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.