Posts tagged Peter the Aleut
Herman, A Wilderness Saint: From Sarov, Russia to Kodiak, Alaska is a new book that I think will be of interest to many readers of this web site. It has been translated from Russian and contains material not previously available in English, which only became accessible in Russia after the fall of communism. Through its use of primary sources such as letters and reports, St. Herman’s life and character is revealed with startling clarity, together with many aspects of the wider Russian ecclesiastic mission to America of which he was an integral part. The three appendices bring the story of New Valaam up to our own time, offer details of the saint’s canonization by both the OCA and ROCOR in 1970 and provide more biographical background to some of the eyewitnesses to the saint’s life. The primary text is supported by easily referenced endnotes and rounded off by an index.
Of particular note for readers of this web site following previous articles published here will be the account of the martyrdom of St Peter the Aleut with a brief discussion of its historicity.
Further information about the book and how to order it in either print or digital formats can be found here. The monastery also published an earlier edition of this book in Russian, details of which may be found here. A look inside preview is available courtesy of Amazon here.
Yesterday, I published a brief article on Fr. Stephen Andreades, the first resident priest of the first Orthodox parish in the contiguous United States — Holy Trinity in New Orleans. The entire early history of that parish is something of a mystery. We know who the early priests were — Andreades, Fr. Gregory Yiayias, Fr. Misael Karydis — but we don’t know much about them, and we don’t have a clear understanding of the early life of that parish. The hints that we do have are tantalizing. For instance, Holy Trinity used an organ decades before any other American Orthodox church is known to have added one. But we don’t know the story behind it.
Anyway, all this got me to thinking about some of the toughest cases to crack in my research into American Orthodox history. I’ll run through some of them today.
The Ludwell-Paradise story
This is really Nicholas Chapman’s turf, and it’s just loaded with great mysteries. Among them:
- How exactly did a young Philip Ludwell III decide to convert to Orthodoxy?
- What was his family’s connection to the Orthodox Church prior to his conversion?
- Were there any other Orthodox converts in colonial Virginia, aside from the Ludwell family?
- How long did Ludwell’s descendants remain Orthodox?
- What — if any — connection existed between the Ludwell-Paradise family, the New Smyrna colony, and the Russian mission to Alaska?
St. Peter the Aleut
Did he exist? If so, was he martyred? If not, how and why did the story of his martyrdom develop? We’re making progress on this front, but the critical questions remain unanswered. The frustrating thing is that I know that the Russian government contacted the Spanish government about this at the time, and the Spanish did an investigation, and there are records of this investigation in Madrid. But I can’t get anyone there to get back to me.
The aborted New York church of 1850
The January 1850 issue of the Home and Foreign Record of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America reported this:
Efforts are now making in New York to form a congregation of Greek Christians. We observe an announcement that a priest of that denomination, with an interpreter, is now in New York, and will doubtless take charge of the movement.
But the first documented Orthodox congregation in New York wasn’t organized until Fr. Nicholas Bjerring arrived in 1870 — 20 years later. So what was going on in 1850? I haven’t found any other traces of this story.
The phantom Galveston parish of the 1860s
Lots and lots of secondary sources refer to a very early Orthodox parish in Galveston, Texas. This parish was supposedly formed in the 1860s and used the name “Ss. Constantine and Helen.” But the earliest traces I’ve found of organized Orthodoxy in Galveston are from the mid-1890s, when Fr. Theoclitos Triantafilides founded a parish of the same name, which still exists. In fact, according to Triantafilides’ biography by Milivoy Jovan Milosevich, Triantafilides intentionally revived the old parish name. From the bio:
It is known that with the outset of the American Civil War, a group of multi-ethnic Orthodox Christians were having regular prayer meetings in Galveston, as early as 1861, and they called themselves “the Parish of S.S. Constantine and Helen.” [...] [I]t was Arch. Fr. Theoclitos’ decision to use the name S. S. Constantine and Helen Church, because the congregation that started on its own should be remembered.
But was this “congregation” a full-fledged parish, as some have suggested? Was it simply a group of Orthodox laypeople gathering for reader’s services? Was it somehow connected to the New Orleans parish — perhaps the earliest “mission” community (as we now commonly use the term) in the contiguous United States? We just don’t know.
Another tantalizing piece of information: at exactly the time when this congregation was supposedly formed, the descendants of Philip Ludwell III were living in Galveston. Were they still Orthodox? And were they connected to this “parish”?
