Iakov Babin & the Il’mena Island Massacre of 1815

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.