Brockhaus & Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary


from Vol.33, reprint of Brockhaus-Efron publication of 1890, Terra Publishers, 1992. Full Russian text available here. English translation below by Karen Freund, posted with the translator’s permission.

Courlandia – oblast comprising part of the domains of the Livonian Order; its borders almost coincide with the borders of today’s Courland Gubernia.    The population of this oblast was Livonians, along the Gulf of Riga, Curonians in the western part, and Semigallians in middle Courlandia; Lithuanians tribes lived in the south.  Livonians and Curonians were of the Finnish tribe, and Semigallians, Letts and others were of the Lithuanian tribe.  With the appearance in Ostsee Kray of German colonists, in the XII century, struggles begin between them and the natives.  At the end of the XII century, the first missionaries appear with the merchant colonists.  The sword-bearing Order of C. was conquered in 1230; the next year, the residents of C. accepted Christianity and swore allegiance with the Germans in fighting against the infidels.  Until 1562, the history of C. is closely linked with the history of the Livonian Order (cf.).  In 1561, with the breakup of the Order’s lands, the former Master of the Order Kettler (see XV, 24) kept C. for himself, in feudal bondage to Poland; he took the title of duke.  Refusing the title of Stadthalter in Livonia in 1568, Kettler concentrated all of his attention on internal reforms in his duchy: he saw to the general expansion of reformation doctrine, established general church visitations, improved education, and promoted the reestablishment of trade ties with Livonia and Poland.  After the death of Kettler (1587), quarrels began between his sons Friedrich and Wilhelm.  Wilhelm reestablished rallied the entire nobility against himself; in 1618 the Polish government expelled him from C.  Friedrich ruled alone until his own death in 1642, adopting the peaceful policies of his father.  After him, his son Jacob was duke (1642-82).  He had received a good education, had traveled a lot, and was fascinated with the colonization policy of the major European states; he made a number of attempts to gain a foothold on the coast of Guinea, obtained the island of Tobago from England (it was returned to England upon his death), planned to expand the harbor of Mitava by draining the River Aa to the sea.  During the time of Jacob, the Swedes invaded C., suspecting it of having friendly relations with Tsar Aleksey.  The duke was taken captive and sent to Riga (1658).  The appearance of Sapega stopped the Swedes’ successes.  Under the Treaty of Oliv (1660), the Swedes renounced all claims to C.; at the same time, Jacob returned from captivity.  His son, Friedrich Casimir (1682-98), surrounded himself with luxuries, spending a great deal of money on the resplendence of the court; he was forced to mortgage several of the duchy’s estates.  He received Peter the Great in Mitava.  After his death, the throne passed to his infant son, Friedrich Wilhelm, whose guardian was his uncle Ferdinand.  With the beginning of the great northern war, C. once again became a theater of military operations, passing from the hands of the Swedes to the hands of the Russians.  Finally, the Swedes left C. after the Battle of Poltava; it was occupied by Sheremetyev.  In 1710, Friedrich Wilhelm returned to C. and married the niece of Peter the Great, Anna Ioannovna.  From that time, Russian influence increased significantly in C.  En route from Petersburg to C. the duke became ill and died in January 1711.  His widow, prior to her ascension to the Russian throne, lived in C.  Friedrich Wilhelm’s uncle Ferdinand was made duke (1711-1737), the last representative of the House of Kettler by the male line.  Fearing the opposition of the nobility, Ferdinand did not go to C., but stayed in Danzig.  Internal unrest summoned the involvement of Poland.  A council at Mitava in 1717 decree that Ferdinand should be stripped of power and that government functions should be transferred to the duke’s high counselors.  Moritz, Count of Saxony, was a claimant to the throne of Courlandia in 1726, as adopted son of August II of Poland; but Russia forced him to renounce his claims the next year.  When in 1733 the question arose of replacing the vacant crown, Russia supported the candidacy of August III, who agreed, and declared as Duke of Courlandia Biron, a favorite of the Russian empress.  The latter was recognized by the C. nobility as well.  Biron was duke from 1737 to 1741.  With the exile of Biron to Siberia, C. was left without a duke; it continued thus until 1758.  August III one again permitted the high counselors of the country to manage its affairs.  In 1758, with the permission of Russia, C. was ceded to Carl of Saxony, son of August III; he ruled it from 1758 to 1763.  In 1761, Biron returned from exile.  Catherine II, unhappy that Duke Carl had not allowed Russian troops that had participated in the Seven Years War to return to Russia through Courlandia, insisted that he be removed, and Biron was once again declared duke, ruling C. until 1769.  He promised to allow Russian troops through C, not to enter into relations with enemies of Russia, to show religious tolerance to the Russian Orthodox and permit the construction of an Orthodox cathedral in Mitava.  In 1769 Biron renounced the throne in favor of his son Peter, against whom a movement immediately began on the part of the disgruntled nobility; he stayed on the throne only thanks to Russia.  Marrying Countess Anna von Medem, Peter spent several years abroad; returning to C. in 1787, he once again was forced to withstand internal struggles with malcontented nobility.  With the third partition of Poland (1795), C.’s feudal bondage to Poland was ended, and at the Landtag in Mitava in that same year of 1795, C. was unified with Russia.  Peter turned over the symbols of ducal authority (1800).  For the history of C., see the general works of Richter, Rutenberg et al. on the history of the Ostsee Province, as well as research of Ernst und August Seraphim, “Aus Kurlands herzoglicher Zeit, Gestalten und Bilder” (Mitava, 1892); same authors, “Aus der Kürlandischen Vergangenheit” (1893); Theodor Schiemann, in the collection of Onken, “Russland, Polen und Livland bis ins XVII Jahrh.” (part II).  In 1895, the first volume of a popular history of Estlandia, Liflandia and Courlandia was released by Ernst Seraphim, covering the years up to 1561. T. Forsten

