Erie County (PA) Genealogy
Family Histories & Biographies
The Russells of Belle Valley
Contributed by Susan Smith
Site visitor Susan Smith provided the family history below. It is being posted at this time. Several members of the Russell family settled in Erie County prior to 1800. Any questions or comments concerning this family history should be sent directly to Susan Smith.
The Russells who settled in Erie county had
been in New
five generations. Their emigrant ancestor William, born in
Their home was Winsted, town of Winchester, Litchfield county in northwestern Connecticut. Emigration westward had seriously depleted the population there in the years after the revolution. It was remembered as the time of the Great Exodus. The frontiers of New York state had opened up through the Mohawk valley, easily reached through the Appalachians from northwestern Connecticut and western Massachusetts. As new and improved roads were projected westward along the Mohawk to Utica and beyond, men from Winchester and neighboring towns contracted to build them. The laborers and teamsters, young men and middle-aged farmers, went on a service not unlike a military expedition. Comparing the fertile lands they found to the west with their rocky, unproductive New England soil, spurred them to emigrate and others followed.
Daniel and John were the first to leave home. Daniel Russell may have
been on one of the road building crews. He is said to have been the first
permanent settler in the town of Williamson, Wayne county New York by 1794. John after
finishing his education, went to sea for a time. Then
in 1793 he was in Claremont, New Hampshire as he told his father in a letter dated
In 1796, three Russell brothers left their home in Connecticut for the west. Daniel, then 28 years old, had returned from Williamson to marry Lucy Wright in Feb 1796. In May, John, 26 years old, with Benjamin, 24 years old, started out for Erie Co. Daniel and his wife also went west in 1796 returning to his land in Wayne county New York It is likely they all traveled west together that spring.
Daniel remained in Wayne county the rest of his life. He and Lucy had nine children. She died in 1814 and a year and a half later he married Lucy Aldrich also from Connecticut. Eight more children were born. Daniel died in Williamson in 1849 at 81 years old.
John and Benjamin arrived in
"We are pleased with our situation - are clearing land slowly and expect to sow some wheat. There are many people at Presque Isle, but from various causes this year the settlement will be small. The Connecticut Company are on their reserve only 22 miles beyond us, and all are healthy and in good spirits."
The life of a frontiersman
was hard work and the prospects were not always promising. John was not cut out
to be a successful frontiersman. In 1797,
leaving Benjamin behind to work the land, John is in Virginia embarking on the first voyage
of a seafaring career which was to continue the rest of his life. He again
wrote his father on
“My brother Benjamin has heard nothing of me since I sailed for the West Indies. Poor Lad! How he has fared in that western country, I know not. Had I made a successful voyage it would have laid the foundation of a fortune for him and me too. I have much anxiety for his situation. But my own misfortunes have wellnigh distracted me…."
They seem to have struck a pact whereby Benjamin took care of the land while John would try to gain a fortune for them both by sea. But John never made a fortune at sea. He settled in Bristol, RI where he married Nancy Smith of that city in 1802. He had a varied career as a sea captain in the employ of the De Wolfs, shipping merchants of Bristol. His ship and crew were captured by a French privateer on his first voyage. On another voyage he captained a slave ship which was much to his disliking and never repeated. He lost ships and cargo (part of which he owned) to the French more than once among many other troubles. He spent many years trading in the Caribbean and West Indies but fortune always eluded him. His wife died in 1810 a few months after the birth of their fourth child and only son. In next few years before the War of 1812, with the shipping trade severely hampered by the British, his career prospects were further diminished. At the age of 44, he died in 1814, leaving four small children. His sister Elizabeth, “Betsey” stepped in to care for his family after Nancy’s death and is presumed to have continued after 1814.
In 1802 Hamlin came of age. He left home with a knapsack and walked to join Benjamin in June that year. He bought 150 acres from Benjamin in Millcreek. Hamlin lived and farmed there the rest of his life. In 1811 he married Sarah Norcross, a native of New Jersey who had come a few years earlier. They had six children. Sarah died in 1831 and in 1834 Hamlin married Rachel Cook, younger sister of Giles’ wife Lois.
Russell came of age in Oct 1804 and probably joined his brothers in Erie soon after. He was a member of the Erie Light Infantry when it was organized in 1806.
