Tambov Doukhobors on Trial in 1803

by I. Dubasov

At the turn of the 18th century, Doukhobors lived in difficult times and were severely persecuted by Orthodox Church and Tsarist State authorities. On account of their faith, many were harassed, extorted, tortured, imprisoned, exiled and executed in barbarous ways. The following is a compelling and harrowing account of the real-life trials and sufferings of the Doukhobors of Troitskoye Dubrova village, in Tambov province, Russia in 1803. This rare manuscript, never before published in English, constitutes an invaluable historical resource and provides readers with a fascinating and informative look into the actual true-life experiences of our Doukhobor martyr ancestors. Reproduced from I. Dubasov, Istoricheskii Vestnik (Saint Petersburg, 1886) and in P.N. Malov, Dukhobortsi, ikh istoria, zhizn’ i bor’ba. Translated by Vera Kanigan, with additional revision and editing by Jack McIntosh, for the Doukhobor Genealogy Website.

Approximately 46 versts from the town of Tambov, along the long Morshansk Road, stood the village of Troitskoye Dubrova. At the end of the 18th century in this village there lived peasants – Doukhobors. They were disbursed among eight homesteads. All of the Troitskoye Dubrova Doukhobors were sober, gentle and hardworking. The men industriously practiced arable farming while the women were engaged in weaving thin cloth, preparing perfect woolen and silk sashes for sale, those that were well-known in previous years in the Tambov region under the name of Dubrovskiye.

Here in Troitskoye Dubrova there arrived a new priest, Father Ageev, who immediately launched a campaign against the peaceful sectarians. Not willing to influence them through an example of a good life, he threatened to them that he would forcefully enter their homes and rid them of their different prayer practices. Although the sectarians did not like this, they could do nothing about it and submitted to the will of the priest.

Soon afterwards, there was a wake in Troitskoye Dubrova. After mass, the routine visits to the peasant homesteads began. Towards evening, Father Ageev decided to visit the Doukhobors. The first home he visited was that of Zot Antifeev. After a public prayer service, where the Doukhobor family stood sedately, Father Ageev sternly demanded that Zot walk up to the cross. Antifeev refused. Then the prichetniki (psalm readers) took hold of his hands and Ageev forcefully placed the holy cross to his lips. At this point, the upset Doukhobor jerked away and let the cross drop on the floor. What occurred next was a loud quarrel, during which neither side spared any harsh words to each other.

“You are rogues, not priests!” shouted Antifeev.

“And you are a damned heretic!” yelled Father Ageev, trying to make him see reason.

The process commenced. Antifeev and his coreligionists were taken to Tambov, to the lower court and to the Church council. For edification and to put fear into him, the former was beaten with branches tied together, and the rest of the Doukhobors were held for 20 days in the consistory punishment cell, barely fed with only bread and water. Afterwards, they were disbursed amongst the Tambov town clergymen for direction and admonition. They lived with the pastors a whole year and worked for nothing, whilst supporting themselves. After a year, they rejoined the Orthodox Church. They then returned to Troitskoye Dubrova, apparently reconciled; but in reality they were tormented by a fierce anger toward the priest Ageev, the initiator of their prolonged torment and wandering. Perhaps for this reason, the Troitskoye Dubrova Doukhobors decided to move from their own village 1½ versts to a separate settlement. This took place in the year of 1785.

After the resettlement, the Doukhobors lived peacefully for exactly seventeen years, pleasing both the clergy and the police, as well as not forgetting their own benefits. In 1802, in the Troitskoye Dubrova Doukhobor settlement there were twelve homesteads, nicely surrounded by buildings with an abundance of all kinds of livestock. However, it was in that year, once again, that its peaceful life was broken.

At Yuletide in 1802, the priest Ageev, through his own peculiarity, jealousy, or self-interest, decided to extol praises to Jesus Christ in the Doukhobor homes. During the night, while in an intoxicated state, and with young, drunken junior deacons and their families, approximately fourteen participants in all, he entered the home of a Doukhobor, Petr Drobyshev, glorified Christ and then invited the whole family to come to the cross. The Drobyshev family did not go. Then Father Ageev commenced beating all of the Doukhobors with the cross, yelling loudly, and demanding food and refreshments from them as well as money for the work performed. In this manner, the Troitskoye Dubrova clergy proceeded to the rest of the Doukhobor homesteads. In every home, the priest beat the insubordinate sectarians, made signs of fighting and irreligiously demanded money from them.

The next day there was a Doukhobor gathering at the home of the Doukhobor Gavriil Shapkin. The offended sectarians resolved to complain to the head of Troitskoye Dubrova and all the village people, and with their knowledge, ask the provincial authorities for protection and safeguarding. And so, on the 3rd of January, 1803, the peasant Shapkin appeared as a foot messenger with a Doukhobor petition to the Tambov Governor, A. B. Palitsin. A customary investigation followed and was commissioned to the solicitor Muratov and the court assessor Von Menik.