Courland Gubernia

from Vol.33, reprint of Brockhaus-Efron publication of 1890, Terra Publishers, 1992. Full Russian text available here. English translation below by Karen Freund, posted with the translator’s permission.

Courland Gubernia*) – one of the three Baltic (Ostsee) gubernias of Russia, between 55º 41′ and 57º 45 ½’ northern latitude.  Borders the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga on the north, the Baltic Sea, Lifland Gubernia and Vitebsk Gubernia on the northeast and east, Vilna and Kovno gubernias and Prussia on the south, and the Baltic Sea on the west.  Of its entire border – 1,260 verstas – the sea occupies 320 verstas.  The border with Prussia is only 6 verstas in length and has no natural boundaries.  The area is 23,977 square verstas (according to Strelbitsky).  The dominant characteristic of the landscape of C. Gubernia is hills; in the center is low country called the “Mitava Plain, ”dividing C. Gubernia into two parts: the western part, fertile and populous (with the exception of its northern section), and the eastern part, wooded, swampy, with an abundance of lakes, less fertile and sparsely populated.  The Courland Heights, running in rows from the southeast to the northwest, serve as watersheds of the main rivers of the gubernia, and only at the watershed of the rivers Vindava and Abau do they have the attributes of a plateau.  The only depression in C. Gubernia – the Usmaiten Depression – is located in the middle of the northern half of the gubernia.  Of the two spurs of the Lithuanian Plateau that push into C. Gubernia, one divides the basin of the Western Dvina River and the Courland Aa, forming so-called  “Upper Courlandia,” and the other follows the banks of the Vindava to Talsen and Pilten and is called the “Heights of C. Peninsula.”  In the northern part of C. Gubernia there is a second: the “Northern Lowlands of C. Peninsula.”  Over the entire area of “Upper Courlandia” there rise individual mountains, small ridges on the slopes of which lie lakes serving as the source of rivers emptying into the Dvina; the entire area is famous for its picturesque appearance.  The highest point of Upper Courlandia, however, reaches a height of no more than 600 feet.  From Illukst, the main ridge of the heights veers to the west towards Subbat, and from there to Jacobstadt, and further towards Sonnaket and Seduena; it divides several mountain spurs in the north and southeast towards the Dvina and passes to the northeast to Baldohn, petering out in the Mitava Valley, having first formed a final shelf in the form of the peaks of Schlossberg and Ziplitberg or Schmugauluberg, 270 feet in height.  Near Illukst, the ridge veers from the Dvina, and between it and the river there are great lowlands.  The “Heights of C. Peninsula” are divided by the bed of the Vindava into eastern and western halves.  The first is called the Frauenburg or Gros-Autz Heights, reaching a height of 500 feet.  They run from Sebberin Lake to Autz Lake, from which it turns towards the west, then to the northwest, and ends up towards the north of Frauenburg.  The highest point is located between Sermeln and Lemzern.  The eastern part descends sharply towards Mitava Plain, comprising the watershed of the rivers Abau and Aa and running past Tukkum to the northeast, and then to the east, quickly flowing towards the seacoast and dividing off a series of heights to the west.  The western part also steeply falls towards the River Vindava, dividing off rows of hills.  The greatest height is at Zanten.  At the approach to the River Abau, the heights descend, and after crossing the river rise again, creating a picturesque terrace between Talsen and Strazden, called “Courland Switzerland.”  All of these heights on the right side of the River Vindava fill this part of C. Gubernia, covered with well cultivated fields, with forests and swamps only along the banks of the River Zezer and to the north, on the right bank of the River Vindava.  The western half of the “C. Heights” are made up of a thin tract between the Baltic Sea and the River Vindava, the highest point of which is Kreivulkans (Russian mountain; 600 feet).  Along the bank stretch cultivated lowlands of varying breadths.  Near the bank itself are several lakes (Pazen, Libava and others).  The Mitava Lowlands, stretching to Liflandia (Western Dvina) along the sea’s edge to the northeast, are located along the entire length of the River Aa and have as their center the city of Mitava; from there, upwards along the River Aa, the lowlands run slightly higher (100 feet).  This is one of the most fertile parts of C. Gubernia, in which wheat is successfully cultivated.  To the north from Mitava the soil, however, is sandy, covered with forests and swamps (the largest is the Turul).  The Northern Lowlands of C. Gubernia are located in the northern end of C. Gubernia and their southern border are the Talsen Heights and Usmaiten Lake.  It is covered with swamps and forests, carved up by many rivers.  In the southern part of these lowlands is the largest lake in C. Gubernia – Usmaiten.

