americans left the South in the 1920's
  • 5 million African Americans left the South between 1940-1960
  • During 1970's, African Americans started returning to the South, especially to larger, urban cities.
  • By 1990, 84% of African Americans lived in urban areas.
  • See Field to Factory: Afro-American Migration 1915-1940by Spencer Crew.

Enslaved in the North
By 1800, approximately 37,000 northern blacks were still reported in bondage. By 1830, most northern states had required freeing of slaves although 3,600 people remained in bondage, mostly in New Jersey.

Free Blacks
In 1860, there were 488,000 free blacks or about 10% of total African Americans in the U.S.

  • 46% of free blacks (226,000) lived in North and West
  • 46% lived in upper South (KY, MD, MO, TN, VA, NC, DC)
  • 8% lived in deep South