William Jarvis Russell, naval officer, army officer, and legislator, was born in Onslow County, North Carolina, on January 3, 1802. He was single when he moved to Brazoria, Texas, from Louisiana in 1828. He took the oath of allegiance to Mexico on April 7. On March 12, 1832, he married a widow, Eleanor Heady Guthrie, born in 1813 in Spencer County, Kentucky. They became the parents of twelve children. In May 1832 Russell was among the citizens at Anahuac who demanded of John Davis Bradburn the release of William B. Travis and Patrick C. Jack, arrested by Mexican authorities (see ANAHUAC DISTURBANCES). When their release was not forthcoming, Russell accompanied John Austin to Brazoria to secure a cannon to enforce their demands. On their return to Anahuac, Austin and Russell were stopped by the garrison at Velasco commanded by Domingo de Ugartechea, who refused to allow the gun to pass. On June 22, 1832, Russell was appointed lieutenant in command of the schooner Brazoria and ordered to bombard the Mexicans from the Brazos River. At the battle of Velasco Russell is said to have fired the first shot of the Texas Revolution, on June 26, 1832. On June 29 he and William H. Wharton received the surrender of Velasco. At Harrisburg on June 4, 1835, Russell signed a petition to the Mexican government protesting what the signers felt to be the arbitrary enforcement of the customs laws at Anahuac, and on June 23, 1835, he took an active role in the formulation of the Columbia Resolutions, which called for a meeting to adopt "measures to meet the present crisis" and pledged to support the decision of the majority on how to deal with growing troubles with Mexican officials. On September 26 Russell was elected chairman of the Committee of Safety of Matagorda County, which raised a company of volunteers for Texas defense and elected delegates to the Consultation at San Felipe de Austin.
Russell joined Capt. James W. Fannin's company of Brazoria Guards in October 1835 and took part in the capture of Goliad on October 9, 1835 (see GOLIAD CAMPAIGN OF 1835), and the siege of Bexar. He was on detached duty at the time of the battle of San Jacinto and was discharged from the army in July 1836. From 1836 to 1838 he was justice of the peace of the fourth district of Brazoria County. In 1837 he was living in Brazoria when he traded slaves with Mirabeau B. Lamar. At Lockhart on July 5, 1838, he joined Capt. Byrd Lockhart's company of rangers and was elected first lieutenant. In 1838 Russell was elected from Brazoria to fill William H. Wharton's unexpired Senate term in the Second Congress but attended no session. In 1840 he was living in Brazoria County, where he owned 500 acres, two town lots in Velasco, seven slaves, two gold watches, and two saddle horses. He was elected district clerk of Matagorda County on March 27, 1841, and was reelected on February 3, 1845. In 1848 Russell moved to a farm near La Grange, where by 1850 he owned $3,000 in real estate. In 1849 and 1850 he represented the district in the House of Representatives of the Third Legislature. He also served as chief justice of Fayette County and was president of the board of trustees of Rutersville College. In 1871 he moved to Austin and in 1881 to Clarksville, where he died at the home of his daughter and son-in-law, William McMaster, on November 17, 1881. His widow died in Dallas on March 22, 1890. Russell was a member and past president of the Texas Veterans Association.