            The subsoil of almost all of C. Gubernia belongs to the Devon system and consists of ancient sandstone with many remnants of fish; in places the sandstone forms caves (cf. Davidov Cave and others); the upper strata are: marl, limestone with an abundance of shells, and gypsum.  In places there are layers of lignite from ½-5 feet in depth. A Jurassic system follows the flow of the rivers Vindava and Aa.  The upper sheath of the Devon system rock consists of erratic boulders, gravel, sand and clay.  Boulders (granite, gneiss, gypsum and limestone) are especially numerous in the eastern and northern parts of the gubernia.  Turf is encountered everywhere, as well as bog ore (up to 60% iron), with pure black earth rarest of all, but black earth mixed with sand, clay, gravel etc., with a generous infusion of organic substances, is also very productive.  Near the swamps are sources of sulphur (Baldohn, Tukkum, Libava, near Buschhоf and Dondangen are ferruginous soil).  The sandy coast of C. Gubernia has no bays and coves, of which there are none in the Gulf of Riga; along the entire Baltic coast for 225 verstas there are only three, forming the ports of Libava, Vindava and Polangen.  At the mouth of the Irbe and Geilegen-Aa there were formerly harbors, but they have now been choked up with sand, while the harbor at the mouth of the Sakke was filled in at the end of the XVII century under the terms of the Treaty of Oliv**).  Sea navigation travels on many rivers that flow into the Baltic Sea, generally from northeast to southwest.  Around Courlandia, the Baltic Sea does not freeze.  In Libava and Vindava, navigation is only occasional, for a short time, stopping due to ice floes sometimes forming on the shores of the port.  The prevailing winds in the section of the Baltic Sea that washes C. Gubernia are southwesterly, gusty and continuous; there are occasional typhoons.  The most outstanding spots on the Courland coast of the Gulf of Riga are the towns of Domesnes and Markraven, and of the Baltic Sea, the towns of Luzerort, Bakofen and Steinort.  The coast of the Baltic Sea is at a low level, and also slightly twisty, especially from Polangen to Libava; the mouth of the River Vindava is covered with boulders, and then the coast again drops and is steeply precipitous only between the estates of Strandhof and Felixberg.

            The sea coast is inaccessible to ships for 16 verstas in the sea due to extended sandbanks in three rows parallel to the coast, which change their positions, since they consist of alluvial sand; the shores of the Baltic Sea are more accessible.  The coast of C. Gubernia between Libava and Polangen and at the mouth of the River Vindava is now artificially built up with willow scrub, and banks of drift sand, which at many other locations on the Courland coast are brought in from the sea by strong winds and choke up fields and meadows, have been stopped.  These storms throw up on shore amber and beneficial sea silt, coming in volumes and fertilizing fields.  There are no islands near the Courland coast.  There are many swamps in C. Gubernia: they are called by the common Latvian name “tirul” or “purve,” but in essence they should be separated into mossy or bogs (Hoch-moor, Latvia Tirul), predominantly in Grobin, Friedrichstadt and Vindava uyezds, abounding in excellent turf; trough (Kessel-moor, Purris) – in Illukst Uyezd, and watery or meadowy (Grünland-Wiesenmoor, Purr or Purws), in Grobin Uyezd; the fourth type of swamp, on the coast of the Gulf of Riga, is the “sea swamp,” among dunes, called a “iomen.”  The main swamps in the uyezds are located as follows: in Vindava Uyezd, a bare swamp with an area of more than 800 square verstas, called Baschen; in Gazenpot Uyezd, the swamp Grünen is over 60 verstas in circumference and accessible only on foot; in Grobin Uyezd impassable swamps are located between Libava and Polangen lakes and the rivers Bartau and Aa.  Starting from the city of Mitava to the border of Lifland Gubernia, part of Doblen Uyezd is covered with completely forested swamp.  Forested swamps, in places entirely impassable, comprise a large part of Friedrichstadt Uyezd – from here rise populated heights.  The most significant swamp is located in Tauerkaln Forest.  In the northern part of Illutsk Uyezd there are large swampy areas, and near Lake Ripo they are completely bare.  Drainage of the swamps in C. Gubernia has been carried out on a broad scale from ancient times and with great success.  Despite the many swamps, the sea climate in C. Gubernia is considered the most favorable of the Baltic gubernias both for health and for agriculture.  The latter circumstance is explained particularly by the fact that C. Gubernia is open to western winds, bringing plentiful rains.  The average temperature in Celsius:


