Title: Coal dealer
Death Date: April 19, 1908
Plot Location: Section 141, Lot 3
Robert is listed on a passenger list arriving by himself from Londonderry, Ireland in August of 1853. He married Sarah Wilson, also of Ireland, 18 months later. It’s not known when she came to this country or if they knew each other before they left.
Thanks to the explosive growth of the coal mining business in Schuylkill County, Philadelphians were turning to coal to heat their homes, and Robert was a part of the retail end of it. His occupation in the 1860 census simply says “coal yard.” If he didn’t own it at the time, he soon would own his own business, and for the rest of his life his title was “coal dealer.”
An 1863 business directory listed Robert’s yard at 749 South Broad Street. He only moved his business once before he died, and he only moved his residence once as well, to 1433 Christian Street. He was one of 147 coal dealers in that 1863 directory but the same book in 1870 counted 285, nearly twice as many.
The competition would shrink a little after the country suffered from a Depression from 1873-79. Otherwise, Robert enjoyed a long career selling coal for nearly 50 years.
The Russells only had one child, a daughter, in 1873. She was named after her mother but was known as Sallie. She grew up to marry someone named McIntyre and named her son after her father.
Sarah died in 1896 but Robert wasted no time in marrying Rebecca Chambers a year later. He was 66 and she was just 31. Eleven years later, he tripped and fell, breaking several ribs. Within a day or two he drafted a will. That same afternoon he died of “shock due to a fall,” with age being a contributing factor according to his death certificate.
The will Robert wrote reveals what he did with his money all those years. He invested in the properties on his street and on the street behind him and became a landlord. To Rebecca he left 1427, 1429, 1431, and 1433 Christian Street (and all his personal property in 1433 where they lived) plus the coal yard. He also named a sister and brother who each received two houses, as did his daughter, Sallie. Seven other people were given a house on nearby streets.
Rebecca and Sarah are buried with him in this plot framed with “coping,” a low wall typically made of granite that makes an attractive border. It was especially useful when there were several burials in a plot in order to visually “group” the family together. However, that wasn’t the case here.
The monument that was chosen was also something useful for large families where names could be added on all four sides. In this case, nothing was inscribed in the blank spaces. Along with the personalized coping, Rebecca apparently intended to make a statement that Robert Russell was a notable person.
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