Dead Man’s Debts


“The Estate of George Russell, Deceased.” Gates County, North Carolina, 1791.

WHEN GEORGE RUSSELL died in 1791, he owned some people money. A lot of people money. Not too uncommon for North Carolina Estate Records. I had been wondering why I never encountered the Collinses in the Gates County records, but then I realized, they owned no land, and therefore had nothing to loan to anyone else.

But George Russell. When he dies in 1791, his {assumed} son James Russell is appointed administrator of his estate. Other men and women are owed money though. They are: Hardy Cross, James Bethey, Mary Russell, Robert Napier, Benjamin Odom, James Goodman, Dempsey Odom, Arthur Smith, John Hamilton, Richard Oysten {Austin}, Thomas Smith, and Ann Smith. A few names are more difficult to read. These are Thomas Vann {Van?}, William Wyatt {Wyote?}, Thomas Ellen {Ellens?}, and John Simmons {Klemons?}.

Two other names appear in the estate records. George Russell apparently has beehives kept on two other men’s properties. These are Jesse Wiggins and Isaac Smith. James Russell becomes the holder of George’s 25 acres. In 1797, Charles Russell also appears {the name George is crossed out, and Charles is written in its place. Slip?}

So, what can we make out of this?

1. The Russells apparently had a very close relationship with the Smith family. James Russell married Polly Smith, and Charles Russell married Mourning Smith. When George Russell died, Thomas, Ann, and Arthur Smith all lined up to collect what was owed them from the estate. Perhaps George Russell’s wife was also a Smith? If she was, is she in any way connected to the Meherrin Indian James Smith of Hertford County? Both the Vanns and Smiths have connections to the Tuscarora and Meherrin nations.

2. The connection with the later James Russell who is resident in Nansemond County is more obvious. Mary and James Russell both appear on the Nansemond County tax lists in the 1780s and 1790s, and John Hamilton and Jesse Wiggins are neighbors to both the Collinses and Russells in Cypress Chapel District. For example, in 1813 in Nansemond County, shows David Collins with 50 acres – adjoining James Collins, John Hamilton; James Collins with 8 acres – adjoining Jesse Wiggins and David Collins; and Thomas Collins with 75 acres – adjoining James Russell, Sr., and Jesse Wiggins, Jr.

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