north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 
 

 
 
 

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     Daniel Lindsay Russell, Jr. (1845-1908) was elected to office by the “Fusion” alliance of Republicans and Populists in the bitter and racially charged election of 1896. The “Maverick Republican” was the son of Daniel Lindsay and Caroline Sanders Russell, born on August 7, 1845, at Winnabow plantation in Brunswick County. At age six, he went to live at Palo Alto, the Onslow County home of his grandfather. Educated first by private tutors, Russell at age twelve left to study at the Bingham School in Orange County. Three years later he entered the University of North Carolina; the war cut short his education.

Both Russell and his father were outspoken critics of secession. However, once the war broke out, both men raised companies for the Confederate States of America. The younger Russell organized an artillery unit in 1862, the Lamb Artillery, which later became 3rd Company G, 36th Regiment N.C. Troops (2nd Regiment N.C. Artillery). Both Russells clashed with their superior officers and were also critical of conscription. The younger Russell was court martialed and reduced to ranks (private) in February 1864 for his beating of Chief Enrolling Officer William M. Swann in Wilmington, due to the latter having made derogatory comments about Russell’s father. On furlough following the verdict, he was appointed a county commissioner for Brunswick County by Governor Zebulon Baird Vance. When Maj. Gen. W. H. C. Whiting, in command at Wilmington, objected as Russell was still a Confederate soldier, Vance responded that as a county commissioner he was now an exempted state officer and no longer liable for military service. A solution was found allowing Russell to return to service at his former rank of captain, after he which he resigned the following February.

In the meantime, Russell had been elected in August 1864, at the age of nineteen, to the first of two terms in the state House. With the advent of Radical Reconstruction, Russell sided with the new Republican regime and won election as a Superior Court judge, remaining in that position for six years. While Russell maintained a law office in Wilmington, his residence was in Brunswick County from which he was returned to the legislature in 1876. Two years later he entered the Third District Congressional race as a member of the Greenback Party and served a single term. He did not seek re-election in 1880 and returned to his law practice. Out of political office and doubtful of returning, Daniel Russell often spoke candidly. He castigated the Democrats for their unabated use of the racial issue, noting how Blacks were victims of White brutality, although he himself also used racist language which would cause him later political problems down the line.

By the early 1890s agrarian unrest and economic depression split the state’s Democratic Party. The schism widened, giving the Republicans a long-awaited opportunity. An alliance with Populists resulted in victories in 1896 that removed control of the legislature from the Democrats and placed Republican Russell in the governor’s office. A number of advances were made during Russell’s administration: the Railroad Commission gave way to a Corporate Commission; a new law provided for popular election of the Commissioner of Agriculture; and a Department of Insurance was established. Some of the greatest gains came in education: an 1897 law restored the office of county superintendent; school districts were required to vote on local school taxes until approved; and a legislative appropriation of $50,000 aided school districts in complying with the tax law.

One of Russell’s greatest disappointments stemmed from his inability to recover the North Carolina Railroad from its lease to the Southern Railway. Bipartisan support for the lease and the influence of railroad tycoon J. P. Morgan forced Russell to abandon his efforts. Frustration followed disappointment in the last two years of his term as a reorganized Democratic Party resurrected the racial issue in 1898 and staged the white supremacist campaign, capturing control of the legislature and many state offices. The Democrats virtually negated any gubernatorial powers, witness Russell’s ineffectiveness in using state troops to quell the insurrection and massacre of African Americans in Wilmington, as the white officers joined with the “Red Shirt” rioters. Further insult followed when Russell was forced to accept the “Grandfather Clause” effectively prohibiting Blacks from voting.

Not only was Russell’s political career over in 1901 but the failure of his farms had drained his financial resources. He returned to Belville in Brunswick County to try to recoup his losses, resting his hopes on speculation in repudiated state bonds. The scheme was a failure and, at his death on May 14, 1908, his estate cleared only $1,000.

Daniel L. Russell married a cousin, Sarah Amanda Sanders, in 1869; they had no children. Russell’s Brunswick home, a five-bay, two-story frame structure built largely from materials taken from the nearby home of colonial governor Nathaniel Rice, is extant though in some disrepair. Russell is buried in a family plot at Belgrade in Onslow County. (Note: Directional line in inscription should read N.E. rather than N.W.)

References:
Joseph Parsons Brown, The Commonwealth of Onslow (1960)
Carolina Cultivator (April 1855), 59-60—description of Russell plantation
Jeffrey J. Crow and Robert F. Durden, Maverick Republican in the Old North State: A Political Biography of Daniel L. Russel (1977)
William McKee Evans, “Russell, Daniel Lindsay,” in William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 271-273 (1994)
Governor’s Papers: Daniel L. Russell, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh
Lawrence Lee, The History of Brunswick County, North Carolina (1980)
Louis Manarin, comp., North Carolina Troops 1861-1865: A Roster, I, 281 (1966)
Daniel Lindsay Russell Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Survey and Planning Branch files, State Historic Preservation Office, North Carolina Office of Archives and History
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Gov. Daniel Lindsay Russell

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