Early Russells

AN INTERESTING TIDBIT in an old Gates County deed from around 1800 mentions a “James (of Charles) Russell.” This to me signals that there were two James Russells in the neighborhood at that time. A cursory review of materials — the Vestry Book of the Upper Parish of Nansemond, especially — reveals that there was a Charles Russell in the area from at least the 1740s. There is a deed from John Langston to Charles Russell that awards him 450 acres near Sarum, the site of the old school of Meherrin and Chowan Indians.

1752 March – Upper Parish Vestry Book Nansemond Co VA – Land Processioning (names only), Lemuel RIDDICK, Richard SMITH, John STREATOR, John CROSS, Lemuel RIDDICK, Jr., WILLIAM LANDING, John BEARFIELD. Hugh GOFF, Robert PARKER, James LONG, ADAM HARROD (HARRELL??), Edmund BIRD, Joseph HORTON, Richard, John COLE, John BIRD, Wm EVERAT, Francis PARKER, William PEAL, Moses HORTON, John TAYLOR, Samuel HORTON, Peter Parker, Edward BAKER, Charles RUSSELL, Robert SMITH, John ROGER, William Roger, James ROBERTS, by James Roberds [sic], John Rogers..

And then there is this Chowan Precinct Court Order …

(Court Order issued 1747) William Jones & Isaac Williams, overseers if a road leading from the foot of the causeway thro’ a Pocosin, which runs from the Banks of Chowan River to Sarum,* near the plantation where Robert Rogers formerly lived (1747) viz: Beginning at Charles Russels, from thence a straight course to Langston’s, thence to John Skinner’s thence to Christopher Butler’s, thence to Andrew Hamblet, thence to William Vincent, thence to Thos. Langstone, etc


You can sort of find the area here in the 1733 Moseley Map …

The first Russells lived somewhere between Sarum and the Chowan River.

The first Russells lived somewhere between Sarum and the Chowan River.

There is no evidence that these people were Native Americans. The only evidence we encounter comes in ensuing generations, when some of them are described as colored in various documents. Nor is Russell considered to be a typical Nansemond, Meherrin, or Chowan Indian name. The only community where it is considered an indigenous name is at Mattamuskeet, where by the 1850s, colored Russells and Collinses are found living side by side in the area of the old reservation. There is also no evidence that these early Russells are the progenitors of the later Russells, as this Charles Russell owns 450 acres, and the later Russells had, at most, 25 acres. However, the names are very similar, as are the neighbors. The Russells I descend from had property neighboring Hamilton, Bird, in Nansemond County. It’s a real mystery to me, the evolution of this family.

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