More Plantations: The Russell Family Revisited

Having looked recently at my plantation and slave owning Madan and Nisbet ancestors, I need to revisit my Russell ones (see earlier posts here). This is mostly going to be more genealogical because trying to fathom the complexities of how the estates of these and other related families got passed on from generation along with other legacies needs way more time to unravel than I can commit. And not least because that’s something that still appears to be ongoing at the Centre for the Study of legacies of British slave ownership (who have even cited this blog). I will try and tackle some of the ownership and passing on, but this post is also an attempt to check previous findings having found more about these families, including their plantation and slave owning.

The Pedigree above is from The history of the island of Antigua, one of the Leeward Caribbees in the West Indies, from the first settlement in 1635 to the present time (1894) by Oliver, Vere Langford. I have no idea of the pedigree’s accuracy but it’s a starting place, even if the unnamed Russell at the top of the pedigree above is still the furthest back I can go. I have seen a couple of theories. One is that the Russell family are related to the Duke of Bedford Russells who owned planations in the West Indies. The other is that they hailed from Ireland. Neither has been established.

The first generation includes the following children of the unnamed Russell ancestor at the top of the pedigree (I have included links to their records on and order below is simply to reflect their apearnce from left to right pedigree above rather than a ranking of their age):

  • Lieut.Colonel Randal (or Randolph) Russell, settled in 1637 at St. Kitts under Sir Thomas Warner; Deputy-Governor of Nevis 1668; his death announced 29 June 1678. Married 1st: Frances, 2nd dau. of Edmund Kaynell (Keynell) of Haslebury, CO. Dorset (sic Le Neve) he was living 1677.. had issue; Married 2nd Wife: Margaret (poss. Carpenter)
  • Sir James Russell, Knt., Governor of Nevis 1632—71 ; knighted 10 May 1672; died 15 Nov. 1674,  bur. and M.I. at St. James’s, Bristol; Married: Margaret Hunt, sister of Robert Hunt ; bur. Sep. 1677 at St. Bristol, intestate.
  • Anne Russell: 1st husband: Sir Thomas Warner, Knt., Governor of St. Kitts and Lieut. General of the Caribbean Isles; died 10 March 1648. M.I. at the Old Road, St. Kitts2nd Husband: Sir George March, Knt., of Nevis, later of Limehouse.

Lt.Col. Randal (or Randolph) Russell is my ancestor, but I think there maybe some confusion between the Sir James Russell, Knt. above and his nephew who was called James. Firstly, I couldn’t tally the dates it shows with James being Governor of Nevis above (1632—71) with the List of colonial governors and administrators of Nevis on the wiki. They do include a James Russell, but he doesn’t appear to have been knighted and dates they show are from 1657–1671. I also found this reference in Searching for the 17th Century on Nevis: The Survey and Excavation of Two Early Plantation Sites (2021) Robert Philpott, Roger Leech, Elaine L. Morris

James Russell was knighted on 10 May 1672 and served as Governor of Nevis from 1685-1687.

So my first guess was that it’s the James Warner above who married Margaret Hunt who was the Governor of Nevis from 1657–1671. And it was his nephew who was knighted in 1672 and served as Governor from 1657–1671, i.e. my ancestor James Russell son of Lieut.Colonel Randal (or Randolph) Russell and Frances Kaynell above. It has been, however, difficult to confirm this and to confuse things I then saw a reference to a Colonel Sir James Russell being heir to his uncle Sir James Russell (1600-74). It appears to be citing the The history of the island of Antigua… (see here).

It’s also been difficult to establish whether the Anne Russell above actually married the Sir Thomas Warner who has wiki entry that has to following to say about him:

After his first wife died, he was said to have taken a Carib woman in a ‘common-law marriage’ and they had a lasting relationship. Warner died on March 10, 1649, in St. Kitts and was buried in a tomb in Middle Island. The Carib woman was reported to have given birth to many other children after Warner’s death.

I mention it because it an example of the pantomine back and forth I have with researching earlier generations of this family – in this case trying to detemine whether Anne Russell above did or did not marry Sir Thomas Warner. Eventually, I found a copy of his entry from the Dictionary of National Biography (Volumes 1-22). I haven’t managed to check the original, but have included it below. It mentions he married 3 times and also had long relationship with a Carib woman who bore him several children, with one of those 3 wives being “a lady who afterwards married Sir George March (Gal. State. Papers Airier. and IV. Indies, 1675-61 p. 321).”

