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John Hooe Russel Papers



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John Hooe Russel Papers, 1870-1942 | Eastern Kentucky University - Special Collections and Archives

By Neil Kasiak

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Collection Overview

Title: John Hooe Russel Papers, 1870-1942Add to your cart.View associated digital content.

Extent: 2.24 Cubic Feet

Date Acquired: 05/30/2002


The John Hooe Russel Papers consist primarily of correspondence and financial materials from Russel's mercantile businesses and his administrative involvement in the Huntington National Bank of Huntington, West Virginia. There are also other documents and publications that represent late 19th Century ephemera. The Correspondence Series contains personal letters between the Col. and Mrs. Caperton and the Russels, both John Hooe and Minerva Phelps, Russel's second wife and mother to Albert Lacy Russel, as well as, other letters from Russel acquaintances and family members.

Scope and Contents of the Materials

John Hooe Russel was a successful 19th Century business man and banker who married into the Phelps family of Madison County, KY not once but twice. The John Hooe Russel Papers consist of the surviving financial materials from Russel's mercantile venture with I. Erkskine Miller of Stauton, VA, and his involvement with the Huntington National Bank. The papers also include a large volume of correspondence from his personal life and other business ventures. After a three year stint in business with Miller waned, Russel moved back to Huntsville where he continued to run a grocery. In 1873 he migrated to Huntington, WV to continue his trade by opening the first Huntington grocery store. In 1875 Russel, Col. Peter Buffington and a few other investors opened the Huntington National Bank, which acted as the town's sole bank for some time. Russel also became heavily involved in real estate in the Huntington region. He eventually became the acting President of the Huntington National Bank, a position that he held until his death on 6 Jan 1903.

The John Hooe Russel Papers contain a variety of materials from his professional and home life. They also contain private correspondence from his first marriage to Nettie Phelps of Madison County Kentucky, and his second marriage to Minerva Phelps of the same. Nettie and Minerva were cousins by birth; their respective fathers being brothers. After the premature death of Nettie in November 1896 and their only son a few months later, Russel continued to maintain a close relationship with his in-laws. The connection to his widow's family (Samuel Phelps) culminated in a second marriage to a Phelps descendant, Minerva (daughter of Thomas Phelps), on 8 May 1901. They remained in Huntington until Russel's death, which left behind a distraught widow and son, Albert Lacy Russel. The Correspondence Series also contains extensive materials from Russel family members and other friends and acquaintances. Even though the collection seems incomplete, it does provide excellent context for the professional lifestyle and interests of a prominent late 19th Century Southern capitalist, banker and business man.

His papers should be considered in conjunction with the Caperton/Burnam Family Papers and other collections that were compiled by other Kentucky and West Virginia elites. In particular, An Accumulation of Family Evidence, a three volume set written by Katherine Phelps Caperton (See Caperton/Burnam Family Papers), contains a great deal of information about Russel's life and ancestry.

Collection Historical Note

Brigadier-General John Hooe Russel was born 15 Jun 1842 and he died on 6 Jan 1903. Russel married Nettie Phelps, the daughter of Samuel Phelps, in 1893. Nettie Phelps Russel passed away from illness in 1896, leaving behind a frail John Hooe Russel Jr. who followed his mother's fate some six months later. After Nettie's death, Russel continued to maintain cordial correspondence with his former Phelps in-laws. His close connections with Richmond and the Phelps family led to a 1901 marriage to Minerva Phelps, daughter of Thomas Phelps. Their only son, Albert Lacy Russel, was born in Feb 1902.