            In the western part of the gubernia the climate, due to the proximity of the sea, is more moderate, not identical on the heights and on Mitava Plain, which, more closed off from the winds, serves as the main center for the cultivation of wheat.  The winds in C. Gubernia surprise with instability – they often turn into gales; the western winds are always accompanied by rain or snow, and the eastern by clear weather.  Vindava Uyezd is particularly subject to the dangerous effects of winds and gales, with blown sand often choking large areas.  On the sea, gales, especially autumn gales, cause frequent shipwrecks.  In swampy areas and in the lowlands it is often foggy, and there are 12 gray, foggy days in Mitava and 30 in Goldingen per year, however, without dangerous effect on the health of the population.  The number of rainy days is distributed equally across the months: 10-14 per month with 145 per year.  Snow covering remains in C. Gubernia for 80-100 days.  Information on the freezing and breaking of rivers in C. Gubernia is available only for the Western Dvina; on average it freezes on 27 November and opens on 26 March.  The Courland Aa always stops earlier than the Dvina and breaks about 7-10 days earlier.  The sea freezes only along the coast and not always there.

            C. Gubernia has a great deal of water: over 320 verstas it is washed by the sea.  Of the total area occupied by C. Gubernia (23,977 square verstas), 229.5 square verstas are under lakes.  A large number of the lakes are very small: they are located on the uplands; others are among swamps, a large percentage located near the sea, of which they obviously must have formerly been an integral part.  Many of these serve as the sources of rivers.  The main lakes are: Libava (35 square verstas), in Grobin Uyezd, connected by a canal with the Baltic Sea; this canal serves as the harbor of Libava Port.  Usmaiten (37 square verstas) lies in a trough within the peninsula in Vindava Uyezd, and receives 12 rivers; the River Irbe flows out of it.  On the lake there are several islands, one (Fischholm) populated; Papen, Grobin Uyezd, 7 verstas in length, drying up more and more every year.  At heights of 400-450 feet are the following lakes: Kerklingen, Zezern, and Autz; near Luzerort Spit, Schigatte Lake, sometimes filled with water, sometimes dried up.  There are up to 100 rivers in C. Gubernia, not including creeks without names.  In the northern and western parts of C. Gubernia, rivers flow through vast forests.  Of all the rivers in the gubernia, only the Western Dvina and part of the Aa (below the city of Mitava) and the Vindava are navigable.  Floatable are the rivers Bartau, Abau, Irbe and feeders of the Aa: Memel, Mus, Sussei, Vesit, Ekau and Misse; they all empty into the Baltic Sea or the Gulf of Riga and run, with almost parallel flows, primarily from southeast to northwest and from south to north.  Islands are found only in the Western Dvina, Aa and Vindava, of which the largest is Dlinny [Long], on the Western Dvina, below Dinaburg, and Holmhof, below Jacobstadt.  Rapids and shallows abound especially in the Western Dvina at the borders of C. Gubernia (the famous Kokenguzen Rapids), the amazing Rummel Rapids on the River Vindava, below Holdingen.  In general, the rivers in C. Gubernia can be divided into 5 groups: I) Rivers of the Western Dvina Basin.  The latter irrigates the entire eastern border of the gubernia, but it belongs to it only on its left bank for the length of 282 verstas, while of its tributaries only the leftmost flow in C. Gubernia, namely: the Rubezh, Varnovic, Lauze, Luksta or Dveto-Luksta, Eglon, Robesh or Little Sussei, Pikstern, Senze, Berze and Kekkau.  II) Rivers of the Courland-Aa Basin, cutting through C. Gubernia from the eastern side, flowing along the low plain dividing C. Gubernia into two halves: eastern and western.  III) Rivers of the Northern Courlandia Basin.  IV) Rivers of the Vindava Basin, cutting through C. Gubernia in its western part over a length of 125 verstas. V) Rivers of the Western Courlandia Basin: Although floating along the Western Dvina is considerable (in the amount of 5-6 million per year), C. Gubernia’s portion is only a small part; along the Memel, Neman and its tributaries, as well as along the River Irbe, a great deal of timber is floated; along the Aa, through both floating and shipping travel goods worth 2-3 million.  Forests now occupy 880,900 desyatinas or 1/3 of the total area of the gubernia, while formerly it was covered in them almost entirely, and the forests were primarily oak, which have now completely disappeared.  More than half of all forests belong to the government.  Coniferous forests are most prevalent in the northern and eastern parts of the gubernia, while deciduous forests predominate in the southern and western parts.  In recent years, sound forestry practices and arboriculture have been introduced everywhere.  Everywhere one finds birch trees, and very occasionally beech; lindens are seen rarely, as are maples, oaks and hornbeams; more prevalent are alders, willows and occasionally ash.  There are forest apple trees, cherry trees, and rowan trees.  The most important grain plants are: rye, wheat, barley, oats, buckwheat, peas, and beans; of the fibrous plants, the most prevalent are flax and hemp.  Potatoes occupy a very important place in the economy of C. Gubernia: there are also turnips.  Of the feed grasses, clover, tare and timothy grass are cultivated.  Horticulture is far more developed than small gardening.  Multi-field convertible husbandry, the cultivation of seed grasses and the drainage of soil have long since become customary in agriculture even by peasants, although with the peasants at present the three-field system is most prevalent.  In upper C. or the part of the gubernia located between the Dvina and the border of Kovno Gubernia, the soil is clayey and partly rocky; only the banks of the Dvina and Aa are sandy.  The Mitava Lowlands, almost unforested, are covered with beautiful meadows and pastures with clayey soil and many peatbogs.  The northern part of the gubernia is abundant in dunes, forests, and swamps, is sparsely populated and has an unhealthy climate.  The western part of C. Gubernia, cut through by the River Vindava, is fertile, with loamy soil.  The vicinity of Vindava is covered with granular sand, and in places is now built up.  In C. Gubernia, agriculture has reached a high level of development both as a result of the assistance of credit and agricultural companies and the geographical situation of the gubernia, which is convenient for sale, and also as a result of the use of modernized agricultural machinery and equipment, an increase in haymaking and the formation of pastures with increased clearance of brushwood, reclamation and stumping of swamps, and development of peatbogs.  The systematic constant fertilization of the soil plays an important role in farming of C. Gubernia; we must point to a special type of farming in C. Gubernia, called pond farming (cf.).  During the leanest years, C. Gubernia has plenty of grain, which are sold abroad through the ports of Riga, Libava and Vindava.  The most productive uyezds are Talsen and Doblen, while the most nonproductive are Friedrichstadt and Illukst.

