Serfs of Poland and Russia Part IV Serfs During the 16th - 17tth Centuries,
the Era of Economic Ruination
and Depression of Russia
by Robert S. Sherins, M.D.

While the Russian economy and the liberties previously afforded to the serfs started out with significant potential at the beginning of the 16th century, by the 1550s, the entire financial system of Russia began to deteriorate. Severe economic depression developed, which was accompanied by several wars, famines, disease, peasant abandonment of the farms, and depopulation of the agricultural estates. It was the worst of times for the Russians since the devastation wrought by the Mongol/Tatars in the 13th-14th centuries. The wrenching economic and social disorder in Russia spilled over into Europe, but Poland-Lithuania directly felt the impact from its troubled neighbor. There were significant political lessons that should have been learned from the collapse of the Russian population that resulted from the atrocious policies instituted by Czar Ivan IV. In 1569, Poland and Lithuania signed the Union of Lublin treaty, which was intended to provide the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania with greater protection from its imperial neighbors. Economic set backs resulted from the terrorism and resultant impoverishment of the Russian serfs and led to unexpected political outcomes.

In 1648, the Cossacks, led by Hetman Bogdan Chmielnicki, provoked the peasants into an open revolt against both the Russian and Polish monarchies, which destroyed many communities and innocent people in the process.

By the 16th century, the principal population of Russia resided in two regions, the Northwest and Central (Greater) Russia. As previously discussed, there was a significant migration of peasants to the cities because of their aspirations to realize higher incomes associated with craftsmanship, industry, and trade, which had developed mainly in the larger towns and cities.

Agrarian stability and development in Russia paralleled the evolution of the nation’s political and economic policies. The 16th and 17th centuries demonstrated the shift of political policies. By the 16th century, men from all classes and walks of life could own land in Russia, as well as purchase, sell, or exchange property. In the late 16th century, official policies were changed and only persons who could perform state services, could own land. Churchmen were an exception, because they continued to qualify for land purchases. Few peasants or slaves qualified for land ownership in the 17th century, but any land purchased had to be in the name of their master/landlord. Another “exception” in land entitlements was the “Iamshchiki,” who were the postal-relay servants. They qualified for property ownership in their own names. As a result of those complicated Russian policies, the personal possession of land became a monopoly of the “servitors of the Czar.” Russian policies were different from all other European nations, who had in the previous Middle Ages eliminated “service to the state” as a prerequisite to land ownership.

Culminating in the policies of Czar Ivan IV [Ivan IV Vasilyevich was the first Czar of Russia and came to be known as Ivan the Terrible, 1533-1584], Russia’s enforcement of “service to the state” was possible because of the increasing centralized custodial power of the monarchy. Therefore, the power of the monarchy resulted in a sovereign who became the de-facto owner of all Russian land. Certain Russian terms were used to denote differences among landowners. Non-royal land ownership was known as “alodial” and consisted of small properties, such as hamlets, villages, forests and meadows. Inherited properties were called “votchina,” whereas purchased lands were called, “kuplia.” Later on, the term “votchina” was used for either lay or clerical types of seignoral ownership, as opposed to the properties that were owned by royalty, which were called “pomestyes.” By 1556, the policies of Czar Ivan IV began a process through which private properties were restricted in favor of the “pomestyes (royal),” which obligated “services to the state” in return for land ownership. If services to the state could not be provided or if insufficient, the lands were forfeited.

Military personnel, equipment, horses, and cash were one means test of providing “service to the state.” That was an important method of exacting the needed military forces from the pomestyes. As an example, Czar Ivan IV expropriated the alodial lands of Novgorod, when the property owners could no longer afford to provide the money and servicemen for the monarchy. Enforcement of the state policies was delegated to the dreaded “oprichnina” organization, which was initially a small, but elite, group of terrorists who confiscated properties and harmed or killed the inhabitants at will. Later on, the “oprichnina” became a large and powerfully armed force of the Czar. Ivan IV was able to confiscate huge territories of the provinces. Not even the oldest landed families and “kniazhata” (royal princes) were immune from the terror. Thereby, royal properties were decimated. Apparently, Ivan IV retained at least half of the confiscated properties for himself, and offered the remaining land to the “oprichniki” as reward for their plunder. Most often the oprichniki came from lesser noble ranks, as well as non-Russians. Thus, surviving princes were forced to recognize and loyally obey the Czar.

