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Foundation Matters

Nathaniel Russell House: A Brief History

Posted: August 25, 2017

The Nathaniel Russell House Museum, 51 Meeting Street, located near the High Battery in downtown Charleston, is widely recognized as one of America’s most important neoclassical structures. The Foundation purchased this National Historic Landmark in 1955, and the house served as the Foundation’s headquarters for 37 years. Today, the interiors are restored to their original 1808 grandeur and surrounded by formal gardens.

Nathaniel Russell was born in Bristol, Rhode Island. He settled in Charleston at the age of 27 in 1765, when Charleston was a bustling seaport. By 1774, Charleston boasted a per capita of wealth nearly four times that of all the American colonies. Russell’s career as a merchant involved the shipment of cargoes to and from New England, the West Indies, South America, Virginia, Great Britain, continental Europe, West Africa and Asia.

While most of his profits came from the exportation of staples such as Carolina Gold rice, indigo, tobacco and cotton, Russell handled a broad range of imported goods. He also participated in the African slave trade both before and after the American Revolution.

In 1788 Russell married Sarah Hopton (1752-1832), daughter of one of Charleston’s wealthiest pre-Revolutionary era merchants. Two daughters were born to the Russells, Alicia in 1789 and Sarah in 1792. The house remained in the Russell family until 1857 when it was purchased by Governor R.F.W. Allston (1801-1864) and his wife, Adele Petigru (1810-1896). Later, after serving as a school for the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy from 1870-1905, the Russell House was converted back to a private residence. It remained so until 1955, when the Foundation purchased the site and opened the house for public tours.

4 responses to “Nathaniel Russell House: A Brief History”

  1. Nancy says:

    Listened to MFM heard about the rats nests with such cool stuff in it ??????I’ve lived in Charleston for 20 years and love it thankyou for writing to MFM so cool! Ps I work at the usda and find really cool pottery in the fields along w/ blue glass beads They just sit in a bag in an office .. sad but maybe you can contact me and we can go over the time period of these items ????

  2. Linda Acaster says:

    The article does not mention when the gardens were replanted around the Nathaniel Russell house. When would they have been replanted and are any of the plantings, such as the citrus trees, of heirloom varieties?

  3. Linda Acaster says:

    I had a question as to when the latest gardens were planted at the Nathaniel Russell house. After much research I found that it was in the 1980s that the plantings were done. Excavations we’re done in the year 2003, 2004 and 2006 to find where the general plantings had been, but no particular plantings were identified and will have to be researched in the future to restore the gardens to the time period of when Nathaniel Russell I was resident there.

  4. Joe Michaud says:

    Toured on 6/25/22. Magnificent neoclassical design and the attention to detail in the interior areas was truly impressive. Very interested in his continued connection to Bristol RI which is near our summer home. Will be fleshing that relationship out in the near future.

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