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Original owner of Willis Russel house supported education

Looking Back

May 06, 2011|By BRENDA S. EDWARDS
  • Willis Russell house still stand on E. Walnut Street, near Constitution Square in Danville, Ky.
Photo by Brenda Edwards

Editor's note: Information in this article was researched by  Carolyn Bost Crabtree, 2410 Chestnut Grove, Parksville, KY 40464.

Lt. Robert Edward Craddock, who owned 9,000 acres across Kentucky in the late 1700s and early 1800s, was one of the owners of Danville's Grayson's Tavern which currently serves as offices for the local tourism  organization.
 He also owned the Willis Russell House, a log structure which may have been built as early as 1794 or earlier and still stands just southeast of the tavern.
Transactions on Aug. 25, 1894, by Craddock and Philip Yeiser, both of Mercer County, show that each man sold or traded two pieces of property for 120 pounds of currency. Yeiser bought 2,500 acres in Mason County, then Bourbon County, from Craddock. Witnesses for the deed were Christopher Greenup, Daniel McIlroy, Samuel Irvin and John Bugler. Craddock purchased “the tract of land he now dwells upon adjoining the town of Danville in Mercer County being the same he (Yeiser) purchased from a certain John Crow containing about 50 acres ... with all buildings, improvements, advantages and appurtenances.”
Craddock purchased Grayson's Tavern from Benjamin Grayson in September 1787 for 300 pounds and made the property his home. He may have purchased the five acres with the log structure from Yeiser.

Craddock owned fortune in land

Craddock served in the Revolutionary War, and is listed on a roster of officers of the Virginia Line, who got land bounties in Kentucky. Under the Act of May 15, 1828, Craddock got a $320 pension in Warren County, Ky., where he was living on a 1,4000-acre property called Hermitage.
In the pension application, Craddock stated he served as a lieutenant with the 4th Regiment of the Virginia Line. After the war, Craddock made a fortune by buying military land grants from men who did not want to relocate to Kentucky. He resold much of his land, but kept several sections that were listed in his will in 1837.
Among the properties given to Craddock's heirs were a building lot in Danville and a 509-acre plot along the Rolling Fork in Casey County, which was  given to his slave, Willis Russell; the 1,4000-acre Hermitage plantation in Bowling Green; 1,030 acres in Tennessee given to his slave, George; land in Ohio County and land in Logan County, including part of the town of Russellville; and other land. At one point, Craddock owned 9,000 acres. He never married and used his will as a way to emancipate and provide for his slaves, and to provide education for poor children in Warren County.

Craddock died in Bowling Green

    When Craddock died in Bowling Green between March and April 1837, the first two sections of his eight-page will, (recorded in Warren County, Will Book D, pp.106-113) emancipated his slaves, including Willis Russell.
In Section Five, the will deeds to Willis Russell and his heirs part of Craddock’s lot in the town of Danville that includes a home and outhouse.
Craddock also deeded Russell 509 acres of land on the waters of the Rolling Fork River.  
Craddock instructed Russell to leave the Hermitage within one year of Craddock’s death in order to claim his Kentucky land. Stipulations were, if Russell did not relocate to Danville, the Danville and Rolling Fork properties would go to other slaves that Craddock had freed.  
According to historian Calvin Fackler in his book “Early Days in Danville,” Russell came to Danville and started a school for black children in the house.  

Money was left for education

Education was an important interest of Craddock and after taking care of his slaves, he left three-fourths of the remainder of his estate, which was considerable, in the hands of a man named Joseph R. Underwood.   The will instructed Underwood to use the money for the education of poor children in Warren County.  
Underwood was to be unrestricted in his authority and discretion in carrying out the wishes of Craddock.
 According to Collin’s “History of Kentucky, Vol. 1,” in 1839, Underwood was given authority by the Kentucky State Legislature to make a permanent loan to the town of Bowling Green from the Robert Craddock Fund.
The town agreed to pay six percent interest forever to the fund and build two schools with the money from the loan. In 1846, the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky enacted a law that authorized Joseph R. Underwood to organize a permanent Board of Trustees to manage that portion of the Craddock estate and gave the endowment the official name “Craddock Fund.”

Russell was a teacher

 Willis Russell is listed in the 1840 Mercer County census with a free black woman, presumably his wife, Pamelia. Both were ages 24-35 and listed as free people of color.
In the 1850 Boyle County census, Willis and his family are listed as living in District 2. He was 47 years old, born in Kentucky and listed as a teacher. His wife, Pamelia, 53, a daughter, Jane, 16, and three boys, William Easton, 11, Lewis Thompson, 8, and Lewis Burce, 12,  are also listed with the Russell household. The boys may have been students of Willis Russell.  
In October 1847, Pamelia, wife of Willis Russell and free woman of color, filed for divorce from her husband Willis. She stated that after a two-week visit with her mother in Louisville “she returned home, and to her great surprise found that the defendant had rented out her residence to a white family.” He had left their possessions (furniture and clothing) in charge of the family.  
Pamelia charged that the family would not let her collect her possessions. In the statements, she also says that Russell held “about $5,000 worth of property,” consisting of a house and lot in Danville, worth $1,500; land in Casey County worth $2,000; and other property worth $1,500.
 Pamelia was seeking alimony and support from Willis. Five people gave depositions wherein they testified that they had lived with the Russell family or had known them for a long period of time.
 The case was dismissed.  

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