Sometimes the gentry and boyars donated their properties to the church or the princes fled to monasteries in order to escape the harsh penalties of the “oprichnina.” They had been the principal property owners. Some of the landowners received new properties along the frontiers of Russia, from which greater incomes could be gained. The chief target of Ivan IV was the large group of aristocratic landowners, who would exchange land for services to the Czar.

By 1572, responding to unified criticism of the gentry and boyars, the oprichnina was disbanded by Ivan IV. In its place was established the “dvor” (Court of the People), which did the Czar’s bidding, but without the terrorism. Ivan IV owned most of the provinces and became Russia’s absolute monarch.

Czarist revenue was derived from both his own properties, as well as the incomes gained through the services provided by the pomestyes. New lands were given as pomestyes to men, who had distinguished themselves in military service to the Czar. In addition, Pomestyes were given to the descendants of proprietors, whose lands were too diminished by the fragmentation of inheritance. Anyone who could perform services to the monarchy could become eligible to hold a pomestye.

After a few centuries, the monarchy and nobility had to subdivide the land through inheritance to their descendants. The process created significantly smaller properties. By the 17th century, properties were only about 10% of their original size. Former royal princes may have had to distribute properties among as many as 50 descendants, thereby severely diluting the original estate.

New colonies were needed along the Russian frontiers to create barriers against the invasions by foreigners, such as the Tatars, Ottomans, and Asian bands. Most of the arable lands in Russia had already been transferred to the pomestyes. Perhaps the most important reason for creating frontier colonies was to expand the agricultural base, from which increased food products, supplies, and incomes were derived. Spiraling demands for income was a result of rising military expenses during the 16th century. There had been 50 years of war involving Sweden, Livonia, and Poland, as well as the continued battles along the eastern frontier borders against nomadic invaders.

The number of pomestye landowners had increased significantly, which required a huge increase of regulation and organization to determine the cadastral locations and property sizes, production capacities, and as well the calculation of the services rendered to the state and taxes demanded. A special governmental agency, Pomestnyi Prikaz, was formed in 1556 to supervise the pomestye. Larger properties had been granted to encourage frontier settlement and to landowners of less arable locations, or when a proprietor could compensate with greater services to the monarchy.

Gentry could own private properties. In such cases, payments of services to the realm could be made “in kind.” Magnate owners of small towns often paid the Czar with the services and products made by the town craftsmen, artisans, and merchants. There was much competition for services and severe consequences for taking services from the Czar. New property owners were often strangers, not the descendants or kinsmen of the landed class. Those were “insecure tenures.” If an owner was too old or infirmed, a young male heir at age 15 could “serve the Czar.” Under such circumstances, the widow and unmarried daughters were “entitled” to be provided for until either their marriages or their deaths. The young heir of 15 was entitled to keep enough of the land to provide for his needs, his mother’s and all siblings. When the youth became of age, he would be required to continue to “serve the Czar.”

When there were no living male heirs, such as may have occurred after military battles, the widow could keep enough land to support herself and her unmarried daughters until she remarried. The property served as her dowry. All remaining land was redistributed to the living descendants, the Czar, or sold to new pomestyes. By the late 17th-18th centuries, it became possible to grant land through the “will” of the deceased. Pomestyes could be exchanged, but only after official permission had been granted by the government or Czar. Pomestyes could not be mortgaged or sold privately, since all properties belonged to the state. Those restrictions were disregarded after the 18th century, when mortgaging was resumed.

