Alfred F. Russell

Alfred F. Russell
Credit: Wikipedia

Alfred Francis Russell

Term 10th President: 1883 – 1884
Born 1817?, Lexington, Kentucky, USA
Died April 4, 1884, Liberia
Race/Ethnicity White, Americo-Liberian
County of Origin Montserrado
Profession Minister
Political Party True Whig Party


Alfred’s mother, Milly Russell, was 1/8 black, and a slave to Mrs. Jane Hawkins Todd Irvine of Kentucky, USA. It is believed that Jane’s grandson, John Russell was visiting his grandmother on vacation from Princeton University, and became Milly’s lover. She had a son named Alfred after John’s visit, and he was a white child born into slavery. When Jane Hawkins Todd Irvine died, Milly and her son were bought by Jane’s daughter, Mary Owen Todd Russell (Mrs. Polly) who was John Russell’s mother. At the time of this transaction, Alfred Russell was about 10 or 12 years old in 1825.

Milly and Alfred Russell, along with Milly’s cousin Lucy Russell and her four children, left Kentucky for Liberia in March 1833. They traveled down to New Orleans and there “They boarded the brig Ajax on April 20, 1833, with the white missionary A.H. Savage & H.D. King, agent for the Tenn. Colonization Society” (4 Letters, 1833). Many, especially children, died during this voyage.

When they arrived in Frankfort, Milly wrote a letter to Mrs Polly (Mary Owen Todd Russell Wickliffe), thanking her for her kindness and wishing her God’s blessings; and also expressing their fears of traveling alone with the children. After three months at sea, the family arrived in Liberia on July 11, 1833 on the brig Ajax which brought in a total of 146 settlers. The family settled in Clay-Ashland.

The Russells in Liberia communicated a few times with Mrs. Polly’s husband, Robert Wickliffe, telling about their suffering in the colony. Alfred recalled that they were spoiled children by Mrs. Polly and only his mother knew much about hard work. Eventually they learned to make a living in this new land. His mother died in 1845 while he was evangelizing in the hinterland.


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1837 – 1854 Methodist Minister
Episcopal Priest
School master in Greenville, Sinoe County
1856 – 1860 Senator for Montserrado County
1878 – 1883 Vice President under President Gardner
1883 – 1884 President of Liberia

Being in the Clay Ashland area, Alfred took to farming, growing sugar cane and coffee. He also had interest in the law, asking Mr. Wickliffe for any law related materials that he could study. Russell became a Methodist minister and served as a missionary in different parts of the county. He later joined the Episcopal Church and became a priest.

He was first elected to the Liberian Senate in 1850; he served from 1851 to 1859, 1863 to 1867 and 1877 to 1879. From 1872 to 1876 he served as the commissioner of education. Gardner and Russell were elected President and Vice President in 1877 on the True Whig ticket. Russell was the first VP to succeed a president.


President Gardner resigned due to failing health and the boundary disputes over the Gallinas area with the English colonizers in Sierra Leone. As Vice President, Russell succeeded him and served the rest of his term from January 20, 1883 to January 7, 1884.

Being a Christian Minister who had traveled to the hinterland and worked with the natives, he saw their treatment by the government land commissioners as derogatory. In his view, the founding of the colony and nation was also intended to uplift the aboriginals and include them in the body of politics and religion. His proclamation on March 29, 1883 pertaining to the treatment of the natives and their lands included the following:

…the policy of the present Government to bring about the best and most friendly feelings on the part of our aboriginal citizens (for they are important, nay indispensable, to us in building up this national fabric, and the redemption of land, so long under the domination of the devil);

…it has too often come to the knowledge of Government that the practice has hitherto prevailed of buying and selling their lands, ignoring their rights and causing great distress and suffering;…

Therefore, I, Alfred F. Russell, President of the Republic of Liberia, in virtue of the authority vested in me as such by the constitution and laws of the same, do enjoin and command all land commissioners and registrars to carefully abstain from giving deeds for lands surveyed or granted, and also all surveyors to abstain from surveying lands in violation of this proclamation without first submitting their action to the inspection of Government.

-Alfred F. Russell, 1883

President Russell felt like a caretaker so he concentrated on the normal duties of a president, implementing current policies and didn’t introduce any new plans. Due to his old age, he did not want to run for the presidency during the next election. Despite his protests, the British in Sierra Leone took the land between Sherbro Island and the Mano River. This was about 1/5 of Liberia’s total land area at the time. There was nothing that Liberia could do to get the land back. His term also saw some Grebo men in the legislature, but that trend did not extend to the other tribes and ended not long after.

Post Presidency

He was succeeded by Hilary R.W. Johnson who won the election in May 1883 and began his term in January 1884. Russell was an elderly man and died on April 4, 1884, a few months after leaving the presidency.


4 Letters from Liberia to Kentucky; Milly Crawford on her journey from Lexington, Kentucky, March 10, 1833. Wickliffe-Preston Family Papers, Box 39, University of Kentucky Special Collections and Archives. 28 Dec. 1997.

Cassell, Abayomi. Liberia: History of the First African Republic. New York. Fountainhead Publishers, 1970. Print.

Kraaij, FPM Van Der. “The Presidents” Liberia Past And Present. N.p., n.d. Web.

Russell, Alfred F. Letter to Robert Wickliffe in Lexington, Kentucky. Box 50, Wickliffe-Preston Family Papers, University of Kentucky Special Collections and Archives. 1883.

Russell, Alfred F. United States Department of State / Papers relating to the foreign relations of the United States, transmitted to congress, with the annual message of the president, December 4, 1883.

Wilson, Charles Morrow. Liberia: Black Africa in Microcosm. [1st ed.]. Harper & Row, 1971. Print.