Muratov and Von Menik had themselves just been freed from the criminal justice court with strong suspicion still remaining on charges of extortion, as witnessed by the Tambov Marshall of the Nobility, Arapov. And if the court was indulgent towards them, it was only because it could not be established who accepted the bribes – Muratov or Von Menik – or if they had accepted public funds. The Tambov criminal court first made it incumbent upon the accused to sign a statement not to incur suspicion upon themselves and to erase the original suspicion by taking on the new assignment with fervor. And so they set off to ascertain the facts about the priest as well as the Doukhobors of the village of Troitskoye Dubrova.

The investigators reported to the Governor that the priest Ageev, although very intoxicated, as were other priests who lived in the vicinity, nevertheless had 21 years of service and was held in esteem by all of the parishioners. It was only the Doukhobors, according to the words of Muratov and Von Menik, who annoyed Ageev with their coarse and insolent manners, especially Shapkin and Antifeev, who held heretical meetings in their homes that tempted other Orthodox followers. The examining magistrate seized many Troitskoye Dubrova Doukhobors, including the merchant Krylov, and sent them away to Tambov for a locally administered trial. Then the Governor wrote about this situation to the Secretary of State, Count Kochubeev. He, in turn, made a report about the Troitskoye Dubrova Doukhobors to the Tsar, and soon the Tambov Governor, Palitsin was sent an Imperial edict with the following content:

“From the viewpoint of the civil authorities it is necessary to keep an eye on the sectarians so that they are not allowed to scorn or display contempt to the clergy, and also not allowed open disclosure of their heresy nor to tempt the true believers (Orthodox); therefore they are to be brought to trial as violators of the common order, in accordance with the laws.”

The Troitskoye Dubrova Doukhobors went on trial at the Tambov district law court. There, the Doukhobors pleaded that with regard to the accusations of treason against Russian Orthodoxy placed against them by the Tambov Orthodox clergy, that they were forced to outwardly practice the dominant faith with threats of life-long separation from their families. During the ongoing legal procedures, the Doukhobors courageously expressed their beliefs. They proclaimed to the judge that they did not respect the Orthodox Church, nor the cross, nor the Gospels, nor icons which are made by men’s hands. They did not cross themselves on their chest nor carry a replica of the cross, but crossed themselves with the word of God, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. They did not believe in communion, confession nor baptism. They despised priests and did not allow them into their homes because they had the one and only holy reverend and righteous, the Lord God Himself. They do not keep the established Church fasts, but partook of milk and meat except pork, in order to escape the fate of the Orthodox and not to perish. They did not baptize newborn children for all of their lives. They had no marriage, but lived lovingly with whom they chose.  They buried their dead at home, and served God in spirit. From the spirit they took guidance, courage and strength. From the spirit they received the sword and with this spiritual sword they waged war and overcame all things.

During the Doukhobor testimony, when the point came to attest to the sectarians’ attitude to the governing authorities, their tone changed and they became more subdued. “Sovereigns or Tsars we respect,” they said, “Authorities we obey. We do not hold forbidden meetings, we do not gather in villages with the singing of Doukhobor songs, nor do we try to convert the Orthodox to our beliefs.”

To accuse the Doukhobors, the Bishop Feofil sent the rector of the seminary, Archpriest Shilovski, to the trial. However, the sectarians, in spite of the complex, lengthy and prolonged missionary interpretations, remained steadfast in their beliefs and firmly refused to accept the Orthodox Church.

At that time, the court sentenced the peasants Shapkin and Antifeev to be knouted and sent to the town of Kola in Arkhangel province. The other members of the sect, Petr Drobyshev, Filipp Dubasov the Elder, Filipp Dubasov the Younger, Sergei Mukaseev, Afanasy Antifeev and Pavel Zamyatin were to be severely flogged in the village of Troitskoye Dubrova, left at home, not allowed to be appointed in the village to any kind of position and not allowed to participate in any village gatherings. The court ordered all of the village Doukhobor children to be baptized. This decision was handed down on the 30th of March.

The two Doukhobors were immediately sent to Kola, and on the 13th of April 1803, in the village of Troitskoye Dubrova, in front of a huge gathering of people, the rest of the condemned Doukhobors were mercilessly beaten to near death and then handed over to the village recorder for entering into the records. This was reported to the Tambov rural court on the 16th of April. The same day, the following remarkable occurrence took place in Tambov.

In the morning, at 7:00 a.m., a peasant arrived in the yard of the Governor and stopped at the main entrance. Standing on his hourly watch of the provincial office was the sentry, who asked:

“What person are you?”

The peasant, without answering the question, asked his own, “Is the Governor home?”