Votchina (inherited) property rights had been more durable and successful than the pomestyes, temporary grants of land, offered by the Czar. After the reigns of both Ivan III and Ivan IV, there were increasing demands for land reforms placed upon the Czar by proprietors. By 1670-1680, approximately 60% of the pomestyes were held by the vochina properties. Service to the state was required and the votchinik (proprietors) could not leave their service to the state. Runaways could be beaten mercilessly, imprisoned, and property confiscated.

In 1604, Boris Godunov, who followed Ivan IV as Czar of Imperial Russia, decreed by his official “Ukase” that proprietors would be required to supply the state military with one armed and mounted warrior for every 600 chetvert of arable land, instead of the demand for one for every 300 chetvert that had been required by Ivan IV. A verst (Polish wiorsta) was a linear measurement. In Russian Occupied Poland, one wiorsta was equal to 1.067 kilometers or about 0.70 mile. The chetvert was a measurement of area, which was comparable to the Polish morg (morga). In Russian Occupied Poland, 1 morg equaled 1.388 acres, whereas in Prussia it equaled 0.631 acres and in Austria it equaled 1.422 acres.

The impact of the abuses of the past monarchies attained crisis proportions. A very brief reign of Vasilii from 1606 to 1610 brought no political relief. Poland contrived to install the next Czar, the “False Dmitrii,” [Dmitrii II of Russia] in 1610-1612, but he was overthrown when Michael Romanov came to power backed by the Russian gentry and boyars.

For those subjects who fought in the national uprising to defeat the “False Dmitrii” and the Poles, the newly elected Czar Michael gave considerable amounts of land in 1613. By 1620, a new system of land distribution was based upon the number of peasant homesteads controlled by a proprietor, instead of the size of his property. Michael Romanov served as Czar from 1613-1620.

In 1633, following the reign of Czar Michael, the land regulations were again altered. If a proprietor retained fewer than 15 male peasant homesteads on his property, he would be freed from the military obligation. By 1642, no military service would be required unless the proprietor retained more than 50 peasant homesteads.

An interesting comparison can be made between Russia and both the Western and Central European governmental policies regarding property rights. During the Middle Ages in Europe, governmental policies favored “alodial” or inheritable rights. Much later in the Balkan States, property rights became equivalent to those in Russia. During the 16th century in conquered European regions, the Ottomans gave properties to their valiant warriors, who provided military service to the Turkish Sultan. When those Ottoman land policies ceased in later centuries, the Turkish authority was weakened. Russian policies were unique and demanded continued service to the state long after the central governmental authority became supreme.

Orthodox monasteries and diocese lands became the largest non-royal landowners in Russia, when their holdings were combined as a total percentage of Russian territory. Perhaps church holdings were as much as 30% of the total usable land in Russia and represented a much larger percentage than similar church holdings in Western Europe. In the latter half of the 16th century, the few largest of the Orthodox monasteries held huge properties that included the homesteads of thousands of peasants. However, most monasteries were quite modest and retained rather small plots. The land holdings of individual churches were very small, much smaller than those of the individual churches in England at the time of King Henry VIII’s reign, when he dissolved his relationship with the Catholic Church to establish the Church of England.

Significant changes in the seigniorial system of inheritable properties occurred during the 13th to 15th centuries. Proprietors had earned their incomes through the rents paid by the serfs, which were supplemented by the services provided by the peasants, and later by the products of the newly entrepreneurial craftsmen. During the last half of the 15th century, however, a market-economy began to develop in Russia that served to replace direct incomes earned by the lords and gentry. There was increased use of money income derived from the goods that were produced. Because of the increasing requirements to provide services to the state, the proprietors were faced with a political dilemma. Unless the landowners could make greater contributions to the state, they faced loss of their properties, which would be given or sold to other individuals. As a result, the centralized authority and power of the Czarist monarchy became absolute. Russia entered into a prolonged period of economic depression, depopulation, and political crisis.

