A Visit to the Dukhobortsy on the Sea of Azov, 1816

by Robert Pinkerton

Robert Pinkerton (1780-1859) was a Scottish missionary of the British and Foreign Bible Society who travelled extensively throughout Russia during the reign of Tsar Alexander I. In 1816, he travelled to the Dukhobortsy living on the Molochnaya River in Tavria province, Russia. He kept a journal and recorded his detailed impressions of his visit. The following account is reproduced from his published memoirs, “Russia: or, Miscellaneous Observations on the Past and Present State of that Country and its Inhabitants” (London: Seeley and Sons, 1833). It is the earliest surviving Western account of the Doukhobor colony on the Molochnaya and provides invaluable historic insights about their way of life and beliefs. Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

In 1816, after having visited the tribe of Nogai Tartars that wander with their flocks and herds about the extensive steppes of Little Tartary, on the Sea of Azov, and having made preparations for supplying the villages of German colonists recently settled there with the Holy Scriptures, I purposed, on my way towards the Crimea, to see the Dukhobortsy [Doukhobors] who live on the River Molochnaya and on the Sea of Azov [collectively known as Molochnaya Vody or “Milky Waters”].

Robert Pinkerton (1780-1859).

On approaching the first of their villages on the Molochnaya, I met with a female and inquired of her where the chief person of the place resided. The answer she gave me was, “Among us, no one is greater than another”. The next person I met was a shepherd attending his flock, an old man with grey hair. I made my driver stop, and beckoned to the man to draw near. This he did, and uncovering his head, he leaned over his staff and replied to my inquiries. 

I asked the old man if he could could read. He replied, “Yes, I can read the word of life”. From this I naturally thought that he was able to read the Bible, and offered him a Tract on the Bible Society. He refused, however, to accept it, saying that he could not read our books, but only the Book of Life which he had learnt by heart. In other words, that he could repeat the principal doctrinal and moral articles of the Dukhobortsy sect. And when I touched upon some of the articles, as given in my work on the Orthodox Church, he repeated them distinctly; in others of them his memory failed him.

I stopped in a second village [Terpeniye], the capital, and without ceremony entered one of the best looking houses, requesting a glass of water. This a young man readily handed to me. After a little talk with him, I discovered that I was in the chancery, or place where the civil affairs of the sect are transacted [Sirotsky Dom or “Orphans Home”].

I told him distinctly what my object was in visiting them, and begged him to introduce me to some of their seniors. All this seemed rather suspicious to him; yet he sent for one of the Elders, who had been in St. Petersburg as a deputy to the Government, and who soon after, with several of his brethren, made his appearance. After a little talk about Senator Hoblitz and other gentlemen who had shown them kindness during their stay in St. Petersburg, they seemed in some degree to lay aside their reserve, and replied freely to my inquiries.

I took out my volume on the Orthodox Church and read to the assembly the passages which I had written concerning the Dukhobortsy, and I had the satisfaction of hearing them distinctly state their principles in the very terms there given. As soon as I began any paragraph by translating a few words, they generally gave the remainder exactly as stated in the book. The two prayers they repeated verbatim. One passage only was found to require explanation that of their “having all things in common”. This was their practice when they came to the Molochnaya, but now every family has its own private property, cattle, fields, etc. Still they have fields of corn, gardens and flocks which belong to the whole community, and the revenues of which are applied for the common benefit of the society. This is also the custom of the Mennonites, who live near them, and of other German colonists; a custom, in their case, independent of religious considerations.

Doukhobor village, Melitopol district, Tavria province, Russia circa 1816.

This extraordinary sect, the Dukhobortsy, is settled in eight [nine] villages and consists of about 2,500 souls. I saw an individual of them who had been sixteen years exiled to Siberia, for conscience sake. He spoke with great feeling, when contrasting his former sufferings with his present prosperous circumstances. He was a fine looking, middle aged man, and was returning on horseback from viewing his corn fields and flocks, country like, without his coat. They have been collected from every part of the Empire, and are entirely separated from the Orthodox Church. Indeed, it was the object of the Tsarist government, in colonizing them here, to put it out of their power to make any more proselytes to their peculiar opinions. Their neat and clean dress, comfortable looking huts, and industrious habits, their numerous flocks, and extensive and well cultivated fields, widely distinguish them from the common Russian peasantry.

Their neighbours the Mennonites and other German colonists speak well of their morals; but all complain of their reserve and shyness of character. No doubt they have been taught this by the severe persecutions to which they have for ages been exposed, and out of which they can scarcely yet believe themselves delivered. Their neighbours seem to know but little of their religious tenets. The Mennonites say they are a peaceable and industrious people, but accuse them of hypocrisy. Hence, they say, when some of their members were convicted of drunkenness, they denied the fact, and maintained that their members were all holy.

Very few among the Doukhobors appear to be capable of reading; yet their members seem to have had the doctrines of the sect instilled into them by oral instruction. These lessons are committed to memory. They have no schools among them, nor did I see a book of any kind among them. I recommended to them the Bible, and offered to supply them with it; but they refused to accept any copies, saying, “That what was in the Bible was in them also”. I told them that some of their neighbours suspected them of immoral habits, because in speaking of females and children they did not use the common expressions of “my wife”, “my child” etc. but rather “my sister”, “our child” etc. This insinuation they indignantly repelled, exclaiming, “Are we then beasts?” “But” continued they, “we are accustomed to every kind of false accusation”.

Dukhoborets – a Doukhobor man.

Dukhoborka – a Doukhobor woman.

Their whole aspect and manner of intercourse with strangers, indicates a degree of shyness and distrust which is quite extraordinary. Hence, also, their evasive answers to all direct inquiries respecting their sect. Some of them, however, ventured to speak with me freely, and with warmth, against the use of images in worship. Their assemblies for religious purposes are held in the open air, or in private dwellings, according as the weather suits. They say their doctrines are as old as the world, and they either would not, or could not, give me any particulars of the rise of the sect in Russia.

It was, doubtless, the heavy burden of superstitious ceremonies in the services of the Orthodox Church which drove the founders of this sect to reject all ceremony, and external ordinances of every kind. Many of this sect, I fear, are deists.

But we need not wonder at these indications of fear and distrust. For at the very time I visited them, as I afterwards learned, intrigues were on foot in order to ruin them, under the twofold accusation of their harbouring deserters and making proselytes.


Between 1812 and 1822, Robert Pinkerton travelled extensively throughout Russia in the service of the British and Foreign Bible Society, a non-denominational Christian charity formed in England in 1804 for the purpose of making affordable, vernacular translations of the Bible available throughout the world. Through his indefatigable efforts, readily supported by Tsar Alexander I and the Russian nobility, the Russian Bible Society was established in St. Petersburg in 1812-1813. In the years that followed, Pinkerton assisted in the formation of dozens of local branches of the Russian Bible Society, through which thousands of Russian language Bibles were distributed to the peasantry.