John Hooe Russel led an interesting and relatively successful life in post-Civil War America. As the story goes, Russel buried a $3,000 horde of gold on his family plantation shortly before the Civil War was in full swing [see Men of West Virginia Vol. I, (Biographical Publishing Co. Chicago, IL 1903), p. 44-5]. He came back for the gold after the war only to find his family plantation devastated by the conflict and his sister being his only surviving family member. Russel invested his horde in a successful Texas based mercantile business with I. Erkskine Miller of Staunton, VA. After three years in business with Miller, Russel moved back to his hometown where he remained for a short while. Miller and Russel would later commit to moving out west, until they met up with General Echols of Louisville, KY, Miller's father-in-law. Under Gen. Echols' advise the business partners moved to Huntington, WV, where they would have a heavy hand in establishing the town during its formative years. A group of investors, which included Col. Peter Buffington, Russel and other prominent men, eventually opened the Huntsville National Bank in 1873. By 1875, Russel had become the acting Bank President, which not only marked a high point in Russel's professional career but the appointment also made him the youngest bank president (to date) in the United States.

There are two distinct stories that involve Russel that have left a lasting impression. The first event took place in 5 Sep 1875, when the "James Gang" robbed the Huntington National Bank for roughly $10,000. Russel, after returning from a lunch break, apparently raised a possee and joined in the pursuit of the robbers into Kentucky. His efforts would remain unrewarded for sometime, however, two robbers were later apprehended, and a bulk of the stolen money and a pair of Russel's dueling pistols were recovered. Russel's reputation for being both a successful banker and man of honor grew after the robbery ordeal.

Another chain of events in 1893, well known by those in the banking industry during the time, highlight the reputation that Russel maintained throughout his life. The situation surrounded his involvement with a Cincinnati bank that the Huntington National Bank maintained an extensive depository relationship with while in operation. Russel apparently had insider information about the impending closure of The Fidelity National Bank of Cincinnati, OH. Upon discovering the troubling news Russel immediately had a draft drawn for the money owed to the Huntington Bank and raced to Ohio to resolve the situation. Once he arrived it became clear that the pending closure was fact and Russel shrewdly negotiated for full payment of the substantial debts owed. The following day the bank closed, all other depositors lost their wealth, and E. L. Harper, the Fidelity Bank Manager was in prison on criminal speculation charges.

Administrative Information

Repository: Eastern Kentucky University - Special Collections and Archives

Acquisition Source: Burnam, Caperton & Rollins

Processing Information: The John Hooe Russel Papers were found within the Caperton/Burnam Family Papers. They were consequently separated and arranged as an individual collection during reprocessing in 2014.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Series:

[Series 1: Calling Cards],
[Series 2: Correspondence],
[Series 3: Financials],
[Series 4: Legal],
[Series 5: Miscellaneous],
[Series 6: Ephemera/Memorabilia],
[Series 7: Photographs],
[Series 8: Oversized],

Series 8: OversizedAdd to your cart.
Contains the blue prints and oversized photographs that were processed.
Folder OS 1: Oversize PhotographsAdd to your cart.
Barcode: 31234013921919
Item 142: Unidentified Woman and ChildAdd to your cart.
Creator: Sanford
Physical Description: 10x14
Item 143: Unidentified ChildAdd to your cart.
Creator: Gardner
Physical Description: 10x20
Item 144: Unidentified Woman (Bride)Add to your cart.
Creator: unknown
Physical Description: 10x20
Item 145: A Boy ReadingAdd to your cart.
Photograph of a painting
Creator: Foppa
Physical Description: 18x20
Folder OS 2: Blue PrintsAdd to your cart.
Contents include a few blue prints of the Russel residence in Huntington, West Virginia.
Barcode: 31234013922115
Folder OS 3: Miscellaneous Oversize, 1871-1902Add to your cart.
Includes information on the Canda Manufacturing Company of Cateret, NJ, a plat for a Russel plantation in Madison County, AL, a broadside with images of Civil War Generals and an advertisement for a Scimitar printing press.
Barcode: 31234013922123

Browse by Series:

[Series 1: Calling Cards],
[Series 2: Correspondence],
[Series 3: Financials],
[Series 4: Legal],
[Series 5: Miscellaneous],
[Series 6: Ephemera/Memorabilia],
[Series 7: Photographs],
[Series 8: Oversized],

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