Many servitors, who had inherited smaller parcels of land, were faced with severe dilemmas regarding how to improve their incomes. When the properties were insufficient to provide adequate income directly from the rents and payments of the tenants, additional income could be derived from the agricultural products themselves. So, the combination of rents and sales of products to others rescued the proprietors. As a result, some proprietors became hugely wealthy and earned annual incomes exceeding 100,000 rubles, which was a fortune in those days.

The vast incomes, which approached or exceeded 100,000 rubles, must be compared to the relatively low prices placed upon ordinary items and labors. As an example, it was known that the lesser pomestyes may have earned as little as 5-8 rubles per plots of 300 chetverts. By the early 17th century, their incomes increased to 10-20 rubles, which was still inadequate relative to the proprietor’s costs of maintaining and operating his holdings. Each proprietor was responsible for the costs of supplying horses and mounted soldiers with the necessary armor, over and above the expenses of providing for his family.

Many servitors inherited only small plots after the estates had been divided among several preceding generations of descendants. Those smaller properties had large expenses and could not create an adequate income from the agricultural production alone. Supplemental incomes could be derived, however, from the sale of specific crafts and foods, or from the labor supplied by the tenant peasants. Inflationary rises in prices resulted and some proprietors became quite wealthy on the basis of raising fees charged to their tenant peasants, as well as from the sales of products to outsiders.

Faced by the deteriorating economy which ensued, lesser servitors began to abandon their inherited pomestyes and obligations to the monarchy. In fact, the proprietors ran off to the Russian frontiers, where they often settled as peasants. Some landowners joined with Cossack nomadic brigands, who roamed the Russian Steppes. On occasion due to mounting indebtedness, proprietors were forced into slavery to other wealthier lords in order to escape from their obligations to the state and thereby avoid imprisonment or worse.

An escalating crisis of indebtedness resulted from the ruinous policies of the Russian monarchy. The greatest proportion of the nobility and gentry borrowed excessively to ease the burdens from their debts. They borrowed both goods and large sums of cash. For security, they had to mortgage property, livestock, or goods, whatever the moneylenders would accept. Information about their individual and combined debts was corroborated in the surviving wills of the aristocracy and from cadastral map documents, which showed a record of nearly universal indebtedness.

The moneylenders came from several segments of Russian society and included merchants, artisans, and even priests. Despite severe admonitions by the church against lending money at interest, many clergy could not resist the temptation to add income to their institutions or persons. More surprisingly, there were many indebted boyars, who speculated in lending money to others. It was an irresponsible dilemma, which served to deepen the crisis. Because of the scarcity of cash, lending was often of provisions, such as horses, livestock, weapons, or clothes and jewelry; they loaned anything of value to others. It was a desperate situation and usury was prevalent despite their awareness of the known restrictions. As a result, lesser wealthy individuals could amass a great fortune, and did so. Interest charges became excessive, often exceeding 100% per year or even 1% per day. The monarchy finally declared a moratorium to the usury by declaring a limitation to interest charges, if the repayment of the debt exceeded five years.

As the availability of cash diminished, proprietors exacted greater amounts of cash over goods from their peasants. Serfs were victimized the most. Bad decisions followed by punishing circumstances always victimize those at the lowest levels of a society. Serfs were unable to recover and began to abandon the properties. At its worst, 90% of the properties had been abandoned. Russia was ill prepared to cope with the severe loss of agricultural products or income derived from agriculture. It was insufficient to feed the country. Proprietors, who were deprived of their serfs, began to till the land themselves, or abandon the land and migrate to the frontiers or to less arable regions.

As the seigniorial proprietors increasingly exploited the peasants, more of them abandoned the land. It was a vicious and deteriorating cycle. As a result, the seigniors were required to become more intimately involved in the day-to-day operations and management of their properties. The monarchy had to reduce the military obligations of the landlords, which permitted the owners to more directly supervise their properties.

