Editors note: The likelihood of learning more about Pompey Russell and is family seems quite remote, but we hope that because this brief article possibly more information will eventually emerge.
The lives and pursuits of the early residents of Packersfield are mostly ordinary and virtually always obscure. Hints of those lives can be found in their deeds, records of town meetings, and military service. Some, a few, have something about them that compels a thorough investigation.
One such is Pompey Russell, an early arrival in what came to be called Munsonville, described in Parke Struther’s History as a “negro” who played the fiddle. He and his wife, Peggy, joined the church in 1796, and their sons, Peter and Zadoc, were baptized that year.
What do we know about this early settler who happened to be a free person of color? Based on Nelson records – not much. He was taxed for 35 acres of wild land in 1789. He acquired a cow in 1790 and a second one in 1794. He acquired oxen and a horse. He left Packersfield for Weld, Maine, in 1805. Fortunately, there are researchers interested in early free persons of color, in early abolitionists work in New Hampshire, and in the nature of slavery in our early history. They provide a few more details.
Pompey Russell was purchased as a young child by Thomas Russell of Andover, Massachusetts, in the early 1760s as a gift to his wife to console her after the loss of their first child. We do not know Pomp’s birth date, but we do know that Thomas and Bethia had him baptized in Andover on November 18, 1764. In 1769, Thomas and Bethia and four children (Bethia, Thomas Jr., Pomp, and Hannah) moved to Wilton, N.H.
When General Stark put out a call for volunteers in the Revolutionary War, Pompey Russell signed up and marched to Ticonderoga with the army. He was discharged sometime after the battle. About 1781, at approximately age 21, Pomp was awarded his freedom by Thomas, his father and adoptive parent. On June 26, 1788, Pomp Russell and Margaret Cutt were married by a Justice of the Peace, who happened to have been Pomp’s commanding officer.
In 1789 Pomp and Peggy moved to the part of Packersfield now called Munsonville, where their first child was born on Dec. 5, 1789. That part of Packersfield was entirely owned by the Packer family in 1789. Sales had been held up by a dispute over Thomas Packer’s estate. The first actual sales of land by the Packers occurred in 1791, but it is clear that there were informal arrangements made with immigrants who wished to settle around the mouth of Fish Pond (later Factory Pond, and now Granite Lake) and exploit its water power for mills. In the 1790 U.S. census of Packersfield, N.H., the entry for Pompey Russell shows three “all other free people.” They would have been Pomp, Peggy, and their first-born, Peter. Zadok was born Feb. 1, 1794. The Russells may have been Munsonville’s first residents. Joseph Baker and John Buxton were early settlers, too, but were not counted in the census.
Pomp was certainly among the first arrivals, with at least two other families from Wilton: Joseph Baker (who established the first combination saw and grist mill there about 1790), and John Buxton, who had a farm of 100 acres. Baker (48) and Buxton (56) and were much older than Pomp (30) when the mill was established. What was Pompey Russell’s role? Thirty-five acres of wild land and a single cow was not enough to support the family. He wasn’t a full-time farmer. The answer may lie in the coincident moves of the Russell, Baker, and Buxton families from Wilton to Packersfield in about 1790. I suspect he was either a skilled craftsman who was critical to building Joseph Baker’s combination saw and grist mill. He may have been its principal operator as well.
The Russell family lived and worked in Packersfield from 1789 to 1805, when Pomp’s father and brothers bought land in and joined the effort to settle Weld, a town in central Maine. The Wikipedia history of Weld reports that Pomp’s brothers, Abel and Joseph, invited him and his family to leave Packersfield and join them in Weld where their father Thomas had moved. They built Pomp’s family a home on Center Hill. Surely the family ties were strong. Just as surely Pomp had valuable skills beyond his fiddling. Pompey Russell was buried under a New Hampshire Revolutionary War stone in Weld, likely in 1838.
His siblings became very actively involved in the anti-slavery movement, including starting two of the earliest known Anti-Slavery Societies around 1834, while Pompey Russell was still alive.