When the war of 1812 was declared, the company offered their services to
President Madison and they were accepted. They spent the winter of 1812-13 at Buffalo. George died the following summer
Benjamin persevered on the
land in Erie but times were hard especially right before and after
the War of 1812. On
“I need not tell you what Pleasure I received from the unexpected visit of my Brother Benjamin. My Satisfaction was much enhanced on receiving his Letter, when leaving you, in which he informs me that he returns prepared as he hopes to save his farm. I wish you to write me the particulars.”
Writing again to Giles from Bristol,
“this would be no time to sell any, on account of the great scarcity of money, and the peculiar pressure of the times, which is already severely felt in a place situated like this - when corn-meal is scarce at $1.50 per bushel; and flour from $12 to 13 per bbl.; when the common labourer, who would always through the season, have his six dollars every Saturday night for his week's work, and has now probably not earned 10 dollars in the summer; when the crop of onions, which has usually sold for $60,000 in a year is now worth 0…”
For the citizens of Erie, in addition to the “great
scarcity of money, and the peculiar pressure of the times” there was the added
burden of the war at their doorstep. Their village on the southern
June, 1812 - Gen. Kelso ordered Captain Foot to call out his company of infantry for the defense of Erie. (Hamlin Russel volunteered).
6th - On duty. This day the general dismissed our company; so, for the present, myself and a number of my neighbors have volunteered to keep sentry at the head of the peninsula, three by rotation to stand a tour of twenty-four hours; my tour will commence on the eighth instant.
August 25 - Expresses were sent through the county to call out the militia - a number of vessels being seen, apprehensions were entertained that a descent would be made at this place. I went to town, as did all the country; there heard the disagreeable information that General Hull had surrendered himself and army prisoners to the British, together with the post of Detroit. The general voice pronounces Hull a traitor.
July 20, P. M - Our harbor closely blockaded by the British vessels; the militia of this county are ordered out en masse.
December 31 - Thus ends the year 1813, in which the war has been carried on in a manner becoming Democracy; Wilkinson's army is defeated and driven out of Canada, and likely to starve this winter; Fort George is evacuated; the enemy have burned Lewistown and Schlosser, surprised and taken Fort Niagara without the loss of a man, and still retain possession of it. Hurrah for Democracy!
January 1, 1814 - Go to town; there learn that Thursday last the British crossed at Black Rock, drove the militia before them to the village of Buffalo, and then drove them out of the village, which they reduced to ashes. Report says that the enemy, 3,000 strong, are eight miles in advance of Buffalo, on the march for this place; the citizens of Erie are sending off their families and effects as fast as possible. Come home; make preparations to send off my wife and babes, should worst come to worst.
Sunday, 2 - Find that it is not true that the enemy are advancing to this, but in all probability they will be here, or attempt to come, before spring (on the ice); expresses sent off in every direction to call in the militia.
3d - Receive orders from Lieutenant-Colonel J. C. Wallace to appear immediately at, Erie to perform the duties of my office in the regiment.
February 7 - Receive my discharge from my tour and come home, having been engaged thirty-four days, during which I have been at home but seldom, and never but a few hours at a time, and expect now to be ordered out again shortly.
May 18, 1815 - Went to Martin Strong's to the battalion review; 200 or 300 bludgeoniers met; hawed and geed about under as brave officers as ever raised potatoes. Hurrah for the militia of Pennsylvania! [At this early day militiamen practiced with broomsticks, handspikes, etc., the proper weapons often not being obtainable.]
concluded and the peace treaty was ratified in 1815. Recovery was slow and
nature compounded it with a volcanic eruption in
Benjamin saved his farm and prospered but it took a long time. One history says that after settling in 1796 he “went largely into lands, made great improvements on them.” Like other early arrivals he claimed land for speculation. After the war with the influx of new settlers he sold his land on land contract. After his death in 1829 many of these contracts were still outstanding. In settling the estate, those purchasers with outstanding balances continued to make payments to the estate but had to apply to the court to obtain their deeds when the balance was paid - “that no sufficient provision for the performance of the said contract appears to have been made by the decedent in his lifetime. Your petitioners therefore pray the court will be pleased to receive proof of the due execution of the article of agreement in order for the completing of the title.” His personal holdings on the 1819 Millcreek Tax List show him with 200 acres on tract 338, 100 acres on tract 339, 105 acres on the Gore, 3 horses, 3 oxen and 2 cows. This land remained in the family until late in the century.
