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Madam Russell: A Pioneer in U.S. Methodism

In the small town of Saltville, Virginia stands a large church that seems almost out of character for the size of the town. But, as you learn of who it was named for, you realize the church matches the impact she had in the area. It is the Madam Russell Untied Methodist Church, named for Elizabeth Henry Campbell Russell.

Often in society, women are known for whom they are attached. They are referred to as the mother of, or the daughter of, the wife of, the sister of, and so on.

In a sense, Elizabeth "Betsy" Henry Campbell Russell (1749-1825) could be placed into that conundrum. Born in Hanover County (north of current day Richmond),  she was the younger sister of famed Revolution War orator Patrick Henry.

She went on to marry General William Campbell (1745-1781), known for his leadership in leading his troops to victory at Kings Mountain and Guilford Courthouse, and was at the surrender by Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Two years after Campbell's death, Elizabeth married Gen. William Russell (1735-1793), who was also at Yorktown, and later was an opponent of the State of Franklin's bid to become the 14th state.

William and Elizabeth moved to Saltville in 1788 and were involved in the production of salt. It was during their time in the town that the two were converted to Methodism during a camp meeting. It is through that conversion that Madam Russell found her calling in life and made an impact as a pioneer of faith in the region.

Upon her husband's passing, Elizabeth devoted much of her wealth, as well as considerable energies to the expansion of Methodism into SW Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.

Her home in Saltville often became a stopping place for circuit riders, including the famed Francis Asbury, where she would provide hospitality and, if requested, a place to preach to congregants.

In order to be more accessible to the circuit riders of the day, she moved to Chilhowie in 1812 near the Great Road.

The church that bears her name was built in 1824. Russell donated land to Saltville for a cemetery, which bears her name - The Elizabeth Cemetery. A building on the campus of Emory & Henry - named for her brother - was dedicated in 2018.

The current church building was constructed in 1898, using part of the hearth as the church's doorstep stone. A replica of her home stands at the site of the original.

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