Malinda Russell Biography

The only information we have about Malinda Russell is what was published in the introduction to her 1866 cookbook. Sadly, the entire print run, except it seems for one copy, presumably hers, was destroyed in a fire that destroyed the newspaper printing plant where her book was published, along with a number of other commercial structures in Paw Paw, Michigan.

Following is the only concrete information currently known. If you are a graduate student looking for a research project or a scholar working in this period of African American history, you will find in Malinda Russell the story of a woman of indomitable will, and impressive talents. Besides the fact that she lived in the South during the period when virtually all people of African descent were enslaved, which will have made her one of the relatively few African Americans with agency. Her boy was born a cripple, so on top of everything else, she had a son who was not fully able bodied to take care of. I imagine that for many reasons, baking worked for her, but also that it was something that she could do with her son.

I was born in Washington County, and raised in Green County, in the eastern part of Tennessee. My mother, Malinda Russell, was a member of one of the first families set free by Mr. Noddie, of Virginia. I am the daughter of Karon, the youngest child of my grandmother. My mother being born after the emancipation of my grandmother, her children are by law free. My mother died when I was quite young. At the age of about nineteen, I set out for Liberia; but being robbed by some member of the party with whom I was traveling, I was obliged to stop at Lynchburgh, Virginia, where I commenced cooking, and at times traveling with ladies as nurse; and always received the praise of being faithful. The following is a certificate given me by Doct. More at the time I started for Liberia:

“We, the undersigned, have been acquainted with Malinda Russell, a free woman of color, for the last eight or ten years, and certify that she is a girl of fine disposition and business-doing habits. Her moral deportment, of late, has been respectable; and we have little doubt, should she reach Liberia, in Africa; to which place she is now bound, that she will make a valuable citizen.”

About this time I married in Virginia. Anderson Vaughan, my husband, lived only four years. I have always been called by my maiden name since his death. I am still a widow, with one child, a son, who is crippled; he has the use of but one hand. While in Virginia, I kept a wash house. The following is my advertisement:

“Malinda Vaughan, Fashionable Laundress, would respectfully inform the ladies and Gentlemen of Abingdon, that she is prepared to wash and iron every description of clothing in the neatest and most satisfactory manner. Every article washed by her, she guarantees shall pass unscathed through the severest ordeal of inspection, without the remotest danger of condemnation. She can conscientiously boast of a proficiency in her business, and all clothing committed to her charge shall be neatly executed and well taken care of. She hopes to receive, as she shall exert herself to deserve, a sufficiency of patronage to insure her a permanent location. Her charges shall correspond with the times.—ABINGDON, May 3.”

I returned to Tennessee, and, after the death of my husband, kept a boarding-house on Chuckey Mountain, Cold Springs, for three years. My boarders and visitors were from almost every State in the Union, who came to the Springs for their health. After leaving the boarding-house, I kept a pastry shop for about six years, and, by hard labor and economy, saved a considerable sum of money for the support of myself and son, which was taken from me on the 16th of January, 1864, by a guerrilla party, who threatened my life if I revealed who they were. Under those circumstances we were obliged to leave home, following a flag of truce out of the Southern borders, being attacked several times by the enemy.

Hearing that Michigan was the Garden of the West, I resolved to make that my home, at least for the present, until peace is restored, when I think of returning to Greenville, Tennessee, to try and recover at least a part of my property.

This is one reason why I publish my Cook Book hoping to receive enough from the sale of it to enable me to return home. I know my book will sell well where I have cooked, and am sure those using my receipts will be well satisfied.

PAW PAW, MICH., May, 1866. 


The Kitchen should always be Neat and Clean. The Tables,

Pastry Boards, Pans, and everything pertaining to Cookery,

should be well Cleansed.

I have made Cooking my employment for the last twenty years, in the first families of Tennessee, (my native place,) Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky. I know my Receipts to be good, as they always have given satisfaction. I have been advised to have my Receipts published, as they are valuable, and every family has use for them. Being compelled to leave the South on account of my Union principles, in the time of the Rebellion, and having been robbed of all my hard-earned wages which I had saved; and as I am now advanced in years, with no other means of support than my own labor; I have put out this book with the intention of benefiting the public as well as myself.

I learned my trade of FANNY STEWARD, a colored cook, of Virginia, and have since learned many new things in the art of Cooking.

I cook after the plan of the “VIRGINIA HOUSEWIFE.”