The pioneers of Erie County were proud of their efforts to settle the wilds of what was only newly part of Northwest Pennsylvania, and the Russell family was no different. Captain Nathaniel Williard Russell, son of early settler Hamlin Russell, and grandson of Revolutionary War patriot Nathaniel Russell, of Connecticut, is credited with recording much of the county’s early days. He wrote a series of newspaper articles on the History of Erie County which ran in The (Erie) Gazette from 1870 to 1886. He also co–authored Part II of Warner & Beers’ county history. An index of names from his original manuscript, housed at the Erie County Historical Society’s Library & Archives, was compiled by the Erie Society for Genealogical Research (ESGR) in 2001.That index is in the process of being published, over a number of issues, in the ESGR’s quarterly bulletin, Keystone Kuzzins, wherein, if you sign up to have the issues sent to you digitally, you will be able to search on names.
The impetus for Russell’s work, according to the publishers of Warner & Beers’ 1884 History of Erie County, a death bed conversation between Nathaniel and his ailing father Hamlin, in which the elder man is alleged to have said:1
I have made a great mistake in not keeping, for the good of future generations, a historical record of the advent and progress of the early settlers. Your retentive memory can yet collect them, and put them in a shape that will be of great use to the inhabitants hereafter. Promise me you will do so.
And, so he did, in the form of a weekly column in the Erie Gazette, spanning 1870–1886.2 He also co–authored, with Benjamin Whitman, Part II of Warner & Beers History, dealing with the settlement and development of the county. Nelson also acknowledges his reliance on Nathaniel’s work in his Biographical, Dictionary, and Historical Reference, published in 1896.3
Apart from the fact that, as researchers, we are fortunate there was such a man as Nathaniel Russell, with a passion for history and a wish, much like our own, to preserve it for future generations, we must also take heed: We are the Nathan Russells of our time. As you study the documents made by your ancestors, and diligently record the information within, also task yourself with noting the history of the eras and the context in which your ancestors made those records. It makes a difference. It gives us a better understanding of our origins and heritage and preserves it for those who pick up the work we leave behind, either to carry it on or merely to learn from whence they came.
1. The History of Erie County… (Chicago: Warner & Beers, 1884), iii.
2. See WorldCat’s listing on the newspaper articles at http://www.worldcat.org/title/history-of-erie-county/oclc/31134414&referer=brief_results : accessed May 2015.
3. S.B. Nelson, Biographical, Dictionary, and Historical Reference Book of Erie County, Pennsylvania (Erie: S.B. Nelson, 1896), iii.