From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Russell, Willis

(born: 1803  -  died: 1852) According to William F. Russell's thesis, The History of Education of Boyle County, pp. 217-221, Willis Russell taught the first colored school in Danville, KY, located in a frame house on Green Street. The following information provided by historian Carolyn Bost Crabtree supports this claim.

Willis Russell, enslaved by Revolutionary War veteran Robert Craddock, was educated at a school established on Craddock's land around 1800 by a friend and fellow veteran, a Frenchman named Peter Tardiveau. When Craddock died in 1837, his will (recorded in Will Book D, pp. 106-113, Bowling Green, KY, County Clerks Office) emancipated those he enslaved, one of whom was Russell, who received a house and a portion of Craddock's land in Danville and land along the Rolling Fork River.

According to author C. Fackler in his book Early Days in Danville, p. 232, Willis Russell came to Danville and started a school in his house for colored children around 1837; Craddock's will stipulated that Willis Russell had only a year from the time of Craddock's death to claim his property.

Russell and one other adult (both free) are listed in the same household in the 1840 U.S. Federal Census of Danville in Mercer County, KY [Boyle County was not formed until 1842].

Willis and his wife Pamelia are listed as mulattoes in the 1850 U.S. Federal Census; Willis is a school teacher. No occupation is listed for his wife Pamelia or their daughter Jane. There are also three boys living with the family. Historian Carolyn B. Crabtree suggests that the boys are Willis's students.

Willis Russell died February 10, 1852 [source: Kentucky Death Records, Boyle County, 1852, pp. 1-2]. The Willis Russell House is located at 204 East Walnut Street; in February 2012 an open house event was held at the renovated home. On November 19, 2012, the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) dedicated a historical marker for the Willis Russell House.

For more information about Willis Russell, contact Carolyn B. Crabtree at the Boyle County Genealogical Association. See also the NKAA entry for African American Schools in Boyle County, KY.

Additional information: In 1850, Willis F. Russell lived among several families of free African Americans who owned their homes [source: 1850 U.S. Federal Census]. The head of the families were men who were brick masons, stonemasons, and wagoners.

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Russell, Willis,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 16, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-08-22 17:24:27