Willis Russell House

Historical Marker #2386 notes the location of the Willis Russell House in Danville. Russell, a free man of color who lived in the house, taught African American children during the mid-nineteenth century.

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 the men and women he enslaved should be educated. During the antebellum years, many states enacted laws that prevented enslaved Africans from learning how to read and write. Kentucky, however, never did.

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.

The Willis Russell House Historical Marker was dedicated on November 19, 2012. The marker's text reads:

Willis Russell HOUSE
Willis Russell, a well-educated &
emancipated slave of Rev. War
captain Robert Craddock, relocated
from Warren Co., Ky. to Danville
around April 1838. He taught
black children in this pre-1795
log home that he inherited when
Capt. Craddock died in 1837. OVER

Russell was educated at the home
of Robert Craddock by French Rev.
War soldier Peter Tardiveau, who
spoke seven languages & interpreted
political matters for Gen. George
Rogers Clark. Both Craddock and
Tardiveau were members of the
Political Club that petitioned for
Kentucky statehood. OVER.