Notable historic gravestones: Andrew Russell

In the latest Historic Burying Grounds newsletter, we dove into the history of Andrew Russell.

In section Q in Phipps Street Burying Ground there is one large headstone with this epitaph: In Memory of/Mr. Andrew Russell/A man of color/who died Janry 29, 1814/Aetat. 27. It is uncommon to see the race of the deceased inscribed on the gravestone. It is also rare to find gravestones for Black Bostonians. By doing some genealogical research on Andrew Russell it is possible to find out some interesting things about him.

In a probate document from 1806, Andrew Russell is identified as the son of Domingo Russell, a Black man who lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The 1790 federal census lists Domingo Russell as the head of house living in a household with two “free white males, of 16 years and upwards” and four “all other free people” (according to census terms). Possibly one of those people was Andrew. His mother Rhoda died in 1800, and several sibilings died over a span of a couple decades. In 1806 his father Russell died at the age of 70 from “consumption” or tuberculosis, leaving Andrew an orphan. Sadly this elevated mortality rate was not unusual for this time period.

After the death of his father, the probate records also show that Andrew Russell obtained a legal guardian, Benjamin Lee, who lived in Cambridge at that time. A legal guardian was usually assigned to a minor who owned some financial assets, since minors were not legally able to manage them. The age of majority in Massachusetts at that time was 21. The probate papers indicate that Andrew Russell, age 19, chose his guardian, petitioning the judge to accept Mr. Lee to fill the position. The 1805 will of Jane Lee, the sister-in-law to Benjamin Lee, elucidates this relationship. Her will states that Andrew Russell was the “negro servant now in my family.” She left to him two shares in the United States Bank valued at $500 each. She left this same gift to many people in her will. In 1808, when Andrew turned 21, probate documents show that Benjamin Lee fulfilled his fiducuary duties and returned to Andrew Russell two shares from the United States Bank, dividends on the shares totaling $79.10, and two shares of the Boston Bank worth $223.10 (together).

HBGI russell stone
Andrew Russell’s gravestone in Phipps Street Burying Ground. It was carved by Caleb Lamson, who was part of the well-known gravestone-carving family.

Andrew Russell died in early 1814 at the age of 27. At that time he lived in Charlestown (annexed to Boston in 1874) and worked as a laborer. He wrote his will on January 17, 1814, and died twelve days later on January 29, 1814, of unknown causes. His total estate was valued at $1,056.10 and included six shares of stock from the Union Bank valued at $600, two shares of stock from the Boston Bank valued at $200, $150 worth of promissory notes from people he lent money to, and $64.50 worth of household goods and personal effects. He divided his estate between seven people, six of whom were women. He cashed out the Union Bank shares to be able pay the expenses associated with closing his estate but kept the shares from Boston Bank and gave them to Mrs. Candis Spring, the widow of Mr. John Spring, who lived in Boston. (Candace Spring died in 1833 and was buried in the South End Burying Ground.) Two of his gifts were interest-bearing promissory notes.

In addition to his bequests, his probate documents also give us an interesting view of the costs associated with death at that time. Of his total estate of $1,056. 47, there were costs debited against the estate of $194.37. Perhaps the most pertinent information for this article is the cost of $10 for the cost of two gravestones, at the request of Andrew Russell, from Caleb Lamson, part of the well-known gravestone-carving family. Unfortunately only one of the gravestones survived; presumably the footstone was lost. The top of the large headstone has broken off so we cannot see the design at the top. Luckily all of the epitaph remains. Other specific cemetery-related costs were $8.50 for the construction of a coffin, and another $8.50 to pay the grave digger.

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