Through his travels and studies, Pinkerton became acquainted with the Doukhobor religious sect. In 1815, he translated an 1805 tract about the sect, Several Characteristics of Doukhobor Society as part of his English publication of Platon’s “Present State”.  In September of the same year, he travelled forty miles north of Vyborg, Finland to the Imatra Waterfall, where he found a colony of Don Cossack Doukhobors living in exile there: Visit to the Dukhobortsy Exiled in Finland, 1815. The Scottish missionary was deeply moved by his meeting with the Doukhobor exiles, who were most thankful to receive copies of the Russian Scriptures and publications from the Russian Bible Society.

It was in this context that in 1816, Pinkerton, accompanied by a cargo of Bibles, set out to visit the largest group of Doukhobors in the Russian Empire: those living on the Molochnaya River in Tavria province near the Sea of Azov. There, he expected to find kindred spirits whom he could supply with copies of the Scriptures on behalf of the Russian Bible Society.

Pinkerton visited two Doukhobor villages on the Molochnaya. At the first unnamed village, he encountered two Doukhobors with whom he had a short exchange. At the second village, which was Terpeniye, he was conducted to the Sirotsky Dom (Orphan’s Home) where he addressed a group of Doukhobors and met briefly with a Doukhobor elder. Thereafter, Pinkerton departed from Terpeniye and travelled to the neighbouring Mennonite villages across the Molochnaya. His recorded impressions of his visit are brief, forming a random compendium of his conversations with the Doukhobor colonists and their Mennonite neighbours.

Pinkerton found the Molochnaya Doukhobors to be settled in eight villages (he erred as there were nine Doukhobor villages in 1816) with a total population of 2,500 residents. Materially speaking, his impression of the colony was highly favourable. The Doukhobors’ “neat and clean dress” he wrote, “comfortable-looking huts, and industrious habits, their numerous flocks, and extensive and well-cultivated fields, widely distinguish them from the common Russian peasantry.” In every aspect, the Doukhobors verified the opinion of their Mennonite neighbours that they were a “peaceable and industrious people…”.

View Tavria Doukhobor Villages, 1802-1845 in a larger map

The Scottish missionary noted that when they first came to the Molochnaya, the Doukhobors held everything in common. However, by 1816 the Doukhobors had abandoned communalism and distributed their property on an individual basis. Pinkerton recorded that “now every family has its own private property, cattle, fields, etc. Still they have fields of corn, gardens and flocks which belong to the whole community, and the revenues of which are applied for the common benefit of the society.” By this he meant the lands belonging to the Sirotsky Dom, the Doukhobors’ financial, administrative and spiritual centre.

Pinkerton found the Doukhobors proficiently disciplined in matters of faith and doctrine. The first sectarian he encountered was a female, whom he met on the approaches of the first village. He inquired of the woman “where the chief person of the place resided.” She answered that “among us, no one is greater than another.” The second Doukhobor Pinkerton met was an elderly shepherd tending a flock of sheep. With him, Pinkerton began a discussion of the chief doctrines of Doukhoborism, based on the 1805 tract. He found that the old Doukhobor could repeat some of the articles “distinctly”. Similarly, when Pinkerton read passages from the tract to the Doukhobors at Terpeniye, he “had the satisfaction of hearing them distinctly state their principles in the very terms there given.” They also dutifully advised him against the use of images in worship.  As these encounters indicate, the Molochnaya Doukhobors possessed a strong doctrinal unity.

At the same time, Pinkerton found the Doukhobors to be evasive in their replies to many of his inquiries. “Their whole aspect, and manner of intercourse with strangers,” he found, “indicate a degree of shyness and distrust which is quite extraordinary; hence, also their evasive answers to all direct inquiries respecting their sect.” Neighbouring Mennonites also complained of the “reserve and shyness” of the Doukhobors, which gave rise to various vague rumours and accusations about the sect. What Pinkerton and the Mennonites did not take sufficiently into account, however, was the intensity of persecution that had made the Doukhobors evolve evasion as a means of dealing with authorities or with passing strangers.

Unlike their brethren in Finland, the Molochnaya Doukhobors were now living in a completely Doukhobor setting under the dynamic influence of their leader Kapustin and the exclusivist doctrines embodied in his psalms.  They possessed the fully-developed version of the Living Book and had come to reject the Bible as an exclusive source of divine revelation.

Hence, Pinkerton’s main objective of distributing Bibles among the Molochnaya Doukhobors proved unsuccessful. He had travelled far only to find people who, when he offered copies of the Scriptures, ‘refused to accept any copies, remarking, “That what was in the Bible was in them also.”’ He had one moment of hope, when the old shepherd told him, ‘Yes, I can read the Word of Life’; however it turned out that the old man was illiterate but knew by heart the Living Book of the Doukhobors. Consequently, Pinkerton left the Molochnaya disappointed, having failed to dispense a single Bible to the Doukhobors there.  

To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of “Russia: or, Miscellaneous Observations on the Past and Present State of that Country and its Inhabitants”  by Robert Pinkerton (London: Seeley and Sons, 1833), visit the Google Book Search digital database.

Molochnaya Doukhobors Aid Mennonite Girl Whose Mother and Sister Drowned

by Peter P. Isaac

Between 1804 and 1845, Doukhobors and Mennonites established neighbouring colonies on opposite banks of the Molochnaya River in the Melitopol district of Tavria province, Russia (present-day Zaporiz’ka province, Ukraine). Relations between the two groups of religious settlers were friendly, cordial and cooperative throughout this period. The following brief account is reproduced from Peter P. Isaac, “Stammbuch Meiner Voreltern” (Prairie View Press, Rosenort, Manitoba, 1979) as cited in Delbert Friesen Plett, “Storm and Triumph: The Mennonite Kleine Gemeinde (1850-1875)” Vol. 2. (D.F.P. Publications, Steinbach, Manitoba, 1986). Based on oral tradition, it recounts how, in c. 1806, Doukhobors came to the aid of a Mennonite girl whose mother and sister drowned in the Molochnaya River. Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

The Molochnaya River in the Melitopol district of Zaporiz’ka province, Ukraine separated the former Mennonite colonies on the east bank from the Doukhobor colonies on the west bank. A Panoramio photo by Sergei Litvinenko.

“… Great-Aunt Katharina Warkentin, the only daughter of their first marriage, was married to Johann Brandt. They lived in the Old Colony [i.e. Chortitza] in Russia. She died a pitiful death by drowning in the river Molotschna [sic. Molochnaya] on a trip, with her two small girls, to visit her parents in the Molotschna colony, a distance of about 75 miles. I still feel a deep pity when I think of it. It happened this wise: Her husband hooked up the light wagon, a quite tame and as a rule trustworthy horse for the trip.

She was nearly to her destination when she stopped at the bank of the Molotschna River and went down to the water to have a wash. The horse apparently was thirsty and wanted to get a drink so it started down the steep bank and tumbled into the river. The youngest girl was on the wagon with it. The mother immediately rushed to the scene of the accident to save the little girl but together with her she drowned in the heroic attempt.