Per Keppen (1852)Per Oranovsky (1860)Per Rittich (1867)
Slavic TribesGreat Russians11,900 persons15,000 persons12,222 persons
Belorussians700 persons4,115 persons
Poles13,000 persons3,000 persons9,029 persons
Lithuanian TribesLitvins8,0008,00010,000

            The fauna of C. Gubernia resembles the fauna of the other Baltic gubernias; wolves are found most often on the Dvina and cause great harm; bears, lynxes, wildcats, minks, martens, stoats, and elk are rarer, living in upper Courlandia; wild boar occasionally come from Lithuania, while everywhere in the entire gubernia there are many: foxes, ferrets, hares, squirrels, badgers, moles, shrews, hedgehogs, rats, mice and others.  Deer are found extremely rarely and exclusively in the southwestern part of Courlandia.  Seals also extremely rarely appear on the short of the Baltic Sea.  Birds that never leave the gubernia are: crows, titmice, sparrows, daws, woodpeckers, and thrushes.  The most dangerous of the birds of prey are: hawks, ernes, kites, falcons, ospreys (Fischadler), buzzards, owls and pygmy owls.  The other birds are: wood grouses, blackcocks, partridges, grouses, nightingales, warblers, chats, wagtails, quails, larks, cuckoos, orioles, siskins, swifts, turtle-doves, drokhvy, cranes, herons, storks, stints, woodcocks, snipes, seagulls, ducks, geese, and others.  Swans fly in great numbers in the spring and nest on the lakes.  Fish: lampreys in the rivers Vindava, Aa and Dvina are marinated and, in addition to local sales, are shipped to other gubernias; herring in the Baltic Sea is the main source of food for coastal residents.  In addition to herring, the sea holds dorsh, peskoroy, flounder, especially on the northern shore of Vindava Uyezd, famous under the name Steinbutte: smoked, it is sold in large amounts in other gubernias; the same may be said of sprats.  In the lakes and rivers: burbot, perch, pike, ruff (quite rare), sheat, salmon, trout (rare), smelt, white-bait, in particular in the River Aa, Baltic herring, gudgeon and bream.  Carp is farmed in several large ponds.  The following amphibians are found in C. Gubernia: toads, frogs, salamanders, adders, lizards and others.  Types of worms: hair-worms, rain-worms, leeches; types of mollusks: slugs, snails.  Pearl shells are found in the River Durbe and several others with rocky bottoms, but always without pearls.  C. Gubernia is very poor in minerals; only limestone (see above) and sandstone are found in great quantities, and, in thin, insignificant strata, brick clay, gypsum, ochre, swamp ore, granite boulders, amber and peat.