The mysterious death of Fr. Paul Kedrolivansky
We’ve covered this one before: Kedrolivansky, the dean of the Russian cathedral in San Francisco, died under suspicious circumstances in 1878. I’m pretty sure that Kedrolivansky was murdered, but I don’t know by whom. Was it his rival priest, Fr. Nicholas Kovrigin? Gustave Niebaum and the powerful Alaska Commercial Company? A “nihilist,” as some later speculated? We don’t know, and this is a mystery that will probably never be solved.
The Kodiak Bell
The bell from the first Orthodox church in the New World — Holy Resurrection in Kodiak, AK — currently hangs in a Roman Catholic church in California. And nobody really knows how it got there.
Fr. Raphael Morgan
For a long time, all we knew for sure was that the first black Orthodox priest in America was alive in 1916, and disappeared from the historical record afterwards. Now, we can say with confidence that he was dead by 1924. But 1916-1924 is a pretty big range, and we still don’t know how and where he died, where he’s buried, and whether he remained Orthodox until the end.
This little run-down is just the tip of the iceberg as far as American Orthodox historical mysteries go. If you have any insight into these conundrums, shoot me an email at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
Editor’s note: Raymond A Bucko, S.J. is a Jesuit Catholic priest, professor of anthropology, chair of the social work, sociology and anthropology department at Creighton University, Omaha Nebraska. He completed his doctoral work in anthropology at the University of Chicago in 1992. His dissertation was “Inipi: Historic Transformation and Contemporary Significance of the Sweat Lodge in Lakota Ritual Practice.” He entered the Jesuit order in 1973, earned an masters of divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley in 1983, was ordained that year and completed a Masters in Sacred Theology the next year at Regis College Toronto. He first worked with Native Americans in 1974 and later served as a consultant for the National Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Ad Hoc Committee on Native American Ministry from 1994 to 2007. He continues to work in this field.
Father Bucko’s original research on Saint Peter the Aleut was for a conference on religion and violence on November 14, 2005. He subsequently published his presentation as “Peter the Aleut: Sacred Icons and the Iconography of Violence” Boletín: The Journal of the California Mission Studies Association. Robert Senkewicz Editor. Volume 23 no.1 Pp. 22-45. Spring 2006. Reprinted in: The Contexts of Religion and Violence. Journal of Religion & Society. Supplement Series 2. Edited by Ronald A. Simkins. The Kripke Center, 2007; Pp 31-48. http://moses.creighton.edu/jrs/2007/2007-3.html (PDF version – http://moses.creighton.edu/jrs/pdf/2007-3.pdf).
Following a reference from a colleague in Finland he found the initial disposition of Ivan Kiglay in the library of congress card catalogue as: Istomin, A. A., James R. Gibson, Valeri i Aleksandrovich Tishkov, and Institut *etnologii i antropologii im. N.N. Miklukho-Makla*i*a. 2005. Rossi*i*a v Kalifornii : russkie dokumenty o kolonii Ross i rossi*isko-kaliforni*iskikh sv*i*az*i*akh 1803-1850 : v dvukh tomakh. 2 vols. Moskva: Nauka. The actual volume was borrowed from the Georgetown University library. To download the original deposition document in Russian, click on this link:
To be entirely clear: This is the source from which all other accounts of St. Peter’s martyrdom are derived. But until now, it has been virtually unknown to Orthodox Christians, who have relied on much later, secondhand versions of the story. We at SOCHA have had a copy of this document for some months, but we (and Fr. Oliver in particular, who can read Russian) haven’t had time to get a translation done. We are grateful to Fr. Bucko for providing one. This initial translation was done by Mr. Gleb Coca, a Moldovian Muskee Fellow at the Creighton University school of business in September 2010. Please note that this is an initial translation only: it needs to be checked and revised by others familiar with the Russian language. But rather than wait for a more polished translation, I (Matthew) thought it best to publish this initial version, along with the original Russian account, with the hope that some of our readers would be inspired to offer their own expertise to produce an authoritative translation.
The bracketed small Roman numerals in the text indicate endnotes.
Testimony of Ivan Kiglay, port worker from Kadiak, regarding the capture by Spanish of a trading unit of RAK [Russian-American company] in 1815, [regarding] death of a dweller of Kadiak Chukagnak (St. Peter Aleut), and regarding his escape to the island Ilimena. Ross, May 1819.