Benjamin married Maria, daughter of George Buehler, in
1807. They had no children. When his brother John’s
son, John was eleven, he came to live in Millcreek and was adopted by Benjamin and
Maria. Benjamin died
To my "bros. Giles Russell and Hamlin Russell, and to my sister Betsy Russell, ea. $100 "as a small testimony of my esteem."
To Charles Russell, $100.
To Henry Beuhler, Eliasa (sic) Beuhler, William 0. Beuhler, Peter Beuhler, and James R. Beuhler, the ch. of George Beuhler, deceased, I give "what lots are in my possession at the time of my decease, which were formerly the prop'y, of their father," numbering about 30, lying in Boro of Erie, which were sold by sheriff of Erie Co. at suit of Oliver Ormsby.
Income of my real and personal prop'y to be applied, at discretion of my Exrs. to maintenance of my wife Maria Catharine, my sister Mary, and my nephew John Russell, the son of my deceased bro John Russell, "these now constituting my family."
decease of my wife, estate to "be div'd. equally "between my sister Mary and my nephew John, if
they survive her. If my sis. Mary should not survive my wife, her share to be div'd. equally between my 2 bros.
Giles and Hamlin. If my nephew John
should not survive his aunt, his share to be inherited by his 3 sisters (not
Exrs: George A. Elliott, Esqr., of Boro of Erie, and my bro. Hamlin Russell Benjamin Russell (Seal)
His signature sworn by Rufus S. Reed, Judah Colt, and Thomas Wilkins,
Sworn by George A. Elliott, Esqr., and Hamlin Russell,
It wasn’t until 1825 or shortly after that the rest of the Russells moved to Erie. With travel by road difficult, the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 provided an easier means of transporting goods and products from the interior of the country eastward and bringing more people westward. Giles had remained at home caring for his parents after the other brothers had left. Nathaniel died in 1810 and Elizabeth in 1819. Giles and Lois Cook married in 1803 and by 1825 they had a family of nine ranging in age from 21 to 3. The two sisters, Elizabeth “Betsey” and Mary “Polly” who never married, had also remained. They were likely the custodians of John’s children, Elizabeth, Parnell, Nancy and John, after their brother’s death. The girls married and remained in New England. John had moved to Erie and been adopted by Benjamin. With children growing up and their parents gone, the opening of the canal was a spur to pack up and move west. Giles and his sisters settled adjoining Benjamin and Hamlin.
By the 1830’s abolitionism was becoming a major national
movement. Abolitionists were not only arousing the North against the South but
trying also to stir up the slaves to revolt and smuggling them out of the South
by means of the Underground Railroad. The sentiment in Erie
county was known to be anti-slavery. Coming from a
long line of Congregational ministers, Hamlin
and Giles were known to be abolitionists. When the first anti-slavery
society in the county was formed in 1836, they were among its members. Erie
became an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Numerous routes to
Settling along Mill
Creek, the Russells are said to have named the area
I was 21 years of age in the spring preceding & I attended a series of religious meetings held in Erie, Pa, conducted by the Rev Wm. Clark a revivalist of more than ordinary powers; the meeting was held in the Presbyterian Church then as now under the pastoral care of Geo. A. Lyon. I believe that at that time through the mercy of God I experienced a change of heart…
That fall he began attending Grand River Institute at Austinburg, Ohio to prepare for the ministry. He was ordained in 1851 after which he preached in southern and western Wisconsin until retiring in 1892.
After Hamlin died in 1852, only the two sisters Elizabeth and Mary remained of their generation. Mary died in May 1863 and Elizabeth in May 1864. Of the next generation in Erie, the children of Hamlin, Giles and John’s son John, a few remained while others moved further west with the growth of the country.
Those that remained in Erie were:
John Russell b.
Children: Lewis A, b. Aug 7, 1835, d. Jan 9, 1845; Anna, b. Feb 26, 1837, d. July 28, 1846; Benjamin, b. Dec 29, 1839 d. Dec 2, 1851; Charlotte E, b. Feb 3, 1841, d Nov 29, 1841; John Lewis, b. July 6, 1846, married Louise Renner Nov 1876 in Knoxville TN. By 1880 he was living in Brooklyn NY.
Mary Elizabeth Russell, b. March 18, 1805; m. John Cook Millcreek, Erie Co. Children Louisa b. 1841, wife of C. Wood; Giles R b. 1843, a soldier in the Civil War, died of his wounds; John C. b. 1844, a soldier in the Civil War, d. Jan 1870; Mary E b. 1848.
