Ivan G. Samarin – The Great Molokan Communicator

Molokan Review

Ivan Guryevich Samarin (1857-1948) – the “Great Molokan Communicator” – helped the Doukhobors and Molokans leave Russia at the turn of the last century. For this he was imprisoned. Samarin obtained a 99 year military exemption for the Molokans in America. He published “Spirit and Life, the Book of Songs and the Book of Prayers”. Reproduced from the pages of the Molokan Review, 1949.

The subject of this sketch was born in February 1857 in the village of Mikhailovka, Kazasch district, Elizavetpol province, Russia (present-day Azerbaijzan). his parents were Gurii Prokofievich Samarin and Lukeria Ustinovna Makarova, residents of the same village. Samarin’s education was sketchy. One old man had taught him for two months to read the old Slavic script; also for two months a friendly soldier taught him the art of writing, and a wandering peddler instructed him in the use of Arabic numerals and simple arithmetic. In those days pencils were unknown. Samarin used a slate and a tin stick, or a goose-quill, with which he wrote on coarse paper with ink made from hazelnuts.

Then in 1873, while still very young, he married Aksinya Pakhomovna Abakumov, daughter of Pakhom Pavlovich Abakumov and his wife Fedosia Fedorovna Titkova. Two years later he was engaged as a public scribe of his village. Then, having improved his ability to read and write at the office of the Justice of the Peace and the Police Commissioner, he was charged, in addition to his regular duties, with the compilation of charts showing the number of livestock at the neighbouring villages.

In 1879 and 1881, Samarin petitioned the authorities for permission for the Molokans to move to Kars and Transcaspian provinces, and he made arrangements for seed grain to be advanced to them. In 1881 Samarin himself moved to Kars province (present-day Turkey) and became scribe in four Doukhobor villages there.

Blue Marker = Molokan Village, Red Marker = Doukhobor Village View Larger Map

When Lukeria Vasilyevna Kalmakova, leader of the Doukhobor sect, died in 1886, a dispute arose concerning the Orphan’s Home (the spiritual, administrative and financial centre of the Doukhobors). Samarin, not neglecting his official tasks, aided Kalmakova’s successor, Peter ‘Lordly’ Verigin, in this controversy, preparing numerous documents on behalf of Verigin and his followers, a service that necessitated much travelling throughout the province of Tiflis (present-day Georgia). Petitions prepared by Samarin were submitted to the Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolaevich, the Tsarevich and his mother the Empress, who at that time were residing in Abastuman. 

Samarin was also instrumental in placing the Doukhobor litigation into the hands of a Tiflis attorney and in moving Vasily Lukianovich Verigin (Peter Verigin’s father) to Kars province. He had written many letters to the Verigin brothers and other persecuted Doukhobors who were living in exile in Arkhangel province, giving them advice and comfort. These and similar labours were continued by Samarin until the time when the Doukhobors proclaimed their intention to abandon all earthly pursuits and enter into a new spiritual life.

In 1893, Samarin moved to the village of Novo-Petrovka in the province of Kars where he built a turbine flourmill and engaged in the milling business. In 1897 he compiled a house-to-house statistical report on five neighbouring villages for his authorities. This task was completed with characteristic speed in three days.

At the request of his Molokan brotherhood, Samarin went in 1899 with Filipp M. Shubin to consult the Canadian consul at Batum on immigration possibilities. Later they visited Moscow to investigate Canadian laws on compulsory military service. In 1900 Samarin and Shubin visited St. Petersburg and petitioned the Emperor either to free the Molokans from military service or to grant them permission to migrate from Russia, like the Doukhobors. In June of the same year, with P.M. Shubin and F.S. Bychneff, he departed for Canada on an inspection tour for lands suitable for settlement. In the course of their journey they crossed the United States border and examined some land in Wisconsin, especially near Milwaukee. In Canada they visited various localities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, then proceeded to Ottawa, capital of the Dominion of Canada. There, they received a guarantee from the Canadian Government freeing Molokans from military service for 99 years, and a land grant for 160 acres per family, together with other concessions. In the autumn of the year named, they returned home and read a report of their journey at ten Molokan villages

Molokan immigration document.

Immediately after this, Ivan G. Samarin and Nikolai I. Agaltsoff went to St. Petersburg to learn the result of their petition, which they repeated in 1901. The net result of their insistence was the imprisonment of Samarin in a solitary cell of the Kars Prison, after many searchings and much questioning. There he was joined by P.M. Shubin. In a few months they were released on a petition by their sympathizers.

In 1902-1903, still lacking any official word from St. Petersburg, the Molokan community, after many conferences, decided to start the migration in small groups and family units. But instead of Canada, the Molokans decided to settle in the United States – in sunny California – whereupon the small parties of migrants commenced to move toward Los Angeles.