In 1819 year, May, to the castle of Ross, of Kadiak Region, village Kashkatskovo, Ivan Kiglay was brought from the Ilimena Island on the small ship with the similar name, who was interrogated with a translators from Kadiak – Ivan Samoilov and Jacob Shelekhov, testimonies as follows: he was delegated by Tarakanov from Saint-Kentina, with others from the trading unit from Kadiak on 15 kayaks, to come to the service of Company of Tarasov, and were delivered on English small ship, named “Foresta” to the Ilimena Island, where they were trading beavers. The manager of this branch of the Company – Tarasov – was not perceiving the trade as profitable and was not hoping for recovery in that island, so he decided to use his kayaks to move on other islands: Saint Rose and Ekaterina and later to the land shore of California. Because of the fact that in the Tarasov’s kayak it happened to be a hole and his Kayak started to fill with water, and because the weather was pretty fresh [cool], we landed at Cape Bay Saint Peter, were we have been kept by the weather.
On the next day a soldier came from the mission in Saint-Pedro, and told to Tarasov, the recently, on the island of Climant, 2 Kadiak dwellers ran away from Tarakanov. An award was declared for bringing them back. Later, although the weather was proper to departure for the island of Ekaterina, Tarasov decided to stay and to wait for those 2 Kadiak dwellers. On the fourth day of staying, about 20 soldiers on horses approached in silence and arrested Tarasov and all the other members of the crew [.] They treated them inhumanly, tortured a lot of people using hatchets, and to one of the Kadiak dweller from village Kaguiatskovo , named Chukagnak, they have hacked his head. After they have stolen all the beavers and their personal belonging, they were transferred to Sankt-Pedro Mission, where those 2 Kadiak Dwellers, who escaped from Climant, had been caught. Missioners and the leader of the named above mission (who’s name he does not remember), made a request to all the Kadiak dwellers to convert to catholic religion, for what they have replied that they have already converted to a Christian religion on Kadiak, and they do not want to convert to any other religion. In a short time, Tarasov and other Kadiak dwellers [crew members] were transferred to Saint Barbara. Though he (Kiglay Ivan) and wounded Chukagnak, were left in the mentioned mission, were kept with Indian criminals in the prison for several days, without food and water.
On that night the chief of the mission brought the order to convert to religion, although they did not do that, despite the critical situation that they faced. On the sunrise of the next day a religious clerk[i] came to the prison, accompanied by betrayed[ii] Indians, and called them out of the prison; Indians surrounded them, and by order started to cut (chop) Chukagnak’s fingers by articulations, from both hands and [after that] arms, and in the end cut his stomach (abdomen) [revealed his intestines], by that time, he was already dead.[iii] That should have happened also to Kiglay, but at that time to the priest was brought a paper (he does not know from where and from whom). After reading that, [the priest] ordered to bury the body of the dead Chukagnak from Kasguiatskovo in the same place, and he [Kiglay] was send back to prison, and in a short time after that he was send to Saint-Barbara, where he have not found anybody from his crew nor Tarasov, who had already been sent to Monterey.
Later on that autumn and winter (which will be in 1815), those of port workers from Kadiak, who run away from Tarasov in different places were found and brought to Saint-Barbara, and some of them with kayaks, and those 2 who were in the mission in Saint-Pedro, all together 10 people including Kurbatov. They were assigned to work as well as other Indians, kept for crimes[iv] in handcuffs; the agreement among all of those from Kadiak was to escape from Saint-Barbara and to get to Francis port in their way away from the land, and [to head] to Ross, but it was unclear if it will happen.[v]
He, Kiglay Ivan, agreed to escape with Kaguiak dwellers Atash’sha Filip, decided to use other means to escape, what they managed to do, they has stolen a kayak and ran away using that, got to the same cape bay Saint Peter, where they were captured, moved to Ekaterina Island, from there to the island Barbara, and from there to the island Ilimena, that happened in a short time because of the good weather. While their arrival to Ilimena, and while they lived there, the local inhabitants were glad to accept them. They trained themselves in catching birds, called Urillas, they used to eat their meat, and their skin they used for clothes for them and for Indians. His friend [Kiglay’s friend] Attash’sha Filip from Kaguiatsk, in one year after arrival to Ilimena, has died. In the autumn of 1818 near Ilimena island appeared 2 Spanish 3-masted [big] ships, stayed 3 days and on easy wind, were coming to the land on small boats, Indians were collecting herbs and berries with good taste for them, while ship was staying, when [other] ship were approaching, or people were coming, they were hiding themselves, helped by Indians. Later a 2-masted ship came, they [Spanish] let Kiglay know that he could join them on the ship, but none of them could speak Russian or Kadiak, so he refused.
