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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore


African American families seldom learn any details of their slavery background including even the slave names themselves, but John King has helped one local family learn about some of their family history. The following is written by John and permission has been granted for us to publish it.

"Several former slaves of Robert Craddock of Warren County, Kentucky, moved to Lawrence County, Illinois, in the early 1840s. Robert Craddock was a wealthy, unmarried Revolutionary War veteran, who educated his slaves and freed them upon his death in 1837. Slaves named in his Will received land, the amount based on individual market value. The story of these former slaves revealed itself upon discovering five Certificates of Emancipation in the Lawrence County Deed Records plus additional Court and Deed Records in Warren County. Certificates of Emancipation for Bazil Russell, Casteria Russell, Floriel Russell, Ezekiel Madison Levaugh, and Maria Russell (late Levaugh) are filed in both Lawrence County and in Warren County. The Certificate for James Alexander Russell is only found in Warren County records.

"Our video “An Eagle on His Button—The Story of the African American Civil War Soldiers from Lawrence County Illinois” ( featured Oliver Russell, as an old soldier, remembering earlier days growing up on Allison Prairie before serving with his three brothers in the 28th U.S. Colored Infantry. The Russell brothers—Horace, Oliver, Erasmus, & James-- enlisted in the hope that their fight to end slavery would make things better for themselves and for other African Americans. Their father was James Alexander Russell, who had been Craddock’s slave Alexander only twenty-six years before their enlistments. Their mother was Maria (Levaugh) Russell, who filed a Certificate of Emancipation from Warren County in Lawrence County to prove her free status as a daughter of free persons of color. The slave Floriel was the same as Jane Ann Floriel Russell, who married Ezekiel Madison Levaugh, brother of Maria (Levaugh) Russell. Casteria Russell was the same as Louisa Casteria Russell, who married William H. Burtch in Vincennes in 1844. Floriel was valued at $550 and received 11/23 of a tract of land. Her sister Casteria was valued at $600 and received 12/23 of the same tract of land.

"By 1860, the Burtch’s lived in Lafayette, Indiana, and Casteria Burtch’s nephew Horace Russell lived with them. Both Horace and Oliver Russell enlisted in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, and now we know that they were there because their Aunt Casteria lived there. Ezekiel & Floriel Levaugh’s daughter Caroline married neighbor William S. Day, who fought and died at the Battle of Jones Bridge near Richmond, Virginia, becoming the first member of the 28th USCI to be killed in action. No wonder that Oliver Russell felt sorry for William S. Day’s widow, since she was his double first cousin, a cousin on both his father’s and his mother’s sides of his family. Ezekiel Levaugh was described in his Certificate of Emancipation as “nearly white, or entirely so”. Oliver Russell’s Uncle Ezekiel Levaugh was drafted in November 1864 from Russell Township and served in the all-white Company G, 50th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. He died of disease the next year in Nashville Tennessee.

"Oliver’s Uncle Bazil Russell also farmed in Lawrence County but moved on to Wabash County by 1860 and finally to White County, Illinois, before 1870. Robert Craddock’s four former slaves who moved to Lawrence County had a brother Willis Russell, who inherited Craddock property in Danville, Kentucky, where he operated a school for African American children in the 1840s. Bazil Russell had a son Willis, probably named for his Uncle Willis Russell.

"That the Russell’s received education, freedom, and property from Robert Craddock is an unusual story, different from most slave narratives. Undoubtedly, Oliver Russell grew up in Lawrence County hearing stories about the horrors of slavery, even though his father and close relatives had once belonged to a benevolent master."


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