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The puzzling history of two houses on Meeting and Wentworth

The Historic Charleston Foundation is working to uncover the history of the late Tom Russell, an enslaved man and rebellion leader in the early 1820s.

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The dining room of the Nathaniel Russel House in Charleston.

The Historic Charleston Foundation is digging into the history of the Nathaniel Russell House.

Photo by Susan Sully

The Historic Charleston Foundation is piecing together a complex historic puzzle. For years, HCF staff have worked to uncover who enslaved Tom Russell: Sarah Russell or... Sarah Russell. You read that right.

New research from HCF reconnects a co-conspirator of the Denmark Vesey rebellion — an unrealized uprising of enslaved people planned for Charleston in 1822 — to Sarah Hopton Russell of Meeting Street’s Nathaniel Russell House. That person could have been Tom, said to have been the “armorer of the rebellion” for making weapons.

There’s also a possibility that Tom was enslaved by a different Sarah Russell, the widow of blacksmith John Russell who lived on Wentworth Street (near conspiracy activities).

So, Wentworth or Meeting? There may never be a conclusive answer, but HCF is re-examining the circumstantial evidence to bring Tom’s story back to light and learn more about those who played a part in this act of resistance.

Dive into the research