I am not sure if that settles things about Anne Russell marrying Thomas Warner, but if they did I haven’t found anything that suggests they had any offspring. What I have seen is a number of intriquing references to ‘Damer Powell, JW ‘Sir James Russell: Defender of Nevis’ in United Empire XXII.’ And also the following reference in Slavery Obscured: The Social History of the Slave Trade in an English Provincial Port Front (2016) by Madge Dresser:

Sir James Russell, buried in Bristol’s St James’s Church, first secured Nevis for the British and became its Governor. He owned a slave plantation in Nevis and one in St. Christophers that originally belonged to his wife.

The history of the island of Antigua also includes the following about this inscription at St James’s Church, Bristol:

Here lyeth the body of James Russell, Knt., late of Nevis, one of the first setlers in that Island, who was ye first mayor and colonel there, and after, by commission of King Charles 2nd (bearing date ye 12th day of Septr. in ye 13th yeere of his reign), appointed governor of ye said Island, and so continued till 1671 ; by whose wisdom and valo’ (uneer God) it was preserved, when that and ye rest of those islands were endangered by the French and Dutch, in 1666 ; who, after obtaining leave of His Majesty to come for England, here departed this life ye 15th day of November, 1674, aged 74 years.

The entry says there is no mention here made of Lady Russell, but an entry in the church accounts shows that she was interred in the same tomb with her husband on September 13th 1677. The dates seems to suggest that the inscription refers to the (Sir?) James Russell and his wife Margaret Hunt above. And the wiki does have entries for the Battle of Nevis (1667), but I can’t find anything that shows his role in it. Or him being first mayor and colonel there, or him being knighted, having coat of arms ever granted, etc.

I have found snippets about (Sir?) James Russel here and there, including how the Russell’s Rest Plantation that was named after him was the largest on Nevis around 1660 (see here). And that he and is brother Randal owned 150 slaves a piece, and that Russells were among a number of families to have have arrived in Nevis in 1640s and 1650s along with Pym, Keynall, Winthrop and Baijer familes (see Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713, by Richard S. Dunn published in 2012).

There may be future books published that shed more light, but in the meantime the following will of James Russell from The history of the island of Antigua was interesting:

James Russell, late of Neivis, now living in Bristoll. Will dated 6 Nov., proved 10 Dec. 1674 by Margaret Russell the relict. On 26 Jan. 1676 new Probate to Dame Margaret Russell because Sir James Russell did not state his title in his will. On 9 Oct. 1677 commission to Robert Hunt the brother and adm’or of Dame Margaret Russell, deceased. (147 Buuce.) To M” Tho. Home, Minister of S’ Jas., £5, & £10 to the poor. To my lov. bro. Col. Randall Russell my saddle horse, pistols, rapier, & coat of armes to be sent to him at Nevis. To my sist. Mrs. Kath. Fenton if living in Irel’^ £50. To the Lady March a 20s. ring. All est. in Eng” to my wife Marg’ Russell, she to be sole Ex’or, & I give her all the right of the S’ X’pher’s plant” that was formerly hers. As to my own proper plant” in Nevis, leased out to my bro. Col. Randall Russell for 5 years at £400 a year, l 1/2 years yet to run, I give my wife the residue of the rent, & then all the plant” & slaves to my neph. Cap’ Jas. Russell, he to pay £200 a year in sugar or indigo to my wife as long as she remains my widow, & she may hve in the house there. Jas. Russell Ex’or for Nevis. Witnessed by Thomas Cole, George Morris.

Firstly, it mentions new Probate to Dame Margaret Russell coming about because Sir James Russell did not state his title in his will. And also how, among a number of things, he sent his coat of arms to his brother (my ancestor Col. Randall Russell). So maybe he was knighted after all. It also mentions another sibling, his sister Mrs. Kath. Fenton living in Ireland. And that is the basis for one theory about the Russell family having hailed from Ireland.

James Russell’s will also provides a glimpse of the complex arrangements of leasing and legacies that went on, i.e. how his plantation in Nevis is leased out to his brother for another 18 months, after which the ‘residue of the rent’ appears to go to his wife before all his plantations and slaves are left to his nephew Captain James RusselI (my ancestor).