While interrogating Kadiak Dweller, Kiglay Ivan, the translator was the dweller of Kadiak region, village Misakovskii, Ivan Samoilov, by his will his son put his hand.[vi]
While interrogating Kadiak dweller, Kiglay Ivan, the translator was the dweller of Kadiak region, village Chiniatsk, Jacob Shelekhov, who signed by himself.
Fr. Bucko wishes to note that this is an initial translation only. Corrections or insights into this translation are gratefully accepted; please send them to: email@example.com. Once again, to download the original deposition document in Russian, click below:
[i] Ad Litteram, he calls that person a “spiritual person”. It is an old Russian. I don’t know how they were calling it in old Russian, but today they would call a priest differently. Also consider the fact that Kiglay testimony originally was translated form Kadiak language into Russian, and this is the second translation.
They refer to the spiritual clerks twice in the text, once as “Spiritual person” (which I translated as spiritual clerk), and second time as “spiritual Father”. For “Priest” it is usually used another word, and “Father” (spiritual or saint Father) is closer to a way how a priest is being called in Russia. A person is way too broad and general. I understood it as a reference to person who has something to do with a religion, and formally involved in it, by wearing some sort of clothes which make it distinct.
I would say that they were trying to show the appurtenance to some other religion of that person in charge of the execution, but it is not necessary to be a priest. And because Kiglay did not know details of other religions, he might have used a broader or a more general term, for people related to spirituality or church, but it might not be necessary a priest.
As we read before that, it is said that MISSIONERS and the leadership of the Mission asked them first to take the catholic religion. So it might be that by “spiritual person” he referred to a missioner, or something higher in rank than missioners (otherwise he could have repeated the word missioners). To keep it short - Spiritual person is related to the church or religion (I would say in a formal visible way, like wearing clothes or have the attitude of others). For “priest” it is used another word. “Spiritual person” can also refer to a priest, it is just a broader term. Also later referrals to this text which I have found online, translate this word as a “priest” to the modern language.
[ii] The word “betrayed” was written on above the line of the regular testimony. Also the word “betrayed” may be interpreted from Russian as “converted”
[iii] In the text I cannot see clearly that it was by order of the religious clerk. It is stated that it is by order, and in that sentence only clerk is mentioned above.
[iv] The word “for crimes” was written on above the line of the regular testimony
[v] The note in the book says that according to Tihmenev, part of Kadiaks managed to escape and after staying for 4 days without water and food in the water , they found themselves in Ross.
[vi] In the original text it is being put in square brackets to be deleted
Yesterday, we posted the St. Peter the Aleut entry from Richard A. Pierce’s Russian America: A Biographical Dictionary. In that excerpt, Pierce offered this theory: “Since the extermination of Indians on ‘Il’mena Island’ by Aleut hunters led by the Russian Iakov Babin, there with the RAC brig Il’mena, occurred at about the same time as the alleged martyrdom of Petr the Aleut, discovery of additional facts on the one may help explain the other.” This, of course, raises the question, “Who was Iakov Babin, and what did he do?” Here is Babin’s brief entry in the same Pierce book (page 14):
Babin, Iakov (fl. 1815-1839?), fur hunter. A peasant from Tobol’sk, he entered service of the RAC [Russian-American Company] about 1805 and was assigned to the Ross settlement in California. About 1815, while hunting for sea otters off what the Russians called Il’mena Island, probably after their ship, the Il’mena, in Southern California, Babin apparently allowed his party of Aleut hunters to exterminate the local Indians. When the Aleuts involved in the affair returned to Sitka, Chief Manager A.A. Baranov took statements from them, and in 1818 his successor L.A. Hagemeister ordered Babin brought on the Kutuzov to Sitka for further questioning. From there he was to be sent to St. Petersburg, for inquiry by the Main Office, though whether this was done is unclear. In 1825, stating that he had received nothing from the company since 1805, he requested permission to leave the colonies, but remained, for on 30 January 1827 he married, at Sitka, Anisiia, “a baptized Indian of the people of Albion (i.e., of California).” On 23 January 1827 a daughter, Matrona, was baptised at Kad’iak. On 6 February 1838 he married Elisaveta Unali at Kad’iak, and there, in either 1839 or 1841, he died.