George Stillman Russell, b. March 6, 1812, d. Sept 20, 1893; m. June 3, 1843, Jane Healey from Ashtabula OH. He was a carpenter and lived in Erie all his life. Children: Eugene b. 1844; Giles H. b. 1847; Harriet b. 1849, d. 1852.
George Jacob Russell, b.
James Cochran Russell,
Nathaniel Russell, of Winchester, married,
I. Daniel, b.
II. John Willard, b.
III. Benjamin b.
IV. Giles, b.
V. Elizabeth, b.
VI. Hamlin, b.
VII. George Stillman, b.
VIII. Mary, b.
Daniel Russell, came with his father to Winsted, whence he
emigrated about 1794, to the
John Willard Russell, was a sea captain in the employ of the De Wolfs, of
He settled at Bristol, where he died
I. Elizabeth B., b.
II. Parnell T. b.
III. Nancy Smith, b.
IV. John, see above
Benjamin Russell, emigrated in 1796 from Winsted to Mill creek, Erie
Co., Penn., and married,
Giles Russell lived with
his parents until their death, and removed, in 1825, to Erie Co., Penn., where he died
I. Louisa Lauretta, b. in Winsted, January 9, 1804; m. A. E. Austin, of Austinburg, Ohio; she d. April 5, 1855. They had 4 children.
II. Mary Elizabeth, see above
III. Caroline Matilda, b.
IV. Julia Ann Rhoda, b. July 24, 1809; m. May 7, 1831, David Smith Venango Twp., Erie Co., PA. They lived in Mill creek until 1840 when they moved to Illinois and then Wisconsin. They had 11 children.
V. George Stillman, see above
VI. Sarah Sophia, b.
VII. Giles Willard, b.
VIII. Benjamin Cook, b.
IX. Rev. Edward Bradford, b. in Winsted, July 24, 1822; m. May 25, 1853, Mary Woods; she d. January 27, 1855; and he m. (2d) March 7, 1857, Mary E. Cable. He attended Grand River Institute at Austinburg, Ohio, 1842-4, teaching school winters, ordained in Methodist church, 1851, preached in southern and western Wisconsin until his health failed, 1892, then moved to Great Falls MT. He had 5 children.
Hamlin Russell, removed from Winsted to Erie Co., Penn., in June, 1802, where he was a farmer. He
I. Nathaniel Willard, see above
II. Polly Isabel, b.
III. Nancy Fleming, b.
IV. Benjamin Stillman, b.
V. George Jacob, see above.
VI. James Cochran, see above.
The History of Ancient Wethersfield, Connecticut: comprising the present towns of Wethersfield, Rocky Hill, and Newington : and of Glastonbury prior to its incorporation in 1693, from date of earliest settlement until the present time, Adams, Sherman W. 1836-1898. Stiles, Henry Reed, New York, Grafton Press, 1904
Annals and Family Records of Winchester, Conn.: with exercises of the centennial celebration, on the 16th and 17th days of August 1871, John Boyd, Hartford: Press of Case, Lockwood & Brainard, 1873, 651 pgs.
Wethersfield, CT Vital Records 1634 – 1868, From the Barbour Collection as found at the CT State Library
The Romance of an Old time Shipmaster, edited by Ralph D. Paine, New York. The Outing Publishing Company. 1907 [Written from the letters and journals of Captain John Willard Russell, that were in the possession of his great nephew, Hamlin Russell of Newark, NJ.]
History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, Samuel P. Bates, Warner, Beers & Co.: Chicago, 1884
The History of Erie County, Pennsylvania: from its first settlement, Laura G.Sanford, 1894, 468 pgs.
Nelson’s Biographical Dictionary and Historical Reference Book of Erie County, Pennsylvania, S.B. Nelson, Publisher, Erie, PA, 1896 (Reprinted 1987 for the Erie County Historical Society)
A Twentieth Century History of Erie County, Pennsylvania: a narrative account of its historical progress, its people and its principal interests, John Miller, Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co. 1909, 1710 pgs
The Russell Collection, Erie County Historical Society, a
small collection of papers pertaining to the history and ancestry of the
Russell Family of Belle Valley, Millcreek Township, Erie Co., PA. Taken from
ESGR Keystone Kuzzins
Edward Russell Diary June 1851-Dec 1851, original in possession of his descendants.
This page was last updated on Friday, January 28, 2005 .
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