Magnates (private landowners) began to acquire the former pomestyes from those, who had inherited the land. However, the policies of the government favored confiscation, by one means or another, of the properties and goods. As the properties were abandoned, the larger land parcels became decreased in size as newer owners took over the plots. Since there was no distinction between the state and the Czar, most often the Czar assumed ownership of abandoned lands.

The Czar and his agents retained the rights of first refusal on all commodity, commercial, import/export, and land transactions, so other proprietors waited in turn for the “left-overs.” The rights of propination, which were the commercial rights to distillation and sales of alcoholic products, were wholly owned and controlled by the monarchy. In addition, the Czar held first rights over mining and sales of salt, flax, grains, amber, hay, timber, fish, and the import/export trade arrangements for products with Persia and the Orient. Noble relatives of the Czar gained the opportunity to own the pubs (taverns and inns), where additional income was derived from the peasants, who imbibed the alcohol.

During the 17th century, peasant indebtedness and subsequent impoverishment worsened. There was a marked increase in the demands for both the cash and goods-in-kind from the peasants. Cash payments were preferred, but the serfs could not always oblige. Goods-in-kind made up for the shortage of cash and coin, which included: grains (wheat, rye, and oats), breads, poultry and eggs, cheeses, firewood, horses to haul the products of the lord’s endeavors, such as salt, hay, and market produce. If there were a shortage of goods, then the serfs were required to provide their hours and days of labor, which included repairs of the roads and bridges, the manor houses, churches, and monasteries. Serfs worked from dawn to sunset. Eventually, taxes were applied to households, individuals, and marriages. There were additional fines for absenteeism, court appearances, transfers of holdings, and transport of the serf’s products on the roads owned by the proprietors. Later on, the lords applied taxes as a percentage of the harvest yields.

There was a marked increase in the power of the lords over the peasants as a result of the severe taxation and demands placed upon the tenants. The crisis worsened by the effects of inflation. As the value of cash decreased, serfs purchased fewer products for themselves. It was a classical case of declining purchasing power. The value of items depreciated and the resultant effect was severe impoverishment of the working class in Russia. It was impossible for the peasants to make their payments to their lords, when faced with the wide disparity of rising demands and less-valued goods.

The dilemma worsened the conditions of the tenant’s lives, which were so poor that the peasants retained little direct benefit above that which they provided to their lords. Peasant life was barely above slavery. Rules governing taxation demanded from the lords by the state had to be changed, whereupon the lords increased their charges to the tenants, and so the system spiraled downward. Several systems of increasing taxation were attempted utilizing “comparative values” on goods and services. Each was abandoned with equally poor results. Serfs were required to pay increasingly disproportionate shares of the levies that were placed initially upon the proprietors. Some landowners did not pay their full share of the collected revenues to the state. The value of goods declined further, so the state demanded payments in cash rather than services-in-kind. Governmental costs increased due to inflation, but were made much worse by the added costs of the many prolonged wars in which Russia was involved.

Higher taxation was inevitable, but the proprietors and serfs were unable to meet their obligations. As the economy continued to worsen, the state tried a scheme to lower taxation, but the lords kept the discounts for themselves and did not pass along all of the savings to their tenants. Again, the peasants were forced to pay more for fewer benefits and they ended up with the disproportionate burden. The “tipping point” arrived when the peasants could no longer tolerate the burdens placed upon them and they increasingly began to abandon their homesteads. The reduction of the population was severe, which further lowered the tax basis, which in turn reduced the governmental revenues. The end result was the total devastation of the Russian agriculturally based economy.

Few of the tax assessment census records have survived in the state archives, so the estimates of the changing peasant populations in Russia have had to be obtained by reviewing cadastral maps of the different regions. Although incomplete, the cadastral maps enabled researchers to calculate the size of arable properties and the number of tenant homesteads contained within each estate. Although calculating methods for tax assessment varied in the different regions of Russia, it was possible for researchers to estimate tax revenues, albeit inaccurately. Surveyors and tax assessors made great assumptions and falsifications in their records, which depended upon their sympathies for the tenants and the assumed inabilities of some of the landowners to meet their obligations.

