Willis Russell House

Historical Marker #2386 notes the location of the Willis Russell Memorial Cabin in Danville. Russell, a free man of color who owned a house across the street, now gone, taught African American children during the mid-nineteenth century.

During the antebellum years, many slave states enacted laws that prevented African American slaves from learning how to read and write. Kentucky, however, never did. Allowing slaves to learn allowed some--especially those who eventually received their freedom--to attain at least a rudimentary education and to have a distinct advantage.

Virginia Revolutionary War veteran and landowner Robert Craddock moved to Kentucky and built a home known as the "Hermitage" in what is now Warren County. Craddock, who believed in education, owned a large personal library and was well-read on the philosophers of the Revolutionary era. He also believed that his slaves should be educated.

Around the turn of the nineteenth century, Craddock invited his close friend Peter Tardiveau to the Hermitage. Tardiveau, a French veteran of the Revolutionary War, had recently experienced a business failure. Like Craddock, Tardiveau was a learned man. He was also noted for speaking seven different languages. Once at the Hermitage, Tardiveau began to teach Craddock’s slaves. One of Tardiveau's enslaved students was Willis Russell.

When Craddock died in 1837, his will stipulated that Russell be freed. The will also gave Russell land and a house in Danville, as long as Russell claimed the property within one year of Craddock's death. Therefore, Russell moved to Danville, obtained the land and house, and used his education to teach African American children there.

The 1850 United States Census lists Russell as a 47-year-old biracial teacher who had $1,500 in real estate. Also listed in the household were Russell's wife, Pamelia, daughter Jane, and three young men who were probably students. Apparently, Russell lived the rest of his life in Danville, where records indicate that he died on February 10, 1852.

Images

Boyle County Courthouse, Danville

Boyle County Courthouse, Danville

The first Boyle County Courthouse was built in 1842 and was destroyed by fire in 1860. The courthouse shown here was completed in 1862. Willis Russell, being a free man of color, would have conducted business in the original courthouse. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

African American School, Danville

African American School, Danville

This early twentieth century postcard shows the public school that was eventually erected for African American children in Danville. Willis Russell, who lived in Danville in the 1850s, was an early African American educator. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Dennis Doram Property Deed, Danville

Dennis Doram Property Deed, Danville

Boyle County and Danville was home to a number of free people of color in the 1850s, including Dennis Doram, who was the purchaser of property listed in this deed from the 1830s. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Danville businessman Dennis Doram

Danville businessman Dennis Doram

Dennis Doram, pictured here, was a wealthy free man of color from Danville. Doram was born a slave, but was educated and emancipated as a young man. He went on to run several successful businesses, owned land, and helped found Caldwell School for Women in Danville. One of Doram's sons fought in the Civil War and another served as a "Buffalo Soldier" during the Indian Wars. This portrait of Doram, and one of his wife, are both on display at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort. Courtesy the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Tim Talbott, “Willis Russell House,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed July 27, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/166.

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