            C. Gubernia has existed within its present borders since 1819 and is divided into 10 uyezds: Doblen, Bauska, Tukkum, Talsen, Vindava, Gazenpot, Grobin, Goldingen, Friedrichstadt and Illukst.  Since 1888, regarding police jurisdiction, Bauska has been united with Doblen and Gazenpot with Grobin.  There are two district courts, in Mitava and Libava.  There are five magisterial districts, 22 magisterial sections.  In 1857 in C. Gubernia there were 555,003 residents (271,902 male and 283,101 female), and by January 1895 736,885 residents (358,917 male and 377,968 female).  In 1894 in C. Gubernia there were 24,793 population centers; of these, there were 11 cities, 15 towns (on landlord and government land), 9 villages and 24,758 small settlements (farms).  Of the rural settlements, only 9 were of the Russian village type, with complete settlement; usually villages consist of 1-4 courtyards.  There is no communal land, and no common pledges.  Each estate is a separate farm, with a sufficient amount of land (25-50 desyatinas); in most cases, land is allocated among the people themselves.  These plots are almost never broken up.  The lands of each plot are usually located around a homestead.  The fractured state of the population is explained by ethnographic and agrarian reasons.  A tendency towards social living and society was very weakly developed among the Lithuanian tribes, which was used by the landlords in their calculations and economic settlements.  The most important cities and towns (except for gubernia and uyezd cities) are: Libava, Jacobstadt, Pilten, Polangen, Griva, Sasmaken and Kandau or Kandava.  In 1894 in C. Gubernia there were 6,511 inherited nobles, 3,908 person nobles, 610 members of the clergy, 85,830 merchants and honorary citizens, bourgeois and craftsmen, 622,876 peasants, 14,382 members of the military ranks, 2,315 foreigners, and 453 members of other ranks.  In that same year, there were 16,875 Russian Orthodox, 583,480 Lutherans, 68,722 Catholics, 55,470 Hebrews (in 1858 there were only 25,641), 6,834 schismatics, 4,592 Baptists, 582 reformers, and 330 of other religions.  The core population of C. Gubernia belonged to Finnish tribes who were subsequently pushed to the north by Lithuanian peoples; then the Russian princes Polotsky seized both banks of the Western Dvina; soon afterwards the Livonian knights appeared.  By nationality, C. Gubernia is divided as follows:

            This information is only approximate, since the distribution across the tribes is not included in official statistics.  The largest number of Great Russians lives in Illukst and Doblen uyezds, Belorussians settled exclusively in Illukst Uyezd, Poles primarily in Illukst and Friedrichstadt and partially in Bauska and Grobin, Litvins in Illukst and Grobin, Zmudins (per Rittich) primarily in Polangen and its surrounding areas and in the cities of Mitava, Bauska and others.  Letts are spread out through the gubernia quite evenly; there are more of them in Doblen Uyezd, fewer of them in Illukst.  Livonians live exclusively in Vindava Uyezd; Germans and Jews everywhere.  In the 80s, 969,274 desyatinas of farmland were counted under private ownership, 872,975 desyatinas were peasant land (under personal use by peasants), 501,743 desyatinas were government farmland with “vidmas” (cf.), 8,596 desyatinas were held by the church, 5,769 (?) by the towns, 64 desyatinas by private societies and companies, 1,095 desyatinas by other institutions, for a total of 2,369,316 desyatinas.  According to this information, for every private owner, on average, not counting peasants, there are 1,810 desyatinas.  Major owners (over 1,000 desyatinas) comprise 42% of the total number of private owners; they own 89% of all lands in this category.  Small owners (1-100 desyatinas) are 21.3%; they own 0.4% of land.  By ranks, land ownership is distributed as follows:

 Number of ownersNumber of desyatinasAverage size of holding
Nobility344 or 64.3%914,747 or 94.3%2,660
Merchants42 – 7.9%23,851 – 2.5%570
Bourgeoisie58 – 10.8%12,274 – 1.3%210
Peasants64 – 12.0%3,251 – 0.3%50
Others27 – 5.0%15,151 – 1.6%560

            452 holdings belong to the nobility and available to be sold exclusively to members of the nobility of C. Gubernia; of which 77 are fidei-commissum, 88 are under hereditary pledge (Erbpfandbesitz).  There are 85 entails.  According to the census of 1881, there were 151,728 Letts occupied in agriculture and owning land, or 17,307 household owners, or peasant plots (Gesinde).  Furthermore, there were another 7,564 householders that were tenants, single unlanded peasants, settlers, foresters and horse-breakers, for a total of 24,871 householders.  Assuming a family of 5, the total of Latvian peasant landowners is approximately 125,000, with approximately 298,000 landless.  The Law of 1863 gave the peasants of C. Gubernia the opportunity to own land.  The results of purchase operations on private estates over twenty years (from 1864 through 1885) are shown as follows:

UyezdsTotal number of peasant homesteads on private estatesOf these, number sold before 1886Number of lofshtels (=1 1/3 desyatina) in sold lotsSold to former tenants of estates

