Tuesday, May 24, 2016

William Russell

Perhaps my most interesting ancestor is Major William Russell.  He was born about 1762 in North Carolina.  The Russells and the Bean(e) family were some of the first white settlers in Tennessee.  (Russell Bean was the first white child born in Tennessee.)  William Russell's cabin in Cowan, TN served as the county courthouse for a time of Franklin County, TN.  William served under General Andrew Jackson in the Creek Indian War and the War of 1812, as the leader of a "Company of Mounted Spies" and also as Jackson's chief of staff.  He was involved in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, leading a charge on the fortifications there.  Several sources say that Russell chose to settle in what is now Franklin County, AL after passing through the area on the way to the Battle of New Orleans.  [His military records mention service near Pensacola so maybe it was en route to Florida instead.]  It became known as Russell's Valley, and the town of Russellville is named for him.  I have a copy of a letter from Andrew Jackson [to his son I believe] commending his service and remembering "the Russells and the Beans".  One of the men who served under William Russell was none other than Davy Crockett, who mentions him and his son George in his autobiography.  Davy picked George Russell as one of his scouting party.  One of his other men disputed the choice of the young Russell, saying he didn't even have a beard.  Crockett replied that if beards were the measure of a man, he'd be better off with a billy goat.  George Russell is the basis for the character Georgie in the Disney TV series about Davy Crockett.

I had known about most of this for years, but a few years ago, a distant cousin Janelle Williams found out about a gun which was said to belong to William Russell.

Author: Jewel D. Scarborough Title: Southern Kith and Kin Page: p. 237
"The Burlesons, famous in Texas history, were not only friends and neighbors in Tennessee, but continued their friendship in North Alabama, where both families settled after leaving Tennessee. There is a story in the family that Rufus Burleson of Texas was baptized into the Baptist church by George Daniel Russell, grandson of Major William, and that as a token of his friendship presented his friend his grandfather's gun, used in the War of 1812. Though it was reported that the gun was given to the Baylor University Museum, or to the Archives at the Alamo, no record of it has been found."

She managed to track this down in the Alamo collection and went to see it.  This is how their records described it. Author: The Alamo Title: The Alamo Archives Publication: Location: 300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, Texas 78299; Note: The Alamo 300 Alamo Plaza P.O. Box 2599 San Antonio, Texas 78299 Dr. Richard Bruce Winders Historian and Curator Tel: 210-225-4391 ext 27 [?] Fax: 210-229-1343 [?] E-Mail: bwinders@thealamo.org Page: the Long Barricks of the Alamo Archives adjacent to the Davy Crockett Room, Case #G-6 Text: 52 cal Peacemaker property description. Item Name: Percussion Rifle Caliber: .52 Barrel Length: 40" octagon O.A. Length: 56" to heel of butt Serial #: None Type Action: Single shot, side lock Alterations, Accessories: Wooden ramrod Sights: Blade front, open fixed rear Condition: Good Description: Inlaid silver plate inscription on barrel flat reads, "Maj. Russels, old gun. Presented by J.B. to Joseph Burlesson of Texas, 1839." Half-stock, brass patch box, iron ramrod thimbles. Double set trigger. All iron mounts. History: Old case card states, "Used in Texas Revolution, the Mexican War adn the War Between the States." No authenticating information found. Old case card lists as G-6. Remarks: None Donor: Unknown [handwritten: Joseph E. Burleson III]. Cased in the Long Barracks Case #G-6 The Alamo 300 Alamo Plaza P.O. Box 2599 San Antonio, Texas 78299 Dr. Richard Bruce Winders Historian and Curator Tel: 210-225-4391 ext 27 [?] Fax: 210-229-1343 [?] E-Mail: bwinders@thealamo.org

Last month, I was in Austin and I made a special trip over to the Alamo and arranged to see the gun.  I was able to talk to the curator, Dr. Winders, who pointed out features like the set trigger and where it had been converted from flintlock to percussion.  It is built in the style called a Pennsylvania Long Rifle, which was common in the east at the time.  (Rifles got shorter in the west when they were carried on horseback more often.)  Based on the style, Dr. Winders thought it was likely from around 1830 and not from the War of 1812.  (Major Russell died in 1825 which is not too much of a stretch from 1830.)  The rifle does have an inscription added in 1839 which names it as Major Russell's old gun.  Interestingly, the Bean family was known for including several gunsmiths so it could possibly be a Bean Rifle.  I was able to hold the rifle and examine it.  It was quite interesting to hold something that belonged to my 6th-great grandfather.

As a curious aside, several items in the Alamo collection were donated by an English collector, none other than Phil Collins.  I went in his shop across the street that had a diorama of the Alamo and watched a sound and light presentation narrated by Phil.

It is unknown who Russell's parents were, or the name of his wife (possibly a Bean).  (This is not helped because there were several William Russells at the time who were active in the army.)

Major Russell is buried near Russellville in Denton Hollow Cemetery.  (This link has a picture of his original grave and the military marker added later.)

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