Two Jameses


Nansemond County, 1815. James Russell /Sen./ with 171 acres, neighboring Thomas Collings and John Smith, of James. The property is described as being 18 miles southwest of Suffolk. James Russell /Jun./ with 25 acres neighboring the estate of Benjamin Cross and Abigail Sumner. The property is 22 miles southwest of Suffolk.

ANOTHER GENEALOGICAL LESSON LEARNED. I am a descendant of Anna Russell, who was born in about 1770 and married Thomas Collins in Gates County, North Carolina, in 1801. Their son Graham Collins (1802-1880) is my ancestor, through his son Hugh Collins (1839-1911), and Hugh’s daughter Lydia Collins (1877-1945).

Lydia’s son, Tom Pittman was my great grandfather, pictured at right.

Like most genealogists, I wanted to know who the father of Anna was. Without deeds and wills, the best I could do was make an educated guess. There were multiple Russells in the area at that time. These included:

  • Charles Russell, Sr., who had owned land at Fort Island in Gates County since the 1740s, that was later deeded to Charles Russell, Jr., in 1769
  • The bespoke Charles Russell, Jr., who removed to Johnston County, North Carolina
  • Mary Russell, who appears in Nansemond County tax lists between 1783 and 1804 with various acreage
  • James Russell, Jr., who appears in Nansemond County tax lists between 1783 and 1815, with various acreage, described as “of Mary” after 1804, presumably her son. Also called “of Charles” in a Gates County deed.
  • Judith Russell, who appears in Nansemond County tax lists between 1783 and 1813 with 75 acres.
  • James Russell, Sr., who first appears in Nansemond County in 1796 with 66 acres. His land borders the land of my ancestor Thomas Collins.
  • George Russell, who appears in Gates County tax lists, the 1786 state census and the 1790 US Federal Census, and who left a will in Gates County in 1791, administered by James Russell, Sr.
  • Priscilla Russell, who left a noncupative will in Gates County in 1788.
  • Charity Russell, who fathered one of James Arline‘s bastard children in 1788.
  • William Russell, named in an apprenticeship bond in 1782
  • Mary Russell, named as the wife of Josiah Lassiter
  • Elizabeth Russell, named as the wife of Henry Hill
  • Sarah Russell, named as the wife of Jeremiah Jordan, left a will in 1796 (and strangely kept her maiden name despite her marriage to Jordan, who is named on the estate record, in which James Robbins, the Chowan Indian head man is also named)

In the past, I had mistakenly thought that there was only one James Russell in the area at this time. Now I can see there were two. This will lead to some reassessment. At the moment, I can hypothesize that Charles Russell, Sr., who owned the properties in Nansemond County and at Fort Island in Gates County, was married to Mary. They had a son named James Russell, also called James Russell, Jr. (of Mary and Charles).

The second James Russell, stylized as James Russell, Sr., was actually the son of the George Russell whose estate he administered in 1791, and whose 25 acres he inherited. He began appearing in tax lists after he inherited the property.

It is possible that George Russell was the brother of Charles Russell, Sr. His small amount of acreage (25 acres) in the vicinity of Bennetts Creek, plus the fact that some of his descendants are described as being “of color” suggests that he might have had some connection to the Chowanoke Indians. I have noted that James Collins and James Russell both appeared in the estate records of James Beasley in 1815.

I think the fact that Thomas Collins’ land bordered the land of James Russell, Sr., in Nansemond, and that Thomas Collins and appeared on the same tax lists as George Russell in Gates County suggests that Anna’s father was probably George Russell, and her older brother was James Russell, Sr. However, as you see, this is merely a guess.

To make it more interesting, when Mary Russell died in 1804, her 85 acres passed to James Russell, Sr., while James Russell Jr., who had been described as “of Mary” and “of Charles” retained his acreage. Obviously, James Russell, Sr., could not have been Mary’s son, if she already had a son named James. This is the best I can do in terms of untangling these relationships. At the same time, I am able to draw a few conclusions.

  1. My Collins and Russell ancestors were living in the Scratch Hall/Bennetts Creek area of Gates County in the 1780s.
  2. My Collins and Russell ancestors migrated from Gates County to Cypress Chapel in Nansemond County beginning in the middle of the 1790s.
  3. My Russell ancestors were somehow related to the families already present in Nansemond County as of 1782.

While several members of the Russell family are listed as being of color in records, I have not yet found a document that establishes their Chowanoke, Nansemond, or Yeopim ancestry. However, a Joseph Russell is listed as a headman on the Mattamuskeet Indian Deeds in Hyde County. It’s possible that they too were a Coastal Algonquian family.

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