One method of assessing the tax basis of a property was to estimate the amount of land that was kept fallow. Assuming that the fallow land was one-third of the property, the tax basis could be applied to the remaining two-thirds of the land. However, if the assessor believed that the tenants were unable to meet their tax obligations, the assessors could reduce the taxable proportion of the land to half or even one quarter or less of the total property. The decisions were arbitrary and variable. Illiteracy contributed to other errors in establishing the tax basis of a property. Because exact arithmetic means were not available to everyone, the assessors resorted to estimates based upon approximations, such as one-half of one-half of one-half of a property would be assessed. Surveyors would substitute for calculations the number of homesteads on a property, and underestimate them if necessary to lower the taxation. Other items were substituted for size of property surveys, such as the number and size of the pastures, woodlands, meadows, forests, vegetable gardens, fisheries, and grain mills. Anything of potential value could be assessed for taxation purposes. Alternatively, widows and serfs, who were too poor to pay tax obligations, were eliminated from the assessor’s tax rolls. The system of tax assessment was arbitrary. Corruption and falsification were customary.

Since taxation that was based upon the amount of tilled lands was underreported and inadequate, the system was changed to a basis, which depended upon the number of homesteads. Underreporting of the number of homesteads resulted and the system was altered again and based upon the number of individuals. When individuals were deemed too poor to pay their tax obligations, the reports would underestimate the population of the estates in the region. Czar Peter I abandoned the system of basing taxation upon the number of homesteads. The severe flaw in all of the taxation systems was related to the fact that many of the landowners did not pass along to the state the full payments of tenant taxes collected. The underpayments of some proprietors resulted in a disproportionate share of taxes being collected from the serfs of neighboring estates in the region. Serfs were always being held responsible for making up for delinquent payments.

Russian taxation obligations were retrogressive for the peasants and resulted in the increasing abandonment of the homesteads. Both serfs and proprietors fled from over 90% of the land to resettle on the Russian Steppes, frontier borders, or Siberia. Many individuals joined up with Cossack forces in southern Russia, which is now part of Ukraine. Depopulation in central Russia was the most severe. Serfs, who could not escape the land, made other choices. Since there was no benefit to working harder when any gains went to the landlords, the peasants simply stopped working. They reduced their holdings and tilled only enough land to maintain the barest subsistence. The serfs were ruined. Russia’s population was in despair and defeated. The idled population used the time to consume more alcohol in the taverns. The taverns, however, were a state monopoly, so the proceeds of the added income did not benefit the peasants.

Geopolitical events in Lithuania and Poland since the 14th century are important to summarize regarding the outcome of Russia’s era of economic turmoil. By the 14th century, Lithuania controlled the western regions of Russia and present-day Ukraine. Their borders extended from the Baltic region to the Caspian and Black Seas. In 1384, Poland united with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and created the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania. The merger of both nation-states provided added security against the powerful military forces of neighboring countries, such as Sweden in the northwest, the kingdom of France and the German States in Western Europe, the Ottoman Turks, and the invading Asian Mongol-Tatar forces from the east.

Poland had attempted to stabilize the degenerating political situation in Russia, in favor of the Poles, by aiding the installation of the “False Dmitrii” as Czar of Russia from 1610-1612. However, the government of Czar Dmitrii was overthrown in Moscow by Michael Romanov, who had led a strong military force of men and arms gathered from the various regional gentry in Russia. Michael became the first of the Romanov Czars to reign over Russia.