“He is not,” answered the sentinel. “He has gone to Kirsanov.”

Then the newcomer requested that it be announced to the Governor’s wife that he had brought His Excellency a present. After these words, he drove his cart into the middle of the courtyard and unhitched his horse. At this time, the Governor’s butler, Kuzmin, along with the house serfs lifted the tarpaulin that covered the load and with amazement saw that in the wagon there lay a decomposed corpse. Of course, the corpse and the peasant who brought it were both taken to the authorities.

During interrogation at police headquarters, the peasant identified himself. “My name is Zot Mukaseev, son of Anan. I have never been to confession nor communion and I cannot read nor write.” Further he announced the following.

On the 13th of April, the police deputy told him that the court assessor Von Menik had arrived in Troitskoye Dubrova along with the village assessor, staff medic and two soldiers. They had been ordered to flog the Doukhobors. Upon arriving, the authorities drove the people to a public pasture where evidence of an execution already existed. However, Zot Mukaseev did not listen to the police deputy’s assistant and walked away to the field on his own business. Soon, upon returning home, he saw the peasant Ermakov leading his brother Sergei by the hand, with many peasants, both men and women, following. Sergei barely stood on his legs from the harsh beating and moaned and sighed the whole night, barely closing his eyes. His brother stayed beside him until morning and then went to call on the other punished Doukhobors.

Zot Mukaseev first called upon the Doukhobor Petr Drobyshev and found him already dead. Beside the dead man sat his young son, shedding bitter tears. The Troitskoye Dubrova Doukhobors then gathered and deliberated what to do with the corpse. At length, they decided to transport it to Tambov and present it to the Governor and at the same time again beseech him to protect them from police oppression. Zot Mukaseev was chosen to carry out this decision.

The town solicitors together with the medical authorities witnessed the condition of the corpse that Mukaseev had brought to the police authorities. The back and buttocks were swollen and dark blue in colour. The lungs and heart were filled with blood and blackened. The examining magistrate concluded that Drobyshev died from an apoplectic seizure. His body was buried.

During the day of Drobyshev’s burial, the police once again questioned Zot Mukaseev, and just as he had proclaimed, the Troitskoye Dubrova Doukhobors that had been punished had very little hope of recovery. By the Governor’s orders, the principal provincial town solicitor Muratov, chief of police Shatalov and head physician Drugov were sent to Troitskoye Dubrova for observation and assistance. While the commission prepared to journey to Troitskoye Dubrova, another beaten Doukhobor, Filipp Dubasov, perished.

Upon arriving in Troitskoye Dubrova, the officials proceeded to question the residents.

“Where is the deceased, Filipp Dubasov?” asked the officials.

“Locked in the barn,” he was told, “and the peasants Efim, Fedot and Daniil Antifeev are sitting beside the cell. The son of the deceased, Login, has the key to the cage and he went away to Tambov to complain to the Governor about the assessor, Von Menik, who whipped his father to death.”

The investigators walked into the cottage of Filipp Dubasov and in it found two ill women, the widow of the deceased and her daughter-in-law. The women were apparently in shock by the tragedy that had befallen them and when questioned by the officials, were unable to respond. The women were taken and placed under guard.

Then they entered the yard of Drobyshev and found his son Yakov whom they also took and placed under guard.

In the morning, they proceeded to deal with the body of Filipp Dubasov. However, as a result of advanced decomposition, they did not examine it, instead deposing that his death was caused by the taking of poison, either internally or externally. With regard to the other punished Doukhobors, the officials conveyed the following, “These Doukhobors were by no means sincere and harmless, and their punishment was fitting.”

After the investigation and all the judicial formalities were completed, Zot Mukaseev was sentenced to be flogged and exiled to Kola. The sectarians Efim, Fedot and Daniil Antifeev, Login and Filipp the Younger Dubasov were sentenced to be beaten with rods and left at their homes. Of the other defendants, the only ones who escaped punishment were those who were underage or who renounced their heresy.

With regard to the fatally beaten Doukhobors, Drobyshev and Dubasov, the criminal court expressed the following: “The case of their death will be handed over to the higher court and the Will of God until such a time in the future when something more will be revealed or some other side will be proven.”

In the meantime, there followed an Imperial Decree addressed to the Tambov Governor:

1) To assign the Doukhobors small plots of land far removed from their settlements for cemetery plots, since interment of dead bodies in homes can under no condition be tolerated. The burial of Doukhobors who are not members of the Orthodox Church in common church cemeteries is not allowed according to its resolutions.

2) The designation of such plots of land to the Doukhobors, and that they bury their dead in those areas of land, must definitely be adhered to. In the event a Doukhobor violates these rules, they are to be judged, not for heresy, but for violating the common safety and after their trial, they should be sent to Kola.

