Joseph Russell was a master shipbuilder and owner of Beaubears Island, which was located in the middle of the Miramichi River in New Brunswick, Canada.
He bought the island in 1838 and expanded the island’s shipyard's capability. Five ships could be constructed simultaneously. The shipbuilding site occupies the eastern end of the island and is a national historic site.
Russell and his family were converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1841.
One of his ships, Zion’s Hope, was offered to the British Mission to help bring emigrating Saints from England. He sailed with it on its maiden voyage to Liverpool to offer it to carry emigrants to California on their way to Utah Territory. However, when the British church members were unwilling to operate the ship and to finance its voyage, the offer lapsed.
Russell was born on August 17, 1786, in Clackmannan, Clackmannanshire, Scotland. He joined the Royal Navy at age 12. He married Ann Agnes Hunter at Chatham, New Brunswick, in 1819. By 1826 he was the owner of several buildings in Chatham, one of which was the King’s Arms, a hotel he also operated. As the focal point in the community, this inn was the site of a dance school, the sheriff’s tax sales, and meetings of the fire company, the chamber of commerce, and the agricultural society.
In 1827, he began building ships after fire destroyed his hotel and two other buildings on January 19, 1831. In 1839 he moved his business to Beaubears Island.
He was a member of the grand jury and overseer of the poor in Chatham in 1832. Although he never held elected office, he was involved in some minor political efforts and held appointed positions.
After the family’s baptism, they continued to be active in social and religious activities. However, in the winter of 1847–48, while trying to address an indoor meeting of Latter-day Saints in Chatham, “he was harassed by a crowd. He attempted to reason with them but, despite his former association with the town, his civic involvement, and his age, he was physically beaten so that he had to stop preaching.”
After he established his business on Beaubears Island, he was overseer of the poor for Nelson Parish from 1840 to 1842 and was again a member of the grand jury in 1844 and in 1846. He also presided over a small branch of the Church on Beaubears Island.
Russell sold his business and the island in 1850. He had built 29 reputable ships, and had amassed $70,000 by the time he retired in 1850.
He emigrated to Utah in 1853. In Utah Territory, he helped finance the Deseret Manufacturing Company, which was established for the production of beet sugar; however, the company was not successful.
He died in Utah on March 10, 1855. He and his wife had four sons and five daughters, seven of whom were buried on Beaubears Island after their deaths.
A panel telling of Joseph Russell’s dedication and contributions was unveiled on October 15, 2005, a joint project supported by Parks Canada, Friends of Beaubears Island, the local Latter-day Saint New Brunswick stake, and the Ensign Peak Foundation.