The older girl stood helpless, looking on, weeping bitterly. She was soon discovered by Dukhobors who lived on the other side of the river. They came over to the girl but could not understand anything of what she said because she could not speak Russian.

The Dukhobors took her to Lindenau where she, sobbing bitterly, told the people that they had been on the way to the grandparents in Blumenort and how the accident had happened. The people of Lindenau went to the place of the accident and found the drowned mother, little girl, and horse and took them to Lindenau.

Apparently the little Molotschna River stood at high water at the time. Sixty-five to 70 years later at the time of my youth, a horse could easily walk through without swimming when it was low.

I cannot definitely state the place where this mother and daughter were buried. I think it was Blumenort. If I could have asked the aged grandfather, Isaac Loewen, long ago deceased in Russia, who was still a youth at the time of the accident and lived with his parents in Lindenau, he would have given me a more detailed account of the accident that overtook this great-aunt Katharina.

Later, I found out from my parents that this accident happened only a few years after the settlement had been accomplished in the year 1804. My second degree uncle Cornelius Fast told me that on one occasion he had worked along the Molotschna River and had come close to the place of the accident an old man had told him: “Here is the place where a woman, her daughter, and a horse were drowned.”

Map of the Molochnaya Mennonite colony.  The drownings occurred on the west bank near the Doukhobor village of Bogdanovka, opposite the Mennonite village of Lindenau on the east bank.


Beginning in 1802, groups of Doukhobors from across Russia were permitted to settle along the west bank of the Molochnaya River and its estuary in the Melitopol district of Tavria province (present-day Zaporiz’ka province, Ukraine).  There, they were granted 131,417 acres of land on which they established nine villages as well as extensive grain fields and pasturage, flour mills, textile mills, stud farms and enormous livestock herds. By 1816, the colony comprised a total of 2,500 residents.

In 1804, Mennonites from West Prussia were permitted to settle in large numbers along the east bank of the Molochnaya River. They were granted an initial tract of 270,000 acres of land on which they established 18 villages, extensive grain fields, pasturage, flour mills, brickworks, orchards and extensive livestock herds.  By 1810, well over 400 families had settled in the colony. They brought progressive farming practices from their homeland, which resulted in their colony becoming the most rich and advanced in the region.

Despite linguistic and cultural barriers, relations between the neighbouring colonies were, by all accounts, friendly, cordial and cooperative.  For their part, the Doukhobors eagerly adopted the advanced expertise of their Mennonite neighbours in farming, gardening and cattle breeding, whereas most other Russian and Ukrainian peasants were indifferent to such experience. The Doukhobors also took up some of the niceties of the Mennonites’ lifestyle, incorporated German elements in their clothing and began to build their houses in the German style.  From time to time, the Mennonites stepped forward as mediators between the Doukhobors and local authorities, delivering petitions from the people of the Doukhobor settlements and standing as witnesses during court investigations. Business dealings between Doukhobor and Mennonite settlers in the trade of agricultural products was commonplace, and it is known that some Mennonite men served as farm labourers for the Doukhobors, and vice-versa.

The events recounted in the historical excerpt above occurred in circa 1806, “only a few years after” the Mennonite colony on the Molochnaya had been established. At the time, the Mennonite woman Katharina (nee Warkentin) Brandt and her two daughters were travelling there, via horse and wagon, from the distant Mennonite colony of Chortitza.  While crossing the Molochnaya, which was at high water, the horse and wagon tumbled into the river, drowning one of the daughters and the mother who tried in vain to rescue her.  The drownings occurred on the west bank of the river near the Doukhobor village of Bogdanovka, opposite the Mennonite village of Lindenau on the east bank. Doukhobors working in their fields nearby came to the aid of the surviving daughter, but were unable to discern what happened because she could not speak Russian and they could not understand German. They took her to the Lindenau, where the Mennonites discovered what happened and returned to the Molochnaya to retrieve the bodies for burial.

This incident, as retold through oral history, is one of the remarkably few examples of published information about Doukhobor-Mennonite relations during their four decades together on the Molochnaya.  As such, it is a useful contribution to our understanding of this little-known period of history.

A Visit to the Dukhobortsy, 1843

by Baron August Freiherr von Hasthausen

In 1843, German political economist Baron August Freiherr von Haxthausen (1792-1866) was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas I to undertake a study of land tenure in the Russian Empire. He journeyed over 7,000 miles through European Russia, the Crimea and the Caucasus. In the late summer of 1843, Haxthausen visited the Doukhobors at Milky Waters, just after the sect was exiled to the Caucasus. His account, published in “The Russian Empire, its People, Institutions and Resources (2 vols) (London: Chapman and Hall, 1856) is one of the most valuable foreign accounts of the sect in the early nineteenth century. In Haxthausen, we find the most frequently cited account of the crisis which racked the Doukhobor colony in the 1830’s and led to its exile and disbursement. Afterword by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

…If the Molokans must be regarded as a Christian Sect, the same cannot be said of the Dukhobortsy, at least in their extreme doctrines. It would lead too far to attempt to give here a full description of these: they constitute a complete theological and mystic-philosophical system, replete with grand ideas and of great consistency. Beside their public assemblies and usual ceremonies they have also mysteries, accompanied by horrible ceremonies and orgies, the nature of which is kept profoundly secret. Even those who in recent times have gone over from the Sect on the Molochnaya to the Church observe a careful silence on this subject, although their behavior when questioned regarding these secrets, and the accidental expressions which fall from them, clearly indicate their existence. All or nearly all know of them, but few participate in them.

Baron August Freiherr von Haxthausen (1792-1866)

It does not appear that the Dukhobortsy have ever had a common head. The various Communes are frequently at variance; but everywhere leaders arise among them who soon acquire an absolute control over their neighbors, and secure perfect obedience.

The most interesting man of this Sect of whom we have any knowledge is Kapustin. I heard much respecting him from the Mennonites on the Molochnaya, his nearest neighbors. Complete obscurity veils his birth, name, and early life: when he began to disseminate his views among the Molokans, it caused a schism in their body; and as about that time the majority of the Dukhobortsy in the Government of Tambov emigrated to the Molochnye Vody, in the Government of Tavria, he and his followers accompanied them and settled there.

In the year 1801 the remainder of the Dukhobortsy in the village of Nikol’sk (Government of Ekaterinoslav), consisting of thirty families, settled, with the permission of the Emperor Alexander, on the Molochnaya; and as this small colony, being free from all hostile attacks and oppression, rapidly increased and flourished, the Dukhobortsy came from all quarters of the Empire and settled here, with the permission of the Government.