The reference above mentioned above cites the same source. I have included a snippet below not as an authoritive account but because it does a better job than I could of have done of showing how the ownership of plantations, slaves and other legacies appears to get passed around generations of some the ancestors being explored in this post and their relations:

The baronetcy had now passed to William (1674-99), 3rd baronet, who greatly increased the West Indian property by his marriage to his first cousin, Frances, third daughter of his maternal uncle, Colonel Sir James Russell. Frances was co-heiress to the entire Russell property in Nevis, since her father had been the heir of his uncle, Sir James Russell. The plantations all lay in the Parish of St. James, Windward, in the north east of the island, and comprised Russell’s Rest, Hog Valley, FitzJames (later known as the River or Gimp) and Pot Works.1 In 1697, on the marriage of Frances, and of her sister, Penelope (to Martin Madan), the property was divided. Frances’s dowry consisted of half of Russell’s Rest (which was divided by a line run from the sea to the summit of Nevis Mountain) containing 507 acres and the great house built by her great-uncle, and the River Plantation (287 acres).3 Russell’s Rest lay about four miles south of Newcastle, and was triangular in shape, with a broad frontage on the sea and its apex high on the upper slopes of the mountain. Frances’s portion retained its original name, while Penelope’s became known as Madan’s. The River (or Camp) plantation lay about one mile from Newcastle, with the Camp (or Jones’s) River flowing through its higher land.

I am pretty sure that William is Sir William Stapleton, 3rd Bt. who married Frances Russell. They are first cousins because his mother is Anne Russell (daughter of Lt. Col. Randal Russell) who married Sir William Stapleton, 1st. Bt. And Frances is the daughter of Lt. Col. Sir James Russell (brother of Anne Russell who married Sir William Stapleton, 1st. Bt)

Lt. Col. Sir James Russell was heir to his uncle.James Russell (who may have also been knighted) who married Margaret Hunt. Frances and her sister Penelope (my ancestor) are daughters of Lt. Col. Sir James Russell. They seem to co-inherit the estate on their respective marriages. Penelope married Martin Madan whose family I explored in previous post. Apparently, this kind of intermarying between families was quite common as a way of consolidating land and slave ownership, and that’s something Frances Russell above continues to do with her second marriage to Walter Hamilton, Captain-General of the Leeward Islands.

`The history of the island of Antigua also includes probate information about wills of Russell Family and those they marry that shows more about the transfer of land, slaves and other legacies. It also includes a deposition from my ancestor Col. Randolph Russell that sheds some light and how he arrived in the West Indies:

1675, Dec. 20. Deposition of Colonel Randolph Russell, Deputy-Governor of Nevis. Deponent, in July 1637, arrived out of Europe into St. Christopher’s, and was received into the house of Sir Thomas Warner, and there lived in his employ several years. (Colonial Entry Book, 46.)

According to an article in the New Left Review by Marina Warner from 1997, Randal/Randolpoh Russell is testifying in a Cain and Abel-type case where Philip Warner the Governor of Antiqua (son of Sir Thomas Warner) was convicted of murder and sent to the Tower for the muder of his possible natural half-brother (through his father’s ‘Carib’ mistress). The article paints an interesting picture of the lives of early settlers where the “idea of community in which relations were not as regular as the law (or the church) might have wished” and tht doesn’t seem too surprising given the “atmosphere of concubinage and polygamy, piracy and pillage” the article also described.

Once again I am reminded of a qoute I mentioned in my previous post about Skeletons in the closet:

Sometimes in family history research wandering down an unrelated byway reveals a story you could not have invented.

I seem to be finding those kinds of stories more frequently as I explore my slave owning ancestors.There’s actually 4 generations of them from these branches, from when they arrive in Nevis until one of my ancestors marries into one of the older aristoric families:

Randal (or Randolph) Russell, Lt. Colonel + Frances Keynell
James (Sir) Russell, Colonel, Lt.-Governor + Penelope Tyrrell
Penelope Russell + Martin Madan, Colonel. MP
Martin Madan, Colonel + Judith Cowper
Penelope Madan + Alexander (Sir) Maitland, 1st Bt

That seems to span from around 1640 through to I am guessing the death of Penelope Madan in 1805, depending on if and how any legacy she inherited was passed on to her children or whether anything was also left by other relatives.

I’ve covered the families of James (Sir) Russell, Colonel, Lt.-Governor + Penelope Tyrrell and James (Sir) Russell, Colonel, Lt.-Governor + Penelope Tyrrell in previous posts about the Russell Family. And my Madan ancestors were explored in my previous post (see here).