3) Tolerance for the Doukhobor sect, such as the non-baptizing of infants, is to be accepted. The local authorities are only to watch that the Doukhobors not make known to others, except those from their own sect and families of their heresy and not to openly or publicly show others for fear of going to trial and being punished.

With regard to the delivery of the corpse to the home of the Governor, it was ruled that the Doukhobor’s cause of death was to be thoroughly investigated and the police chief Shatalov and city administrator Kern put on trial for neglecting their official duties.

The result of this Imperial Decree was that the Doukhobor situation was once again examined, and the scandalous details came to light with regard to Von Menik. Upon arriving in Troitskoye Dubrova in an intoxicated state, he had noisily entered a Doukhobor meeting and started to rudely and indecently pester two Doukhobor girls. This was in January. In spite of the frost, Von Menik opened the door at the meeting and in a loud voice proclaimed: “May all the Doukhobors die from the cold!” The next day Von Menik demanded one hundred rubles from the Doukhobors, and when he did not receive them, he became irate, yelled at them and gave them three horse whippings. And as if that were not enough, he tied the Doukhobors to wagons and carts, pulled on their whiskers and beards, spread tar and mud on them and indecently jeered and taunted them.

During this threatening time for our sectarians, the Tambov Doukhobors, there was only one humane person who took pity on them, a Tambov official, the district solicitor Pavlovsky. At his own risk, he freed them at the time of the prolonged investigation, some from prison, others from wooden hand and foot shackles, depending on the circumstances.

The Tambov criminal investigative board once again resumed its investigation of the matter of the Doukhobors with renewed energy. It bypassed the Governor, on the grounds that he could not be a true judge of the task at hand because it required special, more detailed and thorough attention, to the Senate, which ruled to reduce the punishment of the Tambov Doukhobors. Thus, their punishment was reduced to a beating with a rod, from 10 to 20 blows. The provincial head of police and the chief of the town police were completely exonerated. However, at the same time, the governing Senate, under the protection of the Governor’s authority, imposed a penalty on the members of the Tambov criminal chamber of 100 rubles because they had not dispatched their decision for the Governor’s approval.

Subsequent to these proceedings, all of the details were reported by the Minister of Justice P. V. Lopukhin, a Tsarist official sympathetic to the Doukhobors’ plight, to the Governor himself. In the meantime, another new sacrifice appeared with regard to this matter; Zot Antifeev died in the Tambov Prison.

On the 16th of December, 1804, there followed permission from the highest authority to resettle the Doukhobors from Tambov Province to Tavria Province, in the Milky Waters area. This included the Doukhobors from the village of Troitskoye Dubrova, thereby saving them from untimely and unjust claims with respect to their religious beliefs. News of this authorization was received with absolute enthusiasm by the Doukhobors. All of them, calling themselves brothers, formed one family and in 1805 established in the Melitopol district, a village on the outskirts of the town, and with great significance, named it Terpeniye (endurance). In 1813, the resettlement of the Tambov Doukhobors was completed.

The criminal chamber eventually passed judgment on the criminal offences of the officials. At the same time it exposed uncommon condescension. Regarding the chief of police Shatalov, who taunted the Doukhobors, the chamber responded: “This conduct of the chief of police Shatalov, in essence is unbelievable!” With regard to the physician Drugov, who also was an active participant in the Troitskoye Dubrova torturing, the criminal chamber officials conveyed the following: “It is also incredible that such acts were committed by the staff physician Drugov.” Some of the chamber heads contemplated exonerating the officials Muratov and Von Menik on the basis that their scandalous abuse of authority, although it crossed a fine line in the manner that it was applied, should be kept hidden. Be that as it may, the whole Tambov Doukhobor affair received extensive publicity and both Muratov and Von Menik did end up being punished for their actions.

Muratov was dismissed from his position and Von Menik, as the main offender, was stripped of his rank and sentenced to two years of Church penance. The Church penance, as assigned by the Tambov Consistory, was performed by him in the Troitskoye Lebedyanskie Monastery. In part, the physician Drugov was also rendered answerable for his act, as he was removed as the district doctor.

The long sojourn of Von Menik at the monastery, in the charge of the church and amidst such recollections as should have, even against his will, drawn his heart toward compassion and remorse, did not reform him. He returned to his estate in the village of Dukhovka, embittered, and lived out his life of leisure, treating his peasant farmers inhumanely. His own life ended in tragedy. On the 12th of August, 1820, he was murdered in his own orchard during his afternoon rest time by his own cook, who had been threatened with grim and harsh punishment in the stable. The murder was committed in an extremely brutal manner, with an axe, his whole brain spilled out of his skull.

This article was reproduced by permission in ISKRA Nos.1987-1988 (Grand Forks: Union of Spiritual Communities in Christ, 2006).