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The Russ (or Rust) Family


The Russ (also Rust) family can be documented to the 1700s with the births of George Russ circa 1790[1] and Joe Rust circa 1793. [2]  Both were listed in Oatlands’ owner George Carter’s will, which was written in 1841. Joe Rust, his wife and children were willed to Carter’s wife Elizabeth, and Joe Rust was one of only five enslaved people who were recognized by last name.[3]  There were an enslaved man named George and an enslaved woman named Betsy (and her unnamed children) listed in Carter’s will, and they are believed to be George and Betsy Russ/Rust.

George Russ died on 31 December 1855 and, as legally required, his death was recorded at the Loudoun County Courthouse. According to the death record, George was born in 1790 in Westmoreland (probably Westmoreland County) to Abby Russ. His wife’s name was Betsy and George Russ died at Oatlands Farm in Loudoun County, Virginia. It is not known how he was related to Joe but they could have been brothers, given the closeness of their ages.

The 1870 Federal Census was the first time the formerly enslaved were recorded by full name and with personal details, such as age and whether they could read or write. Joseph Russ, age 77, was living in a household with Eliza Russ (28) and Alfred Russ (37).  The two younger people could have been Joseph’s children or grandchildren, his son or grandson and wife, or other Russ/Rust relatives. 

Listed in the same dwelling as a separate family were Daniel (44) and Eliza Russ (26) and their children.[4]  Considering Daniel’s age, he could have been Joseph’s son or grandson.

Living next to Joseph were James (59) and Susan Russ (48) and their family.[5]  Again, the relationship between Joseph and James is not yet known but they could have been brothers.

One of Daniel and Eliza’s children was George Henry, born into slavery in 1860. When he was 21 years-old, he married Frances Moton, daughter of Eve Moton.  Both Frances and Eve had been enslaved by the Carters and lived at Elizabeth Carter’s Bellefield Plantation during and after the Civil War.[6]  When Benjamin Harrison was elected president in 1889, African Americans hoped for fairer treatment from their government and actively endorsed particular men for cabinet positions. George H. Russ was a member of the colored Republicans of the Eighth Virginia Congressional District, and he participated in a convention to elect delegates to the national colored convention in Washington D.C.[7]  Born into slavery at Oatlands, George Henry Russ was a local leader in the early Civil Rights movement.



[1] Virginia, Deaths & Burials Index, 1853-1917. Ancestry.com. FHL Film Number 2048576.

[2] 1870 Federal census. Ancestry.com. Joe Rust’s birth year was calculated from his age recorded in the census.

[3] The four other enslaved people who were listed by surname were Gerard and Alanda Day, Tom Carpenter, and George Smith.

[4] 1870 Federal census. Ancestry.com. Their household included Daniel (9), George (10), Mary (6), Phebe A. (4), Martha A. (4), Alfred (1), Wm. H. (1), Charles (14) and Joseph (12).

[5] 1870 Federal census. Ancestry.com. Their household included Latha (23), Phebe (12), Humphrey (9), James (6), Marie (3) and John T. (1).

[6] Marriage record for George and Frances Russ, Virginia Select Marriages, 1785-1940, Ancestry.com. Information about Frances and Eve Moton from Elizabeth O. Carter’s diary in the Oatlands Archives, and the 1870 Federal Census on Ancestry.com.

[7] The Leader newspaper, published in Washington, D.C.  Undated newspaper clipping courtesy of the Edwin Washington Project (edwinwashingtonproject.org).