Kapustin’s distinguished personal and natural qualities, his genius and eloquence, soon gained him the supremacy of authority and command: all subjected themselves willingly to him, and he ruled like a king, or rather a prophet. He expounded the tenets of the Dukhobortsy in a manner to turn them to his own peculiar profit and advantage. He attached peculiar importance to the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, which was already known among them: he also taught that Christ is born again in every believer; that God is in every one; for when the Word became flesh it became this for all time, like everything divine, that is, man in the world; but each human soul, at least as long as the created world exists, remains a distinct individual. Now when God descended into the individuality of Jesus as Christ, He sought out the purest and most perfect man that ever existed, and the soul of Jesus was the purest and most perfect of all human souls. God, since the time when He first revealed himself in Jesus, has always remained in the human race, and dwells and reveals himself in every believer.

But the individual soul of Jesus, where has it been? By virtue of the law of the transmigration of souls, it must necessarily have animated another human body! Jesus himself said, “I am with you always, until the end of the world.” Thus the soul of Jesus, favored by God above all human souls, had from generation to generation continually animated new bodies; and by virtue of its higher qualities, and the peculiar and absolute command of God, it had invariably retained a remembrance of its previous condition. Every man therefore in whom it resided knew that the soul of Jesus was in him. In the first centuries after Christ this was so universally acknowledged among believers, that every one recognized the new Jesus, who was the guide and ruler of Christendom, and decided all disputes respecting the Faith. The Jesus thus always born again was called Pope. False popes however soon obtained possession of the throne of Jesus; but the true Jesus had only retained a small band of believers about him, as he predicted in the New Testament, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” These believers are the Dukhobortsy, among whom Jesus constantly dwells, his soul animating one of them. “Thus Sylvan Kolesnikov at Nikol’sk,” said Kapustin, “whom many of the older among you knew, was Jesus; but now, as truly as the heaven is above me and the earth under my feet, I am the true Jesus Christ, your Lord! Fall down therefore on your knees and worship me!” And they all fell on their knees and worshiped him.

Sketch of Terpeniye village, Melitopol district, Tavria province, Russia by Baron Von Haxthausen, 1843. Note in the foreground the row of dwellings, barns and stables built  along a wide central street. Note also the Sirotsky Dom (Orphans Home) in the background.

The Dukhobortsy settled on the Molochnaya Vody in nine villages, to which they gave the significant names of Terpeniye (“Patience”), Bogdanovka (the “Gift of God”), Troitskoye (the “Trinity”), Spasskoye (“Salvation”), etc. Kapustin took up his residence at Terpeniye, and from hence governed all the rest. In the year 1833 about four thousand Dukhobortsy were living there.

Kapustin introduced a complete community of goods among the people. The fields were worked in common, the harvest divided among them all, and storehouses were erected to provide against years of dearth; all kinds of industrial occupations were followed, and the colony was making visible progress.

About the year 1814 Kapustin underwent a legal examination for proselytizing, and was thrown into prison, being soon however liberated on bail. His subsequent history is mysterious and dark: it was said that he not long after died and was buried. The authorities, wishing to convince themselves of this, ordered the grave to be opened, and found a man in it with a long red beard, whereas Kapustin had brown hair and always shaved off his beard; the face and figure were no longer recognizable. Kapustin’s wife had been living for some time on an island at the mouth of the Molochnaya, a league distant from Terpeniye, near the Sea of Azov. The persons of most consideration among the Dukhobortsy soon took passports to Lugan, ostensibly to purchase horses; but the authorities grew suspicious, and ordered an investigation to be made on the spot where the woman lived, but nothing was discovered. It was not until a long time after, when Kapustin was really dead, that about the year 1820 the younger Cornies discovered a cave in which he had passed the last years of his life.

I have myself seen it: a small fissure, probably closed at one time by a door, leads from the bank by a zigzag passage into a kind of chamber in the rock, in which stood a bedstead and a stove; light was admitted into the cave by a wooden tube running out into the open air and concealed by bushes.

Sketch of Doukhobor house in Terpeniye village by Baron Von Haxthausen, 1843. Note the high-lofted construction, with the second floor under a steeply pitched gable roof. The Doukhobors continued this style of construction into the early 1900’s in Canada.

After the death of Kapustin the office of Christ passed to his son; he is said to have assured his people that the soul of Christ had the power of uniting itself with any human body it pleased, and that it would establish itself in the body of his son. In order to exempt the latter from service in the army, Kapustin sent his wife when pregnant to the house of her father, Kalmykov, that she might there give birth to the child; after that event he married her anew and the child, which was regarded as illegitimate, was called (Vasily) Kalmykov. This (Vasily) was about fifteen years old when his father died. The Dukhobortsy, in order to obtain issue from him as soon as possible, assigned him, when scarcely sixteen years old, six young girls one after another: but the spirit of the father did not dwell in him. He addicted himself to drinking; order was lost among the Dukhobortsy, and the community of goods was destroyed. He died in 1841 at Akalkhalaki in the Caucasian provinces, leaving behind him two children under age, one of whom the Dukhobortsy expect will in his thirtieth year manifest himself as Christ.

On the dissolution of order among them the despotism of the leaders and Elders increased. Kapustin had assembled a council of thirty Elders about him, of whom twelve acted as Apostles; after his death these, under his weak son, had absolute command. But too many had been initiated into the secret mysteries, and suspicion, mistrust, and denunciation arose; they feared discovery.

The Council of Elders constituted itself a terrible inquisitional tribunal. The principle, “Whoso denies his God shall perish by the sword,” was interpreted according to their caprice; the house of justice was called rai i muka, paradise and torture; the place of execution was on the island at the mouth of the Molochnaya. A mere suspicion of treachery, or of an intention to go over to the Russian Church, was punished with torture and death. Within a few years about two hundred people disappeared, leaving scarcely a trace behind; an investigation by the authorities, too late to prevent the mischief, revealed a frightful state of things: bodies were found buried alive, and many mutilated. The investigation, which was commenced in 1834, terminated in 1839; the Emperor decided that the whole body of the Dukhobortsy on the Molochnaya should be transported to the Caucasian Provinces, there to be parceled out and placed under strict surveillance; those only who were willing to join the Russian Church being permitted to remain. The order was communicated to these people by the Governor-General, Count Vorontsov. I give a literal translation of it: 

“From the Governor-General of New Russia and Bessarabia, to the Inhabitants of the village of Efremovka, called Dukhobortsy.  Proclamation:

All acts injurious to our Orthodox Church, or which disturb the public peace, are forbidden by our national laws; and any violation of these laws is visited with severe punishment. But these laws were made by the power appointed by God to that effect; from Him they derive their sacred origin, and it is the duty of all and every one to obey them, and punctually to fulfill them; so that whoever opposes this power rebels against the appointment of God himself.