During the approximately 250 years since the union of Lithuania and Poland in 1384, Polish nobility took advantage of the dire economic circumstances that were evolving in Russia. The Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania formed as a vital regional buffer. Polish noble families were able to purchase or take over many of the estates in western Russia. It was said that in the absence of an entrenched peasant population, most of whom had made their exodus to the Russian frontiers, the Poles merely had to walk in. Mostly the Poles managed their newly acquired estates as absentee landlords. In so doing, an infrastructure of administrators and rent and tax collectors was required, who were obtained from Polish ranks rather than from local personnel. The Poles added further restrictions and economic demands upon the remaining Russian peasantry. Polish clergy attempted to convert the peasants to Catholicism, and the Orthodox clergy retaliated with equal fervor in their religious rivalry. The Polish nobility and gentry brought Jewish managers and administrators from Poland to supervise their newly acquired estates in Russia. The Jews served to supervise the properties, enforce the policies, collect both rents and taxes, and served as arendars or innkeepers.

In many cases, Russian properties were deeded to Polish gentry, who had provided “services to the king of Poland.” The establishment of the town of Konotop, in Chernigov Gubernya in 1634, is such an example. When Polish king Władisław IV married in 1634, Michael Romanov seized the opportunity to attack the region of Konotop and retake the territory from the Poles. Michael’s military incursion was defeated, but the details of the history are relevant to the subject of this article.

Konotop received its name from the swamps of the region; the Russians did not appreciate the importance of that fact. So, it should be no surprise that the Russian horse-drawn cavalry and artillery became mired in the mud, and the Poles quickly gained military superiority. In the meantime, the Cossack hetman (leaders) observed with great precaution as the Russian military came southward into Ukraine. Intense negotiations ensued between those military rivals; the Cossacks were not interested in surrendering their independence to the Russians again. The name, Ukraine, had originated as the “distant place,” where neighboring rivals, the former Khazars, the Byzantines, the Persian Islamic Empire, the Mongol-Tatars mounted armies, and the Ottoman Turks, sequentially had sought to gain suzerainty over the territory during prior centuries. The politically astute Cossack leadership under Bogdan Chmielnicki began to assemble a multinational force of his mounted horsemen, supplemented by the serfs, who had made their exodus from Russia to join with the Cossack bands, as well as an alliance of military volunteers from the Tatar, and the Ottoman forces, who merged their forces with the Cossacks.

The Russian military forces of 150,000 men may have outnumbered the Cossacks by 5:1, but the Russians could not match the Cossack’s tactics and determination. Negotiations were set aside and the Cossack army went to battle. After the Russian defeat, undisciplined Cossack mobs ruled the region. Their behavior exemplified the decades of pent-up anger and fierce brutality, all of which was then turned upon the Polish nobility, those foreigners who had taken over the western Ukrainian estate lands. The Cossack uprising represented the outpouring of their long-suppressed hatred and their contempt for the outsiders, whom they planned to evict. Wholesale slaughtering and widespread pillaging occurred in each subsequent town as the Cossack bands swept through the region. Many of the Poles retreated, but there were other innocent victims, who were left behind and who were ruthlessly murdered. Among them were the Catholic clergy and the Jewish communities, who specifically were targeted. The year was 1648; it was indelibly etched into the Eastern European calendar of history.

  • Blum, Jerome: Lord and Peasant in Russia, from the Ninth to the Nineteenth Century. Princeton University Press, 1961.
  • Dubnow, Simon M.: History of the Jews in Poland and Russia. Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, PA, 1918. Republished by Avotaynu, Inc., Bergenfield, New Jersey, 2000.
  • Zamoyski, Adam: The Polish Way, A Thousand-year History of the Poles and their Culture. Hippocrene Books, Inc., New York, 1987, 1995.

PGS-CA Meeting

March 25, 2017

Ted Gostin

Polish State Archives Databases

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PGS-CA Meeting

May 27, 2017

Gregg Legutki

FamilySearch Tree: New Features and a Few Old Ones

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PGS-CA Meeting

July 22, 2017

PGS-CA Members

Brick Wall Solutions

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PGS-CA Meeting

September 23, 2017

Celebrating our Polish Heritage 2nd Annual Polish Potluck and Show and Tell

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PGS-CA Meeting
Election Day!

November 18, 2017

This will be the 3rd Saturday in November (Due to Thanksgiving weekend being the 4th weekend).



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