I am not sure these accounts do more than scratch the surface about these families, but that’s partly the result of the information being so patchy that the jigsaw puzzle I have been trying it put together has so many more pieces that need finding. That’s partly about desk(top) research method and also time I have to dig deeper. But probably also about the backgrounds of the early settlers and realities of (new) world they went to inhabit, which doesn’t seem like the breeding ground for diarists like Pepys, Boswell and Johnson.

That could explain how the information contained in The history of the island of Antigua being so purfunctory where Pedigrees appear to be just a way of joining dots between leasing arrangements and matters of probate. Nonetheless, it does include a family pedigree, probate information and also list of key dates outlining appointments, commissions, matches, despatches, etc that has been helpful.

Hopefully, some of what I have linked to above will also help give a better understanding of lives lived including those both those who were enslaved that the above profited from.

Lastly. I have included the biography for Sir Thomas Warner below. I think it is better read in tandem with his wiki entry because it does a better job of balancing his adventurism with his opportunism and ruthlessness by touching upon both his role in the genocide of the Kalinago people and early slave trade from which he amassed a large fortune.

Dictionary of National Biography, Volumes 1-22

Coloniser of the first British West Indian Islands, was a younger son of William Warner, a gentle-yeoman of Framlingham and Parham, Suffolk, and Margaret, daughter of George Gernigan or Jerningham of Belsted in the same county. He entered the army at an early age, and became a captain in James I’s bodyguard.

In the spring of 1620 he accompanied Captain Roger North on his expedition to Surinam. Here he made the acquaintance of a certain Captain Painton, a very experienced seaman, who suggested to him the advisability of a settlement on one of the small West Indian islands, such as St Christopher’s, which were neglected by the Spaniards. At the end of the year he returned to England with the view of finding means to carry out his project. Having obtained the support of Ralph Merrifield, a London merchant, and his Suffolk neighbour, Charles Jeaffreson, Warner, with his wife and son Edward, and some thirteen others, chiefly from Suffolk, sailed for Virginia.

Having rejected Barbados, for the great want of water was then upon it naturally, the expedition landed in St. Kitts (St. Christopher’s) on 28 Jan, 1623-4. The misgovernment of the Amazon settlement and the suitability of St. Christopher’s for a tobacco plantation were the motive causes of the expedition. They were welcomed by the Carib chief Tegramund, and allowed to make a settlement at Old Road, where water abounded. By September the colonists had raised their first tobacco crop, but it was destroyed by a hurricane immediately afterwards. On 18 March 1624-5 Jeaffreson arrived from England in the Hopewell, bringing men and provisions, and soon afterwards Warner went home in the Black Bess of Flushing to beat up more recruits and to take over tobacco (cf. Cal. State Papers, Dom, 1625-6,p. 156). Warner was Commissioned on 13 Sept. 1625 king’s lieutenant for the four islands of St. Christopher alias Merwar’s Hope, Mevia [Nevis], Barbados, and Monserate, of which he is described as the discoverer. In case of his death Jeaffreson was to succeed him. This was the first patent relating to the West Indies which passed the great seal. On 23 Jan 1626 a letter of marque was issued to the Gift of Goa, forty tons, owner R. Merrifield, captain Thomas Warner, and during the year Warner and a Captain Smith made prizes of vessels from Middelburg, and Dunkirk (ib. 1625-6 pp.; 327,1628.-9 p, 286).
In the autumn of 1626 Warner returned to St. Kitts with neere a hundred people, having on his way made a bootless (Hopeless?), attempt upon the Spaniard’s at Trinidada.’ In the ensuing year the settlement underwent great privations, but on 26 Oct 1627 Captain William Smith brought foods and ammunition in the Hopewell, and, other ships came in later. In the same year the few Frenchmen under d’Esnambuc a protégé of Richelieu, who had arrived soon after Warner’s first landing, had also been reinforced, and in May a treaty was concluded between Warner and. d’Esnambue for a division of territory and mutual defence against the Spaniards and Caribees. The Caribees were now driven completely off the island.