“Ye, Dukhobortsy, have fallen away from the doctrines which the Orthodox Church has held throughout all ages; and, from perverted notions and ignorance, constituting a peculiar belief among yourselves, ye have disturbed the peace of the Church, and by your unlawful proceedings have violated public order. As enemies of the Government and its ordinances, you have long since deserved reproof and punishment. But the Emperor Alexander, who is now with God, from a desire of converting you by kindness, patience, and love, in his generosity not only overlooked your guilt and remitted the punishment which awaited you, but ordered that all of you who were scattered and living in darkness should be collected into one community; and moreover that a considerable extent of land should be given to you. In return for all these marks of his favour he required only one thing – that you should live in peace and quiet, and abstain from interfering with the ordinances of the State. But what fruits has this paternal care produced? Scarcely were you settled upon the land allotted to you, when in the name of your religion, and by the command of your pretended teachers, you put men to death, treating them cruelly, harbouring deserters from the army, concealing crimes committed by your brethren, and everywhere opposing disobedience and contempt to the Government. These things, contrary to all the laws of God and man, many of your brethren knew, and, instead of giving intelligence of them to the Government, they endeavored to conceal them; many are still in custody for this conduct, awaiting the just punishment of their misdeeds.

“Your offences are thus all discovered, and the blood which has been shed in secret and in the light of day calls aloud for vengeance. The favour of God’s Anointed, which has hitherto shielded and protected you, ye have yourselves forfeited – by your crimes ye have broken the conditions upon which it was vouchsafed. Your acts, which spring from your belief and interrupt the public peace, have exhausted the patience of the Government; public order demands that ye should no longer be endured here, but should be removed to a place where the means shall be taken from you of injuring your neighbors. Your actions have at length drawn upon them the supreme attention of the Emperor. Now learn his will:

“His Imperial Majesty orders all those who belong to your persuasion to emigrate to the Caucasus. At the same time our master the Emperor grants you the following marks of his favour:

“1. As compensation for the land which you at present hold from the Crown, other lands will be given to you in the Georgian-Imiretian Government, in the Circle of Akhalkalaki. At the same time it is announced to you that henceforth all those of your persuasion who emigrate to the Caucasus are not exempt from service in the army.

“2. It is permitted to the emigrants to sell their movable property, or to take it with them.

“3. For the fixed property, houses and gardens, compensation will be given according to the valuation of a Commission, which will be appointed for the purpose.

“4. Lands which belong to the emigrants in fee may be sold or surrendered to the Crown for a certain price; but on this condition, that if these lands are not sold or surrendered to the Crown at the time appointed for the emigration, which is fixed for the middle of May of this year, 1841, the emigrants to whom they belong will not be permitted to remain longer in their present habitations.

“At the same time his Imperial Majesty has been pleased to command it to be announced to you, that those among you who, acknowledging their error, are willing to be converted to the true faith, to return into the bosom of the Orthodox Church, our common Mother, and to conform to her doctrines, which are founded upon the Word of the Redeemer and the Apostle, may remain in their dwellings and in possession of the lands belonging and granted to them by the Crown, and that especial protection and favour shall invariably be shown to them.

“In order to make known this the will of our most gracious Master, I send to you your Civil Governor, the State-Councillor Muromtsev, and the Collegiate Councillor Kluchbarev. I exhort and pray you to take what I have said into your earnest consideration, and to return me an answer containing your determination.

“(Signed,) Governor-General of New Russia and Bessarabia,

Count Vorontsov, Odessa, January 26, 1841.

In consequence of this announcement, those who were most implicated, together with their families, in all eight hundred individuals, were in 1841 transplanted to the Caucasus, Ilarion Kalmykov with his family being of the number. In 1842 eight hundred more were transported, and in 1843 nine hundred. Some preferred going over to the Russian Church, and remaining in their former homes; many also have since returned from their new home, where they feel wretched enough, declaring their conversion to the Church. That this conversion is only pretended is more than probable: if the Government indeed were to establish schools, and send hither pious and active clergymen, an honorable conversion of the uneducated mass might be effected; otherwise the Church will certainly receive no converts but a crowd of hypocrites.

Before proceeding to describe my visit to these people, I will relate an anecdote which was told me by J. Cornies. In the year 1816 two Quakers were in Russia – Allan from England, and Grellet from Pennsylvania. A belief had arisen that the Dukhobortsy held the same religious principles as the Quakers. The Emperor Alexander, to whom these two worthy men were introduced, encouraged them to investigate the matter, and they in consequence went to the Molochnaya. The Director of the Mennonite colony, State-Councillor Contenius, accompanied them, and arranged a kind of religious colloquy between them and some of the best-informed Dukhobortsy. Kapustin was then dead or in concealment. The conversation was of course carried on by interpreters, and lasted half a day: it was conducted on the part of the Dukhobortsy by a clever and eloquent man named Grishka. The Dukhobortsy spoke in an evasive and ambiguous manner, in which art they have great dexterity; but the Englishmen kept firmly to the point, and at length the Dukhobortsy could elude their questions no longer. When to the peremptory interrogation, “Do you believe in Christ, the only begotten Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity?” they replied, “We believe that Christ was a good man, and nothing more,” Allan covered his eyes with his hands, and exclaimed, “Darkness!”  The two Englishmen then immediately took their departure.

Sketch of Sirotsky Dom (Orphans Home) in the Doukhobor village of Terpeniye by Baron Von Haxthausen, 1843. Note the courtyard was surrounded by a high wall, reputedly so that Orthodox Russians could not see or hear the Doukhobor prayer services, since it was a crime to proselytize among the Orthodox.

I took advantage of my sojourn among the Mennonites on the Molochnaya to become personally acquainted with the Dukhobortsy, under the guidance of J. Cornies, the Mennonite.

On the 7th of August, 1843, we drove to the Dukhobortsy village of Bogdanovka, and were hospitably received by one of its chief inhabitants, whom Cornies knew well. A great number of them soon collected in and around the house of our host. The exterior of the village, the arrangements of the courtyard and dwelling, and the dress of the people, differed little from those in the surrounding Russian villages; but the whole had an appearance of greater wealth, order, and cleanliness; and in walking through the village and looking at the children, and afterwards at the inhabitants collected in the house and courtyard of our host, I was struck with the remarkably handsome forms both of the men and women, and the health and strength they displayed.

The interior of the peasant’s house which I entered was quite the same as all the rest in this district; the absence of a portrait of the Saint in one corner of the room struck me, as this is invariably seen in an ordinary peasant’s house. The conversation soon turned to religious subjects; and although, from being interpreted to me, the connection and niceties of the language were necessarily lost, I could not but admire the readiness, facility of expression, and adroitness of the two principal disputants, one a white-bearded old man, and the other an active young fellow of thirty-two. Whenever they spoke of the higher and dangerous doctrines of their Sect, it was in an equivocal and ambiguous manner, and with such a multitude of fantastic expressions as would have done honour to a sophist gifted with the most acute dialectic powers. Unfortunately I could not in their presence note down anything in my pocketbook, fearing to excite their suspicion; and I can therefore only allude to the general effect: it was the most singular mixture of sublime thoughts, with a material and gross application of them to the affairs of everyday life, possible to conceive, showing how easily the highest spiritual mysticism may grow into atheism: the self-deification of these people was on the point of entirely destroying the idea of the Divinity. Good and evil, virtue and vice, resolved themselves merely into the conception of the I and the Not I; for the Dukhoborets is God, and cannot sin; but the Non-Dukhoborets is the radically wicked – all that he does, even what appears to be good, is sin.

