On This Day: Birth of Matilda Small Russell

Matilda Small Russell was born September 13, 1846, in Bloomington, Indiana.

She was my great great grandmother.

Matilda Russell, like many members of the maternal line of my family, was a descendant of Scottish Covenanters.

For several centuries, this sect of Scottish Presbyterians fought for the right to uphold their own church government and practices rather than those imposed upon them by the Commonwealth of England and the Anglican Church. Many Covenanters were persecuted and even martyred for continuing to practice their faith. For that reason, many Covenanters chose to immigrate to America in the 18th century. Communities were born around such congregations, and one of those enclaves was in Bloomington, Indiana. Matilda and her family were members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bloomington.

The Covenanters, a group of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians from South Carolina, had settled just outside Bloomington by 1821.  Believing that slavery was a moral evil, the Covenanters acted on their principles and during the Civil War provided a way station for escaped slaves traveling north on the Underground Railroad.

From the website VisitBloomington.com

Each of Matilda’s parents had emigrated from Ireland directly to Bloomington. Her father, John Alexander Russell, married Margaret Fullerton in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1843. Matilda was one of five children that lived to adulthood.


Because of the church’s abolitionist views, many of the early Covenanter immigrants who had originally settled in South Carolina began to question the wisdom of staying in the south. Most of the South Carolina Covenanters in my family chose to relocate to other areas, primarily Indiana and Illinois.

James Faris Curry (1842-1921), who would marry Matilda Russell, came from just such a family.

His great grandparents on his father’s side—Samuel Curry (1752-1811) and Margaret Erwin (1750-1831)—had emigrated from County Antrim in part of the first generation of Covenanter immigrants, settling in Chester County, South Carolina. His great grandparents on his mother’s side—John Smith (1730-1784) and Agnes Faris (1743-1838)—had followed the same path. These four ancestors are my 5th great grandfathers and grandmothers.

Some of the Curry children remained in South Carolina, others went North. The same was true of the Smith family.

One of those Curry children, William Curry (1772-1847) married Margaret Harbison (1773-1845) in Chester County, South Carolina and moved to Bloomington. And one of those Smith children, David M. Smith (1771-1841) married Sarah Neil (1780-1861) in Chester County, South Carolina, and moved to Bloomington. These four ancestors were my 4th great grandparents.

Samuel T. Curry and Sarah “Sally” Smith Curry—my 3rd great grandparents and James Faris Curry’s parents.

And, finally, we get to James Faris Curry’s parents. They were Samuel T. Curry (1810-1882)—a son of William Curry and Margaret Harbison Curry—and Sarah “Sally” Smith (1811-1888)—a daughter of David M. Smith and Sarah Neil Smith.


James Faris Curry in Union Army uniform

James served the Union Army with Company L of the 4th Indiana Cavalry and Company E of the 145th Indiana Infantry. At the end of the war, James Curry returned to Bloomington, and in March of 1867, he and Matilda Russell were married in Bloomington.

The couple and their two young children left Indiana for Jefferson County, Kansas, about 1871. Matilda left behind both of her parents and her three surviving siblings. James’s parents and his six siblings accompanied them to Kansas. James’s brother John Haxton Curry returned to Indiana, staying only one year in Kansas.

Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church. This particular building was erected in 1877 by the congregation of which Matilda and James had been members.

The young couple’s shared faith and the connection of “sister” Covenanter communities in America were surely responsible for giving them the courage to pick up and move West to Kansas. They would have known that a supportive pastor and congregation would be there to welcome them to Winchester—another Covenanter community.

Rachel Agnes Curry Cathcart (1875-1957)


James and Matilda Curry had seven more children after arriving in Kansas, four of them reaching adulthood. Their second oldest daughter, Rachel Agnes Curry, was my great grandmother.

Their other children were Ollie Henry (1870-1958); Vera Addie (1879-1966); James “Cam” Cameron (1881-1950); and John Thomas (1884-1976).

Matilda Russell Curry is buried with her husband and most of her children in the Reformed Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Winchester.

2 thoughts on “On This Day: Birth of Matilda Small Russell”

  1. Thank you for making the connection with the church & their decision to move to Jefferson County, Kansas. They had faced religious intolerance & persecution in Scotland/Northern Ireland, so their core beliefs in freedom of religion brought them to the USA. They moved to Kansas at the same time period as Robert & Jannet Cathcart moved to Jefferson County. So interesting! Thanks, Susan.

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