It’s just a theory, but it’s possible that St. Peter’s death was actually a revenge killing. The Il’mena was, after all, St. Peter’s ship — at least, it was the ship he was on at the time of his capture. Was St. Peter present at this alleged massacre (since, after all, the Il’mena was his ship)? Were the Indians who killed St. Peter related to the Indians killed by the Russians and Aleuts on Il’mena Island? Is it possible that the two events are unconnected?
It seems to me that, if we want to understand what happened with St. Peter in 1815, we must understand this purported Il’mena Island massacre as well.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.
Editor’s note: The late Dr. Richard A. Pierce was among the foremost historians on Russian Alaska, and his many books remain standards in the field. In 1990, he published Russian America: A Biographical Dictionary (Kingston, Ont., Canada: Limestone Press). Among the many entries in the book is one on St. Peter the Aleut (pages 397-398). I’ve reprinted that excerpt below. While Pierce himself regards St. Peter’s martyrdom as “probably a fabrication,” he points to some very intriguing sources and other incidents that warrant further study.
Petr the Aleut, Saint. (d. 1815?), in June1815 the RAC [Russian-American Company] brig Il’mena took on supplies at San Francisco and then sailed south to poach sea otters along the California coast. In August, 8 baidarkas under the Russian fur hunter Boris Tarasov came ashore at San Pedro, but the Spanish authorities ordered them off. On 17 September, Tarasov landed again, and he and 24 Aleuts were seized. In 1817, Governor Sola delivered 15 prisoners to the Russians, and promised to get others who were being held at the southern missions. Those who had married California women and accepted Catholicism would be allowed to stay.
In March 1819, the Il’mena, under Benzeman, visited “Il’mena Island” (evidently one of the Santa Barbara Channel islands, probably named by the Russians after the vessel), and rescued a Kad’iak Island Aleut, Ivan Keglii (or Kykhliaia or Kychlai) and took him to Fort Ross, where the commandant, I.A. Kuskov, interrogated him. Said to be “not a type who could think up things,” Keglii said that he was among those captured by the Spanish in 1815. The Spanish priests, he claimed, had tried to persuade him and one of his comrades, named Petr (or Chungangnaq), to become converts to Catholicism. Keglii and his friend refused, so the priest returned the following morning accompanied by Indians, had the pair brought out and “then he commanded that Chungangnaq’s fingers should be cut off at the joints, and then his arms at both joints. Finally, not satisfied by this act of tyranny, he commanded that his intestines be opened up. At this last torture, Chungangnaq, thus a martyr, expired.” The same fate awaited Keglii, but was deferred and Keglii, who had watched his friend’s torture and death, later escaped with another Kad’iak man to “Il’mena Island” (perhaps Santa Cruz Island, the closest to Santa Barbara). His companion died, but Keglii lived with the Indians on the island until rescued in 1819.
On hearing of the “barbarous deed,” the Emperor Alexander I at once asked that his charge d’affaires in Madrid be instructed to make inquiries, which was done (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paris, 29 August 1821:4254, Nesselrode to Pozzo di Borgo). Nesselrode, I.A. Kuskov, Chief Manager S.N. Ianovskii, the venerable Father German [St. Herman], Father Ioann Veniaminov [St. Innocent], and the company historian P.A. Tikhmenev all believed Keglii’s gruesome tale, and the martyred Chungangnaq became revered as St. Petr the Aleut. However since Keglii’s story is unconfirmed by other sources, features a degree of compulsion uncharacteristic of the mission fathers, and resembles no other case reported among Aleut hunters captured by the Spanish and later delivered to the Russians, it was probably a fabrication. The priests at Santa Barbara and most of the other California missions were Dominicans, but in later versions of the story the culprits are said to have been Jesuits. Since the extermination of Indians on “Il’mena Island” by Aleut hunters led by the Russian Iakov Babin, there with the RAC brig Il’mena, occurred at about the same time as the alleged martyrdom of Petr the Aleut, discovery of additional facts on the one may help explain the other.