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“The gentleman’s fear had some foundation” (Panaeva)

September 28, 2011

Chapter 4 of Panaeva’s memoirs has a wealth of material on slavery, which isn’t surprising: a woman opposed to and unused to the institution saw it under the extreme circumstance of an estate being divided, which she recalled long after the emancipation.

I won’t post on every anecdote about Panaev’s fellow heirs mistreating the serfs, but here’s one that touches on the attitudes of slaves toward German overseers and of slaveholders toward insurrections:

The gentlewoman [помещица] was very jealous; she told her husband to sleep in the next room, and as it was the billiard room, a bed was made for him on the billiard table. Nevertheless, fearing he might be unfaithful, the jealous wife stationed an old woman, one of the house slaves [старая дворовая женщина], under the table all night long so that she might inform her immediately if her husband left the room. Once at night the old woman sneezed under the billiard table and woke up the gentleman [помещик], who had an image of a murderer sitting under the table and raised a frightful alarm.

The gentleman’s fear had some foundation, because in that year in Kazan’ province there was a serious uprising of enserfed peasants [крепостные крестьяне] against the landowners [помещики]; landowners were ambushed and murdered, and one landowner was burned at the stake. On Count Bludov’s estate were one hundred Cossacks to pacify some rebellious peasants who had beaten a German overseer half to death. The new overseer would not go out to the field to see the peasants at work [работающие мужики] except with loaded pistols and accompanied by Cossacks. This kind of news could not find its way into print in those days. Stern measures were taken to conceal thoroughly these disturbances and to monitor private correspondence so that the sad events could not spread.

The Kazan’ landowners, knowing the sins on their conscience, were terrified; they dressed as merchants if they had to go on a trip; when they went to bed, they barricaded their doors and windows with dressers, tables, and chairs; they had loaded pistols and rifles at the ready. (chapter 4)

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