By April 1889, 1,295 estates remained unsold.  The favorable results of the purchase operations were mainly achieved in C. Gubernia through the good organization of the credit and mortgage business.  Before 1889, of the estates that were ultimately transferred into the ownership of peasants, 9,679 were purchased with the assistance of a credit company, which issued 14,639,950 rubles for this purpose.  The average price of a desyatina of purchased land was 95 rubles.  Since the movement of peasants from private estates to government estates and vice versa in C. Gubernia is free, the everyday life of peasants on government estates significantly affects the everyday life of peasants on private estates, especially where there are many government estates, for example in Doblen Uyezd.  The peasant class in C. Gubernia is divided into owners (Wirthe, Pächter) of farmhouses, and workers – knechten (cf.); there are far more of the latter than of the former; they serve as hired workers for the peasant-owners and landlords; their position is so reviled that marriage between them and members of the peasant-owner class is forbidden by custom.  Furthermore, the so-called Kurische König (cf.), or free peasant, also belongs to the peasant class, enjoying some of the rights of the nobility.  The main occupation of the peasant population is grain agriculture.  There are about 615,000 desyatinas of cultivated land in the gubernia, and approximately 770,000 desyatinas under pasture and grassland.  On average, in C. Gubernia approximately 150,000 desyatinas are sown with winter crops, approximately190,000 desyatinas with spring crops, approximately 25,000 desyatinas with potatoes, and approximately 13,000 desyatinas with peas.  The average harvest of rye is 6 times the amount sown, 6 times winter wheat, 5 times spring wheat, 6.5 times oats, 6.5 times barley, 4.5 times buckwheat, 5 times potatoes and 4 times peas.  Approximately 130,000 desyatinas are planted with flax, yielding approximately 35,000 poods of seeds and 285,000 poods of fiber.  Success in agriculture is assisted by the proliferation of artesian wells (more than 200).  By 1 January 1889, there were 129,100 horses of working age and 22,000 juveniles.  By 1 January 1890 there were 1,879,165 rubles in food (store) capital.  Local farming only satisfies local demand; horticulture for industrial purposes has only been introduced recently.  The raising of cattle, sheep and swine is carried out only on a small scale, but rationally; Courland breeds of swine are very good; the farming of sheep has doubled over the past twenty years.  Fishing in the sea, rivers and lakes provides good incomes.  Further, the population earns a living through shipbuilding, breaking gypsum, cutting turf, amber etc. – the average prices for annual workers in C. Gubernia are 120 rubles for a man, 55 rubles for a woman, with board.  The cities and towns in C. Gubernia are small, with the exception of Mitava and Libava.  Factory and commercial industrial activity is developed only in Mitava, Libava and in part in Vindava; mill activity located near agricultural sectors is significantly more developed.  By 1890 in C. Gubernia there were 860 mills and factories, with turnover of approximately 11 million rubles and approximately 6,000 workers, including up to 1,000 women.  Half of all commercial mill turnover in the gubernia is from Libava (6 million); next is Mitava (1 ½ million).  There are 80 breweries (6 steam); of these, 45 belong to landlords; approximately 900,000 vedros [1 vedro = 12 liters] of beer are produced.   Hops are imported from abroad; the only local ingredient used is malt.  Brewing of mead is insignificant.  There are 63 wineries, mainly owned by landlords, producing up to 45 million degrees.  Wine is made primarily of potatoes.  Courland alcohol is exported abroad through the ports of Vindava and Libava, and partially through Riga.  There are 12 vodka distilleries.  There are 5 tobacco mills, with production of 86,000 rubles; they belong exclusively to Jews; they chiefly process bakun (crumbled, pressed and grated) and makhorka.  Raw tobacco is bought mainly in Chernigov Gubernia, and partially in Riga and Kovno.  Bricks are made in C. Gubernia in the amount of 350,000 rubles, mainly by workers from Ryazan; in Riga in the spring entire caravans of ships are afloat, loaded with bricks.  Pot, tile and clay tile factories have the character of handicraft industries, with production not more than 15,000 rubles.  The turnover of lime furnace plants does not exceed 30,000 rubles per year.  There are 13 foundries and mechanical factories, with production in an amount totaling approximately 2 million rubles.  Agricultural equipment is manufactured in six factories.  The turnover of tanneries is up to 200,000 rubles.  There are 3 glassworks, with production of 100,000 rubles.  Soap and candle factories produce 80,000 rubles, sawmills 250,000.  Flax- and wool-spinning mills have the nature of handicraft industries (18 establishments, with production of 40,000 rubles); there is also a large flax-spinning mill, producing 170,000 rubles.  There are 517 mills, including 24 steam, 227 water, 260 wind and 6 wind-water.  There is one large match factory, with turnover of 200,000 rubles, and the rest are small, with total turnover of 13,000 rubles.  All of the match factories in C. Gubernia in 1890 together produced up to 500 million boxes of matches.  Paint and oil production is quickly developing: their turnover already exceeds 2 million rubles per year.  There is also a cork factory (turnover 250,000 rubles), a glue factory (380,000 rubles), needle factory (70,000 rubles), and amber finishing shop (50,000 rubles).  There were about 6,800 commercial and industrial establishments in 1890 (4,000 in the cities, 850 in the towns, the rest in the uyezds).  