In the autumn of 1904, I.G. Samarin left Novo-Petrovka and arrived in Los Angeles in February 1905. After inspection of several plots of land with Vasily G. Pivovaroff and Mikhail S. Slivkoff, they made local arrangements for transportation credit for other Molokans to travel from New York to California. On May 10 of the same year they negotiated a large loan with the bank and with private individuals (the Mennonites in Kansas City) for other groups which were travelling through countries where cash expenditures were required.

Next, Samarin and Pivovaroff found and bought for the Brotherhood a plot of land in Guadalupe, Lower California, Mexico, where Pivovaroff made his home. Meanwhile, M.S. Slivkoff busied himself with arranging his new life, and the entire task of helping the migrants was left in Samarin’s hands.

The first which received help were five groups travelling through Argentina and five travelling through Panama. The Panama groups received transportation reduction amounting to $15.00 per fare (also one group arriving through San Francisco) and five groups travelling through Canada saved $12.00 on each fare. Considerable help was given to the migrants at Galveston, Texas, Bremen, German and Liverpool, England. Some cash remittances were made for the migrants stranded at Mazatlan and Manzanillo, in Mexico, and money and food were sent to those detained in quarantine in San Francisco.

In March 1906, Samarin, on behalf of his fellow Molokans, travelled to Mexico City and personally received the guaranties of religious freedom and suspension of customs duties for the Molokan colony at Guadalupe. Then he carried protracted negotiations regarding land grants in Lower California, at Rosario with Taras P. Tolmasoff and other Molokan representatives, and at Santa Rosa with P.M. Shubin, Ivan K. Mechikoff and many others.

In 1913-14, after many conferences, the Molokan community decided to make an effort to leave Los Angeles and take up farming. in connection with this project, which was later abandoned, I.G. Samarin and Joseph P. Kariakin prepared, on behalf of the community, an extended petition to the President of Uraguay.

In 1917, Samarin, Shubin and Pivovaroff represented the Molokans before the proper U.S. authorities with regard to the military draft which was incompatible with the Molokan religion, and in this connection, they personally visited the White House and the Russian Embassy in Washington. In 1918, Samarin further petitioned the U.S. Government to allow the Molokans to donate money to the Red Cross instead of buying war bonds – again on religious grounds. In 1922, he also compiled various documents for the Molokan representatives in Peru. In 1927-1929, Samarin and Shubin prepared petitions to diplomatic representatives of Turkey and Persia (Iran) in America, on behalf of fellow Molokans residing in these places, and in 1930, he wrote to the Secretary of Agriculture in Washington regarding lands open to settlement in the United States.

Exact reproduction of one of the pages of Rudometkin’s writings – not enlarged nor reduced.

In 1920 and 1924, Samarin organized with the enthusastic help of all fellow Molokans, the Russian Molokan Aid Society which had extended help to the famine-stricken communities in the Caucasus and Transcaspian provinces in Russia. This society sent clothing, shoes and food – flour, beans, etc, as well as money. These shipments were of vast help to the sufferers and literally saved many lives. The Molokan community opened its purse and heart to this appeal, contributions being received from all members of all ages and of both sexes. In addition, in 1931 and through 1938, large cash contributions were solicited for the destitute refugees in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran. In connection with benevolent activities, Samarin conducted a large correspondence and rendered all other possible help.

In 1915-1917, Samarin edited and published the book Spirit and Life, which contained the writings of Molokan Maxim Gavrilovich Rudometkin, written by him in monastary imprisonment in 1858-1877. These writings were smuggled out of Russia by Alexei Sergeevich Tolmacheff, concealed in loaves of freshly baked bread. These were written not only in a very small hand, but partly in the old Slavic script, as shown in the picture herewith. Samarin had spent countless hours deciphering these pages, often with the help of a magnifying glass, and preparing them for publication.

In 1928-1930, Samarin issued the second printing of the book. At the same time he published the Book of Songs and the Prayer Book for the Spiritual Molokans.

Having spent 75 years in blissful marraige with Aksinya Pakhomovna, he sorrowfully bade her a last earthly farewell on May 29, 1948. Exactly six months later, on November 29, he rejoined her, thus ending his earthly wanderings. Both passed on in Los Angeles at the ripe age of 92. Thus was written the last chapter of the unselfish life of this outstanding scholar and historian, the indefatigable leader of his people who left undying memories in the hearts of his countless friends and followers.

All his work after 1879 was performed by Ivan G. Samarin without thought of personal gain, but solely out of love for his people. In his passing, the Molokan community has lost one of the most active labourers in God’s Vineyard, as well as an outstanding leader who guided his people to happiness, peaceful life and physical and spiritual well-being.