After this colloquy, which lasted a long time, we visited several houses, to cast a glance at their domestic and family life. Cornies drew my attention to the loose connection existing between parents and children – a necessary result of their principles and doctrine. The act of generation and of being born is supposed to constitute no tie of relationship; the soul, the image of God, recognizes not any earthly father or mother; the body springs from matter as a whole; it is the child of the earth; with the body of the mother, which bore it for a time, it stands in no nearer relationship than the seed with the plant from which we pluck it. It is indifferent to the soul in what prison, or body, it is confined. There is only one father, the totality of God, who lives in every individual; and one mother, universal matter or nature, the Earth. The Dukhobortsy therefore never call their parents “father” and “mother,” but only “old man” and “old woman.” In the same way a father and mother call their children, not mine, but ours (the Commune’s); the men call their wives “sisters.”

Sketch of floor plan of Sirotsky Dom by Baron Von Haxthausen, 1843. (a) main home of Kapustin; (b) smaller home used by Kapustin; (c) three female statutuettes; (d) home containing cells; (e) well. The other structures were homes lived in by the advisors of Kapustin as well as barns, stables, etc.

Natural sympathies and instincts however are stronger than dogmas. Thus I both heard and saw that the deep and affectionate veneration of children for their parents, the tender love of parents for their children, which prevail universally among the Russians, appeared here likewise almost everywhere in the family life of the Dukhobortsy, the outward signs of the relationship only being avoided.

On the 28th of July I drove with Cornies to the village of Terpeniye, so long the residence of Kapustin. Accompanied by a Dukhoborets who had gone over to the Church, we entered the house of Kapustin (ie. Sirotsky Dom). It was empty and deserted; the doors and windows stood open, and the wind whistled in every corner. The house consisted of two stories, the upper of which had a small gallery along one side, where on certain days, when all the people were assembled below, Kapustin appeared; then they all fell down upon their knees and worshiped him. But here also was that horrible tribunal, “the place of torture and paradise.” Every spot, room, and partition is said to have had its peculiar use and name; but the Dukhoborets who accompanied us and whom Cornies questioned, at first gave evasive answers, and then observed a gloomy silence. Below was a large dark hall, without windows, which is said to have been the place where the mysteries were celebrated, and where Kapustin and his intimate associates gave themselves up to the most frightful orgies.

It was a beautiful morning, but nevertheless the whole place, in its silent and deserted condition, with the three spectral-looking statues in the courtyard, and its dark and ghastly reminiscences, made a truly fearful impression upon me.

Kapustin had, in his whole nature and position, manifestly a great resemblance to John of Leyden, the Anabaptist King in Munster. The religious principles of the Baptists too, in their origin, if not in their present state, bear an incontestable resemblance to those of the Dukhobortsy. It is however very remarkable that this man, who, according to our modern ideas, was merely an uncultivated Russian peasant, should have been able to create a complete theocratic state, comprising four thousand persons – Platonic Utopia, founded upon religious, Christian and Gnostic principles, and to maintain it for so many years.


It should be noted that Haxthausen’s account of the events which led to the exile of the Doukhobors to the Caucasus (ie. murder, harboring deserters, etc) took place prior to his visit and is based on second-hand information. In this regard, Haxthausen drew on rumours and accusations emanating partly from the Mennonites, who never approved of the Doukhobors and partly from unsympathetic Tsarist authorities. The account is further complicated by Haxthausen’s own inconsistency and exaggeration. For example, in the French Edition of his account, published in 1847, he alleges that 400 Doukhobors were killed at Milky Waters, whereas in the English Edition of his account, published in 1856, he alleges that only 200 Doukhobors were killed. Therefore, Haxthausen’s account is unreliable in this regard, although it is the most commonly-cited version of those events.

View Tavria Doukhobor Villages, 1802-1845 in a larger map

Furthermore, recent archival research by scholar John R. Staples refutes many of the reasons cited by Haxthausen for the Doukhobor exile. In his recent publication, Cross-Cultural Encounters on the Ukrainian Steppe, Settling the Molochna Basin, 1783-1861 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), Dr. Staples suggests that the case against the Doukhobors was largely fabricated to give the government and the church a dubious excuse to take away their land (motivated by land shortages), to convert them to Orthodoxy, and prepare the ground for exile. The single largest benefactors of the Doukhobor exiles were Mennonites Johan Cornies and his brother David who received 4,039 desiatinas of the land taken away from the Doukhobors.  Staples discovered these findings in a large cache of documents in the State Archives of the Odessa Region, pertaining particularly to the exile of the Doukhobors from Molochna to the Caucasus in the 1840’s.  Doukhobors, confronted by both religious prejudice and jealousy because of their large successful land holdings, could not defend themselves against the abuse of power and consequently were exiles.

Bearing the above in mind, Haxthausen’s first-hand account of his visit to the village of Terpeniye and his sketches of Doukhobor architecture, nevertheless remains one of the rare and valuable glimpses of the Doukhobor colony on the Molochnaya at the end of its existence.

To read more, search, download, save and print a full PDF copy of “The Russian Empire, its People, Institutions and Resources” by Baron August Freiherr von Haxthausen (London: Chapman and Hall, 1856), visit the Google Book Search digital database.

Doukhobor Interfaith Relations in South Ukraine, Late 18th and Early 19th Century

by Anastasia Buchnaya

While residing in Tavria in the early nineteenth century, the Doukhobors invariably came in contact with members of other religious creeds, notably Orthodox, Mennonites, Molokans and Muslims. In this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive, Anastasia Buchnaya, a Postgraduate of the State University of Zaporozhia in Ukraine, explores the influence of inter-creed relations on the belief system and socioeconomic life of the Doukhobors, based on archival records from the State Archives of Crimea and other Russian and Ukrainian language sources. Translated from the original Ukrainian by Yana Sermyakova with further translation and editing by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff. Published by permission.

One of the peculiarities of the south of Ukraine in the second half of the 18th century through the first half of the 19th century was the closer coexistence of different ethnic groups and religious creeds than in other parts of the country. This was primarily due to the historical conditions under which colonization of the country was taking place. The south of Ukraine became the centre for the emergence and dissemination of a variety of Christian sects, prominent among which was the Doukhobor sect which arose in the second half of the 18th century and gradually spread.

The coexistence of the Doukhobors with representatives of other religious creeds had an influence not only upon some aspects of their material life but also upon their religious doctrine.

According to the opinion of Orest Novitsky, an early researcher of Doukhoborism, the existence of Quaker elements in the Doukhobor belief system is explained by the fact that the first teacher of the sect was a Prussian corporal. Originating from Orthodox Christianity, under the influence of contacts with Anabaptists, the Doukhobor sect absorbed the features of this movement.

