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, located in a frame house on Green Street. The following information provided by historian Carolyn Bost Crabtree supports this claim. Willis Russell, the slave of Revolutionary War veteran Robert Craddock, was educated at a school that was established on Craddock's land around 1800 by a friend, fellow veteran, who was 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 his slaves, one of whom was Willis Russell who received a house and a portion of Craddock's land in Danville, KY, 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. This would have been around 1837; Craddock's will stipulated that Willis Russell had only a year, from the time of Craddock's death, to claim his property. Willis 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 Russell and his wife Pamelia are listed as mulattoes in the 1850 U.S. Federal Census; Willis is a school teacher and no occupation is listed for his wife Pamelia or their daughter Jane. There are also three boys living with the family and historian Carolyn B. Crabtree suggests that the boys are Willis Russell'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, and 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 (more information at 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.


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: The History of education of Boyle County, Kentucky (thesis)
NKAA Source: Early days in Danville

Related Entries Citing this Entry

NKAA Entry:  African American Schools in Warren County, KY
NKAA Entry:  African American Schools in Boyle County, KY

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Russell, Willis,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed October 28, 2020,

Last modified: 2017-07-19 17:51:26