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The Nathaniel Russell House, Charleston, South Carolina

My husband and I took an audio tour of the Nathaniel Russell house at 51 Meeting Street. Nathaniel Russell made his fortune as a merchant and slave trader. It was a sobering tour for us, seeing this gorgeous house and portraits of his well-cared for family, knowing that it was built on the horrors of the slave trade.

The Nathaniel Russell house was built in the neoclassical style.

The Nathaniel Russell house has been restored to its original 1808 appearance to reflect the time when he and his wife, Sarah Hopton Russell, moved in with their two daughters. They brought with them ten to eighteen enslaved people. Nathaniel lived there until his death in 1820.

Nathaniel Russell

A portrait of Nathaniel Russell. He made his fortune trading the enslaved, rice, indigo, tobacco and cotton.

When Charleston (Charlestown) was seized by the British during the Revolutionary War, Russell fled to London and lived there for two years. He eventually returned to Charleston, but was suspected of being a Tory (loyalist to Britain). Authorities refused to let him disembark for four months. At the beginning of the war, Russell gave money to the Patriots, but became a Loyalist when it looked like Britain was winning. In other words, he played both sides to serve himself.

Nathaniel’s wife, Sarah Hopton Russell, daughter of a wealthy merchant.
12 million people were enslaved and brought from Africa. Of these, 5% went to the USA. Most of the enslaved were brought to the West Indies and South America.

Restoration of the Nathaniel Russell House

Restoration of the Nathaniel Russell House is still underway. One of the most exciting areas they are uncovering are rooms where the enslaved lived and worked – the kitchen, for instance. Restorers had long thought that the original kitchen had been destroyed. They discovered instead that it had been covered over.

In a video on their website, Lauren Northrup, the former director of Museums of the Historic Charleston Foundation said, “It was actually really emotional cause we thought about how light hadn’t hit these walls and these surfaces in over a hundred years. And everything that we were looking at, every brick, every plaster surface, every planed door and floorboard, had been not only laid by enslaved people, but made and brought here and paid for by their labor.”

The Kitchen is still being uncovered.
Many artifacts are being discovered in rats nests! Turns out that rats are hoarders.

Interior Rooms and Garden

The staircase is self-supporting and three stories high. The top and bottom steps are bolted to the floor, but each of the other steps supports the one above and below it.
Looking up the cantilevered staircase.
The oval Dining Room.
The Withdrawing Room was used to entertain guests in the morning, to take advantage of the beautiful sunlight.
24-karat-gold-leaf ornamental molding encompasses the ceiling of the Withdrawing Room.
Nathaniel and Sarah’s Bed Chamber. During this time period, wealthy families often entertained guests not only in the dining and withdrawing rooms, but also in their bedrooms. This way they could show off the bedroom’s fine tapestries and furnishings.
This comfy chair hides a fancy chamber pot.
A balcony view of the formal garden.
Garden vegetation growing along the old brick wall.
A Joggling Board invites courting couples to sit on either end of the flexible bench and casually bounce themselves to the middle.

For more information

The Nathaniel Russel House Museum is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm.

Please visit their website for more information.

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