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Samuel Wadsworth Russell, born in Middletown, Connecticut (August 25, 1789 – May 5, 1862), was an American entrepreneur and trader, and founder of Russell & Company, the largest and most important American trading house in China from 1842 to its closing in 1891.
Son of Capt. John Russell and Abigail Warner, Russell was orphaned at the age of 12, did not receive any significant inheritance, and did not attend college. Instead, he began his career as apprentice clerk for a maritime trade merchant, Whittlesley & Alsop, in Middletown. It is there that Russell began learning his skills as a trader. In 1810, his apprenticeship having ended, he moved to New York where he hoped to prosper. In 1812, he joined Hull & Griswold, a merchant house, based in New York but established by investors with family ties in Connecticut. He began traveling on company ships as supercargo and soon began trading on a commission basis which enabled him to found his first company, Russell & Company, a commission trader for Hull & Griswold, in his hometown of Middletown.
Attracted by financial prospects, Russell set out for China, an assured profitable venture. He arrived in Canton, China, in 1819, engaging in trade on behalf of the Providence firm of Edward Carrington & Company in various goods and products including opium, an extremely profitable activity despite being outlawed-yet protected by foreign forces.
The profits made by Russell enabled him to found Russell & Company in Canton, China, in 1824. Dealing mostly in silks, teas and opium, Russell & Company prospered, and by 1842, it had become the largest American trading house in China. It kept its dominance until its closing in 1891. Russell withdrew from the company in 1836. He returned to America, and lived in his mansion in his hometown of Middletown, Connecticut, until his death in 1862. The mansion, now bearing the name of Samuel Wadsworth Russell House, (his son's name, Samuel had no middle name) had an elaborately-decorated interior; Russell had brought back many souvenirs and antiques from China, as well as gifts from his Chinese trade partner, Howqua.
He married first Mary Cotton Osborne, with whom he had two sons, George and John. She died while he was in China and the children were cared for by her sister Frances. When Samuel returned from China, he and Frances were married, and had one child, Samuel Wadsworth Russell.
- Alain Munkittrick, “Samuel Wadsworth Russell (1789 1862): A Study in Ordered Investment,” Honors Thesis, Wesleyan University, 1973
- Jan Cunningham, National Register Consultant, NATIONAL Historic Landmark Nomination, February 2000
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