Studying the origins of Doukhoborism, 19th century researchers adhered to the view that the teachings had mainly spread amongst peasants of Russian origin, however, the fact that there exists a considerable quantity of Ukrainian surnames among the Doukhobors points to the propagation of the belief system among Ukrainian inhabitants, primarily among the Cossacks. The government of Catherine the Great, when it attempted to discover the source of Doukhoborism, came to the conclusion that the centres for the dispersion of this teaching were Zaporozhian Cossack villages. As the historian Nikolsky contended, this became one of the forms of protest against the persecution of the Cossacks by Catherine the Great. Further to this, modern research suggests that Cossacks introduced elements of their own ideology when joining the Doukhobor sect.

Beginning in the second half of the 18th century, Doukhobor teachings began to spread in the central and southern regions of Ukraine. The number of followers of the sect was rapidly increasing, a fact which could not but bother the government. The persecution of Doukhobors for resistance to the government and divergence from the state religion began in the times of Catherine the Great, whose practice was to evict them to Siberia. It is worth noting, however, that it was exactly in the time of Catherine the Great that the laws relating to punishment of religious dissidents were relaxed. A series of edicts during this period were directed to calming relations between representatives of different creeds. Religious intolerance was censured, foment of religious hostility was prohibited, and heresy was to be treated as nothing more than a civil affair, since ‘persecution stirs the mind’.

Nevertheless, at the end of the 18th through the beginning of the 19th century, wherever Doukhobors lived, in addition to persecution from officials and clergy, they also faced negative treatment from the Orthodox population. Local officials often received complaints from Doukhobors relating to the fact that wherever they lived together with Orthodox peasants, the Doukhobors were frequently harassed, forced to pay crippling taxes and recruited into the army out of turn. The Imperial Senator Lopukhin, in his report about the life of Slobodsk-Ukrainian Doukhobors, confirmed these conditions, emphasizing that the “settlers are intolerant of them, the same of which can be said of the rest of the inhabitants”. It cannot be determined whether the Doukhobors’ own behavior resulted in conflict with their neighbours; however, given their teachings about the equality of all people in the face of God, it can be assumed that they were inclined toward peaceful coexistence with representatives of other creeds. On the other hand, the Doukhobors considered themselves the “sons of Abel” wrestling against the “sons of Cain”, a synonym for all other people. Such an attitude of opposing other inhabitants within their own communities could have brought about their negative treatment by Orthodox peasants. Such attitudes towards the Doukhobors may also be explained by the fact that Doukhobor teachings, especially during the ascendancy of the sect, were largely embraced by free landowning peasants – the most independent and economically successful of the peasantry.

Eventually, persecution from government and local officials led to the poverty and ruin of many Doukhobors. The Doukhobors’ unbearable living conditions drew the attention of Tsar Alexander I, whose rule proved to be the most comfortable period for the Doukhobors. The primary thrust of Alexander’s policy towards the Doukhobors was their separation from the rest of the Orthodox population as a means of “containing their heresy and preventing their influence on others” as well as protecting them from persecution. To this end, by Imperial Decree No. 20 123, on January 25, 1802, Doukhobors were resettled to Tavria province along the Molochnaya River. At the beginning of the 19th century, these lands were thinly populated; therefore the founding of Doukhobor settlements was deemed favorable for the development of the region and would also lessen the sectarians’ contact with the Orthodox population.

Among the Doukhobors’ neighbours in Tavria were the Mennonites, religious nonconformists who, fleeing persecution in Holland and Germany, settled in the south of Ukraine.

It is entirely possible that the Anabaptist elements in the Doukhobor belief system took shape as a result of long-term relations with the Mennonites. In Novitsky’s opinion, however, the influence of Anabaptist beliefs began long before the Doukhobors’ sojourn with the Mennonites on the Molochnaya. In the 18th century, captive Prussian soldiers had brought these elements of Protestantism to Tambov province, a centre of early Doukhoborism. In this way, the resemblance of the doctrines of the Doukhobors and Mennonites is demonstrated by the denial of baptizing children, prayer ritual, and wedding and burial ceremony. The traditions of a communal economy, common property and aversion to secular and ecclesiastic authorities were common as well.

In 1804, the Mennonites, alongside other German immigrants of Catholic and Lutheran faith, established settlements in the Melitopol district on both banks of the Molochnaya River, close to the settlements of the Doukhobors.

In their homeland, the Mennonites had been principally engaged in farming, and with their resettlement to the south of Ukraine, they brought progressive farming practices which resulted in their colonies becoming the most rich and advanced.

The Doukhobors eagerly adopted the advanced expertise of their neighbours in farming, gardening and cattle breeding, whereas most other settlers were indifferent to such experience. The Doukhobors of Melitopol also took up some of the niceties of the Mennonites’ lifestyle, incorporated German elements in their clothing and began to build their houses in the German style.

From time to time, the Mennonites stepped forward as mediators between the Doukhobors and local authorities, delivering petitions from the people of the Doukhobor settlements and standing as witnesses during court investigations.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Tsarist government, having no detailed descriptions of the Doukhobor and Molokan belief systems, frequently misidentified the two religious groups. This fact significantly complicates the study of Doukhobor history, as in many official reports, bulletins and other documents, the two groups were often confused. In actuality, while the two beliefs shared similarities in their outward expression, they were diametrically opposed to each other in basic principles, such as their attitude towards the Holy Bible, which was highly respected by the Molokans, whereas among the Doukhobors, spiritual insight was considered the source of religious truth. The historical development of the Molokans and Doukhobors is closely connected. It is significant that one of the first Molokan teachers, Semyon Uklein, was the son-in-law of the Doukhobor leader Ilarion Pobirokhin, a fact which leads researchers to regard the Molokans as an offshoot of the Doukhobor sect.

Nevertheless, frequently while living together, the sectarians of these different creeds occasionally quarreled over religious matters. The representatives of both sects kept a vigilant watch on not being confused with the other. When in 1804 through 1804, the Molokans were resettled on the banks of the Molochnaya River, the government having considered them to be Doukhobors, the latter refused to incorporate them into their community. In addition the Molokans’ settlements were situated close to those of the Mennonites.

During the coexistence of the Doukhobor and Molokan settlements along the Molochnaya River, there were cases where Molokans departed from their religious beliefs and joined the Doukhobors. This is supported by archival records about the Molokans of Novo-Vasilyevka village, who claimed to be Doukhobors. On May 6, 1831, a report from the Melitopol regional court was filed with the Tavria official expedition, according to which twelve Molokans and their families professed the Doukhobor religion and requested to join the Doukhobor villages of Rodionovka and Tambovka. The Molokan community of Novo-Vasilyevka did not mind their conversion and the Doukhobors were eager to accept them. It was accepted that these people could no longer stay at their present place of residence because of differences in belief, and a portion of them, to avoid reproaches from the Molokans, had already moved out to the aforementioned Doukhobor villages. The list of persons who claimed themselves to be Doukhobors is given in two records – a nominal list and a list of recruits in four sections. In the latter list, it is evident that the family of Vasily Zhmaev, a resident of Novo-Vasilyevka village, was on the recruit roll under the second row. Based on the Recruit Regulations issued in 1831, families whose members were on the recruit roll in the first two rolls couldn’t be resettled until they had served their time. The fact that other Molokan families were allowed to join the Doukhobors was confirmed on October 4, 1833 by the Minister of Internal Affairs’ letter to the Governor of Tavria.

