Russell derived from the Old French rousel meaning "red" and was originally descriptive of someone with red hair. The surname first appeared as Rousel in the early 12th century. The alternative Russel spelling still exists. Other derivations of the name are possible.
Russell Resources on
- The Russell Family. Early Russell lineages.
- Kingston Russell. Kingston Russell and the Russell family in Dorset.
- Clan Russell. Russells in Scotland.
- The Russell Family. Russells in Virginia.
- The Russell DNA Project. Russell DNA.
England. Early sightings of Russell as a surname were in
the west country, in Worcestershire and Devon.
The Worcestershire Russells were
first recorded at Strensham near Pershore in 1283.
A branch of the family appeared in
Herefordshire in the early 1400’s. Sir
William Russell was the Royalist governor of Worcester at the time of
War. The last male representative of
these Russells died in 1705. But the
Strensham manor remained with his descendants until 1817.
Sir John Russell was reported in
1211 as the storer of the King’s wine barrels and was granted the royal
Russell near Weymouth in Devon.
His descendants held the Yaverland estate on the Isle of Wight
the 17th century, Chippenham Park in Cambridgeshire (which was
acquired by Admiral Edward Russell).
Whether Sir John was the forebear of the
famous Russell family from Dorset is unproven as no link has ever been
established. However, so convinced were
these Russells of
the connection that they purchased the Kingston Russell estate in 1560.
earliest traced ancestor was Stephen Russell who represented Weymouth
Parliament in 1394. His descendants were
wine merchants. John
Russell made a name for himself in 1506
when he was able to look after the Archduke Phillip of Austria and his
escort them to London after their ship had been caught in a storm off
Weymouth. This Russell was subsequently
ennobled as the Earl of Bedford. He
Manor in Buckinghamshire in 1526, which became the
These Russells were to establish themselves as one of
Britain's leading Whig
families and participated in every great political event from the
of the Monasteries to the Great Reform Act of 1832:
- during the 17th and 18th centuries the Russells left their mark on London by their development of Covent Garden and Bloomsbury.
- during the 18th century, the Bedfordites – led by John Russell, the fourth Duke of Bedford - were an important political faction in the country.
- during the mid-19th century, Lord John Russell of this family served as both British Prime Minister and its Foreign Secretary.
- and the family also produced the
philosopher Bertrand Russell.
By the late 19th century, however, the largest number of Russells in England was to be found in London and the southeast.
Around the year 1600 Alexander Russel was Provost of
Elgin in Morayshire. His Russell descendants were subsequently
of Moncoffer in Banffshire and Aden in Aberdeenshire.
Russel was an early 19th century Elgin merchant who had come
from a Moray
family that had farmed at Alves for several generations.
The Russells of Ashiesteel were a prominent family in Selkirkshire, many of whom distinguished themselves in military service in India in the 18th and 19th centuries. By the late 19th century, the largest number of Russells in Scotland was living in and around Glasgow.
The Russell name started to appear in Ireland soon after the
invasion when Robert de Russell was granted lands in county Down.
The main branch of this family was the
Russells of Killough. They remained
Catholic over the 17th and 18th centuries and experienced persecution
confiscation of their lands. Their numbers
Russell, the famous explorer of the Pyrenees, who had been
born of an Irish father escaping Catholic persecution at home and a
Also in the 19th
century, from the cadet Killowen branch, came:
- Dr, Charles W. Russell, a prodigious Catholic scholar at Maynooth
- and Charles A. Russell, one of the leading lawyers of his time who became Lord Chief Justice of England in 1884.
The Russell name has also been long associated with Limerick, with references to the name there as early as 1272. However, the main recorded presence post-dates the year 1650 when Cromwell laid siege to the town. Nathaniel Russell, a soldier in Cromwell’s army who died during the siege, was probably the forebear of later Russells. Russells were prominent merchants in Limerick in the 18th and 19th centuries, contributing to its commercial expansion and often serving as Mayor. Ted Russell, a more recent Limerick politician from this family, died in 2004.
America. There were two notable Joseph Russells in early New England history.
Joseph Russell of New Bedford was a descendant of John Russell who had come to Dartmouth, Massachusetts in 1661. Born in 1719, he is considered the founder of the New Bedford whaling industry.
There was another Joseph Russell, this time of Rhode Island, and another John Russell immigrant, this time to Newbury around 1650. These Russells got to Rhode Island via Cape Cod. Joseph Russell trained and worked as a silversmith (some of his pieces have survived) and later served as Chief Justice of Rhode Island. His home in Providence, built in 1772, is still standing; as is the home of his son Nathaniel, a merchant, in Charleston, South Carolina.
Thomas Russell, from a Birmingham family of ironmasters, came to Maryland in 1720 to set up Principio Ironworks, the first iron blast furnace in the country. He subsequently returned to England. But his son Thomas arrived in 1764 and produced cannonballs there for the American army during the Revolutionary War.
William Russell, born in 1735, was a prominent citizen of SW Virginia at the time of the Revolutionary War. Many of his descendants lived in Russell county, Virginia which was named after him. His son William was an early settler in Kentucky and Russell county in Kentucky was named after him.
Canada. Joseph Russell came to New Brunswick from Clackmannan in Scotland in 1819 and became a successful shipbuilder there. He and his family converted to Mormonism in 1840 and they migrated to Utah two years before Joseph’s death there in 1855.
William and Hannah Russell migrated from Kent with their nine children to Canada in 1857, first settling in Brockville on the St. Lawrence river and, then, seven years later, moving by boat to Elk Rapids on Lake Michigan. They lived there for just on a hundred years. A family Bible showed their line of descent.
New Zealand. Thomas and Mary Russell from Ireland were early migrants to New Zealand, arriving in 1840. Thomas tired his luck in the Californian goldfields a decade later, but then returned. His son J.B. Russell became a prominent Auckland lawyer.
If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:
Select Russell Names
Lord John Russell was twice Prime Minister of England in the mid 19th century.
Jack Russell, known as the Sporting Parson, was a founding member of the Kennel Club. The Jack Russell terrier was named after him.
Dr. Charles Russell was a prominent Catholic scholar of the 19th century at Maynooth in Ireland.
Bertrand Russell was an eminent British philosopher, writer and, in his later years, a campaigner for nuclear disarmament.
Bill Russell was the leader of the great Boston Celtic basketball teams of the 1950's and 1960's.
Willy Russell from a working class Liverpool background was the author of popular plays such as Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine.
Select Russells Today
- 83,000 in the UK (most numerous in Kent)
- 84,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
- 59,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)
Select Surname List
For other surnames check the surnames2 page where there are to be found the history and genealogy for more than 800 surnames.
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