In 1629 Warner paid another visit to England, in the course of which he was knighted (27 Sept.) at Hampton Court James Hay, first earl of Carlisle, had received in June 1627 a grant of the Caribean Islands and Barbados, in spite of Warner’s patent of 1625, but on 29 Sep Carlisle reappointed Warner sole governors of St. Christopher’s for life (Cal. State Papers, Amer. and W. Indies, 1574-1660,• p. 101) On 4 Nov 1643 Warner received a third patent from the parliamentary commissioners of planta-tions under which he was constituted governor and lieutenant-general of the Caribee Islands under Robert [Rich], earl of Warwick governor in chief of all the plantations in America (lb. p. 324). The success of the plantation at St. Christopher’s, which seemed now assured, excited the jealousy of the French. In August 1629 d’Esnambue, having returned from France with three hundred colonists and six sail of the line, summoned Warner to retire within the treaty limits, and to give up the land occupied since his departure. Soon after matters had been settled somewhat to the advantage of the French, a Spanish expedition under Don Frederick de Toledo appeared. The French deserted the English, who overpowered by superior force, seem to have made some sort of cession. The chief settlers however retired to the mountains and when in a few months the Spanish abandoned the island, both the English and French colonies in St. Kitts were reestablished. Henceforth they were always at open or secret enmity. In 1635 d’Esnainbue, who obtained the aid of the negroes by a promise of freedom wrung further concessions from Warner and four years later report that De Poincy, the French governor of. St. Kifts, had had a design of poisioning Warner nearly produced open war. September 1636 on his return from a voyage to England Warner complained to Secretary Windebank of being pestered with many controversies of the planters. During the voyage his crew had been decimated. He had Intended to send a colony to Metalina under his son-in-law, but having touched at Barbados to raise volunteers, had been opposed by the governor, Captain Henry Hawley (cf, ib. 1574-1660; p4. 240). In 1639 Warner estimated the amount of annual duties derived from the island at 12,000L. (lb. .p. 295). So rapid had been the growth of the colony at St. Chlistopher’s that in 1628 Warner was able to send settlers to colonise the isle of Nevis. Four years later religious dissensions in St. Kitts induced him to despatch another body of planters to found a colony on the island of Antigua, and a second, chiefly composed of Irishmen and Roman Catholics, to settle Montserrat.

These undertakings were successful, but the settlers sent to St. Lucia about 1639 were almost exterminated by the natives two years later. Warner died on 10 March 1648-9, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Thomas, Middle Island, St. Kitts. On a broken tomb under a coat of arms is a barely legible rhymed epitaph in which he is described as one that bought

With loss of Noble blond Illustrious Name
Of a Commander Create in Acts of Fame.

It is printed in Captain Laurence-Archer’s Monumental Inscriptions of the British West Indies and in Notes and Queries (3rd ser. ix. 450). He was a good soldier, and man of extraordinary agility of body and a good witt, and won the respect of all his subordinates. He was thrice married first, to Sarah, daughter of Walter Snelling of Dorchester; secondly to Rebecca, daughter of Thomas Payne, of Surrey; and, thirdly, to a lady who afterwards married Sir George March (Gal. State. Papers Airier. and IV. Indies, 1675-61 p. 321). By his second wife be had two sons, and a daughter who was buried at Putney on 29 Dec. 1635. The eldest son, EDWARD WARNER (1632 – 1640), was deputy-governor of St Kitts when Sir Thomas went to England. He was made by his father in 1632 the first English governor of Antigua. His wife and two children were carried off from the island in an incursion of the Caribs in 1640. A local tradition, embodied in the Legend of Ding a Dong Nook, said that the governor pursued the Caribs to Dominica and brought back his wife and one child, but afterwards, under the influence of jealousy, imprisoned her in a keep built for the purpose in a lonely nook. The date of Edward Warner’s death is uncertain. Dutertre, in his Histoire des Antilles speaks highly of his personal qualities.

Thomas also had a long relationship with a Carib woman who bore him several children.

3 thoughts on “More Plantations: The Russell Family Revisited

  1. The centre of Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery at UCL now has records for both Sir James Russell (d. 1674) and his nephew Sir James Russell (d. 1687):

    I even get thanked for helping with these. But still haven’t got to the bottom of how and when exactly the older Sir James Russell obtained the land for the plantations, but I look at some new information about earliest date showing him to have been on the Island in a new post:

    Some more notes on Sir James Russell, Knt.

  2. Dear Justin,

    I am an art dealer and found your post whilst researching the Stapleton Baronets. I was interested to see that there is a link with Judith Madan and that you are related to the Madan’s. I have a wonderful portrait by Michael Dahl of Theodora Cowper, Spencer Cowper’s wife and Judith’s step-mother and I wondered if you would be interested in seeing some details of it?

    The portrait remained in the Cowper family until it was inherited by the Rev Henry Madan Pratt who sold it at Christie’s in 1930. I’d be delighted to send you the provenance and information I have for it if it might be of interest?

    Best wishes,

    Peter Harrison

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