Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Russell, Jonathan

Jonathan Russell (1771-1832), diplomat, was born in Providence on February 27, 1771, the son of Jonathan and Abigail (Russell) Russell. His father was descended from John Russell, a 1640 resident of Charlestown, Massachusetts, to whom his mother of the same surname was not related. He graduated from Rhode Island College in 1791. He studied law, but did not practice. He married Sylvia Ammidon and entered into European trade with his partner Otis Ammidon. He was known as an orator, and his Fourth of July oration in 1800 in the First Baptist Church in Providence was published in a number of editions. However, William Giles Goddard wrote in a biographical notice in the American Quarterly Register, “Mr. Russell had no skill as a forensic or parliamentary speaker; but, as a writer, he possessed versatile and eminent gifts. He wrote, not only with facility, but with uncommon elegance and force – and, when the subject permitted, with a caustic severity not often surpassed.” His diplomatic career began when President James Madison appointed him chargé d’affaires in Paris in 1810. The next year he was given the same position in London. From 1814 to 1818 he was United States minister to Sweden and Norway. He was one of the negotiators of the Treaty of Ghent, with John Quincy Adams, James A. Bayard, Henry Clay, and Albert Gallatin. Only he and Clay voted against the proposal which traded free navigation of the Mississippi River for rights to the Northeast fisheries. This action later brought him into controversy with John Quincy Adams, who felt that Russell sought to discredit him. The Dictionary of American Biography points out that “Jonathan Russell” was adopted as political slang in New England, being used as a verb, as to “Jonathan Russell” an opponent in a dispute. In 1818 he was recalled from Sweden by James Monroe, and the next year he settled in Mendon, Massachusetts. After his one term in the United States House of Representatives, from 1821 to 1823, Russell retired from public life. He died in Boston on February 17, 1832.