In 1807, the Nogai tribes of the Bucak horde, who professed Islam, migrated to the Molochnaya River. Orest Novitsky recounts that there were many conflicts between the Doukhobors and the Nogai concerning land ownership: while enlarging their farmlands the Doukhobors seized a portion of their neighbors’ pastures. In response, the Nogai complained to local officials, but “the quick-witted and largely affluent Doukhobors, through lies and false arguments and quite possible using bribes, managed to absorb the disputed lands into their landholdings, thus the Tatars, numbering 600 people, having lost the pastures necessary for their herds, had to resettle to the banks of the Danube”. Unfortunately, the author omits references as the sources used; therefore it is difficult to confirm the reliability of this information. However, it can be assumed that quarrels over land could arise between landlords and communities, regardless of religion.

It is interesting to note that the Doukhobors frequently hired the Nogai as workers. The government didn’t object to such contracts between the Doukhobors and Muslims, as their conversion to the sect was not prohibited. In accordance with the Imperial Decree No. 15543 of February 8, 1834, the Doukhobors of Tavria province were permitted to accept Muslims into their communities after paying all taxes and duties, and to hire them to perform military service on their behalf. For this reason, the Doukhobors of Tavria and other provinces actively exercised this right. As a result, by Imperial Decree of May 8, 1839, this option was cancelled.

We have already highlighted the Doukhobors’ ambiguous relationship with the Orthodox prior to their resettlement to the Molochnaya River. Although the Doukhobor resettlement was carried out in order to insulate them from the Orthodox and to settle the region, such contacts could not be avoided. The historian A. Skalkovsky has pointed out that while the Doukhobors lived in isolation from others “except for the Mennonites and Nogai, there were no complaints or denunciations against them. However, with the establishment of Russian settlements near Nogaisk and the newly established port of Berdiansk, the Doukhobors had to face rivals and covetous people”. Once again, the Doukhobors’ land ownership was a matter of dispute. Hence, one man, Efimenko, proposed that the Administration of State Property should confiscate the farmlands which the Doukhobors obtained during their resettlement to the Molochnaya River (15 desatnias per person). This man proposed to purchase the Doukhobor land for 20 kopeks per desiatnia, and to sell it for 60 kopeks (he later increased the proposed price to one ruble per desiatnia). However, his proposal was rejected, which resulted in many denunciations against the Doukhobors.

It should be noted that at the time of Alexander I, practicing the Doukhobor faith was not considered a crime; however, proselytizing among the Orthodox was punishable by law. On account of cases of Orthodox conversion to Doukhoborism in the Melitopol region during the first quarter of the 19th century, the government vigilantly monitored for Doukhobor proselytization. Revealing in this regard is the 1816 archival case, “On the settlers Mikita Yashchenko and Gordei Oborovsky, and others who converted to the Doukhobor sect, as well as the Doukhobor teacher Savely Kapustin’s proselytization among the Orthodox”. The case contains a letter of July 25, 1815, in which Iov, the Archbishop of Ekaterinoslav, informs A.M. Borozdin, the Governor of Tavria, that the priests of the Pokrov Church in Orekhov had notified him about Savely Kapustin’s propagation of the Doukhobor faith amongst the Orthodox population of the Melitopol region. The priests, in turn, received their information from their parishioners, Arkhip Baev and Ivan Bazilevsky, who had converted from the Doukhobor faith to Orthodoxy. In the course of investigation, it turned out that these reprobates had converted to Orthodoxy only to escape their recruitment call, and the guilt of the 73 year-old Kapustin, who had been imprisoned, was not established. The Doukhobors themselves, in a petition to the Emperor, described this case among many others.

Accordingly, when Langeron, the military governor of Kherson, devised a proposal for the resettlement of the Doukhobors from Tavria because of the threat of the further spread of their teachings among others, the Emperor issued a Decree No. 26550 of December 9, 1816, stating that “Over several years, the Government did not receive any complaints or accusations of disorders” caused by the Doukhobors, therefore “we should be thinking not about the resettlement of these people, but rather of protecting them from persecution. Thus Alexander I acknowledged the fact that the Doukhobors were still persecuted by the Orthodox population and officials.

Still, there existed another basis of relations between the Doukhobors and Orthodox. Occasionally the Orthodox, while employed for work, lived in the Doukhobor communities; as well, Doukhobors could be employed in the homes of the Orthodox or persons of other confessions.

Some aspects of these contacts and of quarrels with local clergy are depicted in the case investigation of the crime of Alexei Nalimsky, a priest from Tokmak, against the Doukhobors of Terpeniye village. According to the case, the priest, being drunk in the house of the Doukhobor Nikolai Zakharov, offended the hose and tried to beat him, breaking his wooden cross and accusing Zakharov of this. In the course of investigation, the priest pled guilty and it was also concluded that during the inquest, the Assessor of the Melitopol regional court, Yakov Kovtunovsky, had made a series of mistakes. Namely, the testimonies of the colonist Ivan Belgart and the settler Emelian Plokhiy, witnesses in favour of the Doukhobors, had not been verified. Since the witnesses resided in the employ of the Doukhobors, therefore their testimonies could not be considered trustworthy. It was noted that the Orthodox Emelian Plokhiy had not attended confession for several years, therefore it should be investigated as to whether he had been affected by the Doukhobors.

The above demonstrates that the Doukhobors readily availed themselves of the laws allowing them to employ laborers of other confessions. In addition to hired workers, those Doukhobors belonging to the landowning class could have had Orthodox peasants as their property.

Nevertheless, after Nicholas I sharply altered the state’s policy towards religious sectarians, a number of governmental decrees were passed to restrict their influence on the Orthodox. In particular, the Imperial Decree of January 17, 1836 prohibited Molokans and Doukhobors from hiring Orthodox workers nor being employed by the Orthodox. A further decree of April 17, 1842 strictly prohibited Molokans and Doukhobors from owning serfs of any religious confession.

Certainly, during the Doukhobors sojourn in Tavria province, they established close commercial relations with representatives of other religious confessions: the Doukhobors sold their produce and goods at the fairs of Melitopol and other regions; and when preparing to resettle in the Caucasus, they sold their property to the inhabitants of neighboring non-Doukhobor villages.

Having thoroughly examined aspects of the Doukhobor belief system, it may be concluded that they reflected certain elements of other confessions, which they had contact with during the formation of their own religious doctrines.

While residing in the Tavria region, the Doukhobors, living in isolated settlements, could not avoid contact with members of other religions (Orthodox, Mennonites, Molokans and Muslims). Such relations influenced both the socio-economic and material life of the Doukhobor community, as well as the lives of their neighbours.


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