Commercial warrants and cards taken in 1889: 9,949 full-year, 915 half-year.  331 commercial fair documents were selected in 1889.  Approximately 12,000 degrees of wine and alcohol were consumed in the gubernia, totaling approximately 0.8 vedro per year for each male resident.  More than ¼ of all wineries were in the hands of Jews, 1/8 of beer breweries, more than ½ of wholesale stores, more than 1/8 of small restaurants and taverns, ½ of wine cellars, 40% of all wine vaults and up to 12% of all pubs, cookshops and inns.  The main trading centers of C. Gubernia are concentrated on the rivers Aa and Western Dvina, on the rail lines (Libava- Romen, Riga-Tukkum, Mitava, Dvina-Vitebsk and Riga-Dvina) in the ports of Libava, Vindava and Pavlovo and the city of Mitava.  On average, approximately 2,000 ships visit the port of Libava, about 500 visit Vindava, and about 50 (exclusively coastal) visit Pavlovo.  On the Western Dvina, the wharf at Griva (cf.) is of some significance, loading up to 250 flotation rafts per year; on the other 11 wharfs on the Western Dvina River, grain, flax, hemp, lime, brick and other cargoes are loaded; in total past these wharfs float 50 strugs (cf.) [flat-bottomed wood boats], 700 boats, and11,000 flotation rafts, with cargo valued at approximately 2 million rubles and with 25,000 ship’s workers.  Shipping along the Aa River is significant chiefly for the cities of Mitava and Riga.  Approximately 150 vessels of various denominations travel to Riga from Mitava, about 600 from Doblen Uyezd, about 100 from Bauska Uyezd.  From Riga, approximately 100 come to Mitava, about 250 to Doblen Uyezd, and about 30 vessels to Bauska Uyezd.  Hay, wood, logs, boards, piles, tiles, bricks, cabbage, vegetables, sacks, etc. are sent to Riga.  Asphalt, salt, flagstones, boards, roofing tarpaper, and fertilizers are brought from Riga.  There are up to 200 fairs in C. Gubernia.  They are not well visited.  The largest fair is in Mitava; on average goods worth 150,000 rubles are sold.  The total shortfall of the gubernia in duties collected by 1 January 1890 was 374,671 rubles.  Maintenance of all roads and road structures in C. Gubernia is the obligation of the government and private holdings adjoining the roads.  The cost of maintaining all first-class roads (2,888 verstas) was 277,248 rubles, second-class (1,974 verstas) – 49,350 rubles, third-class (1,700 verstas) – 17,000 rubles.  The total road obligations in C. Gubernia cost approximately 350,000 rubles.  All roads are in very good condition.  City expenses in 1889 totaled 659,000 rubles, income 660,000 rubles, debts 593,454 rubles, arrears 52,445 rubles, reserve capital 261,773 rubles.  There are 30 mutual assistance fire brigades; volunteer fire brigades exist in all cities and towns.  In C. Gubernia there are 23 Russian Orthodox churches, 2 monasteries, one coreligionist church, 102 Lutheran churches, 20 Catholic churches, 32 Jewish synagogues, 20 meeting-houses, and several Baptist chapels.  There are 6 city hospitals, 11 prison hospitals,  and 7 private hospitals.  In 1894, the Courland nobility donated a building with furniture and a plot of land, for the construction of a mental asylum.  There are 128 civil service doctors, 204 midwives, 10 dentists, 13 veterinarians, 64 pharmacies, and 37 poorhouses.  In 1893, there were the following educational institutions: 2 gymnasiums, 1 partial gymnasium, 2 technical schools, 4 higher girls’ schools, 1 first-class girls’ six-grade school, 2 normal schools, 1 agricultural school, 19 boys’ municipal schools, 4 girls’ municipal schools, 3 government Jewish schools, 7 boys’ municipal primary schools, 5 girls’ municipal primary schools, 3 primary schools for both boys and girls, and 2 government Jewish primary schools.  There were 42 Russian Orthodox parochial schools, 7 schools of the Ministry of Education, with instruction in Russian, 1 Ministry Model Rural School, and 1 Russian Orthodox Women’s School.  There were 370 Evangelical Lutheran schools (including several so-called organist and sexton schools), with 25,000 students.  Maintenance of these schools costs 150,000 rubles; of these, 27,000 rubles are paid in by landlords, and approximately 114,000 rubles by volost companies.  There are up to 485 teachers; of these, over 100 are at the same time also sextons and organists in foreign churches.  Attendance in schools is required for children of school age, following a law of 25 April 1875; as a result of this, of the 1,693 men taken into the army in 1886, only 354 were illiterate.  There are 15 Catholic schools, with 800-900 students.  There are 169 private schools, including 136 in the cities and 33 in the towns; there are over 5,000 students in these.  There is a school for the deaf and mute, four orphanages, a nursery, and two homes for the poor.  There are 18 typographies, 57 bookstores and reading libraries, and 1 museum (in Mitava).  Two newspapers are published in Russian, 4 in German, and 3 in Latvian.  There are 13 savings and loan offices, a C. credit society, a C. municipal mortgage society, Mitava Public Bank, six death benefit offices, Vindava Public Bank, Libava Municipal Bank, Zelburg Mutual Credit Society, and divisions of the State Bank in Mitava and Libava.  There are eight charitable societies, the C. Society for Assistance to Workers, C. Society for Literature and Art, Commission for History and Genealogy of the C. Nobility, Pharmaceutical Society, C. Fire Insurance Society, C. Hail Insurance Society, Society for Encouragement of the Sisters of Mercy, and five agricultural societies.  Ancestral estates of the nobility in C. Gubernia may be purchased exclusively by nobles of C. Gubernia; nobles of other gubernias and non-nobles may acquire them only for 10 years, in the form of receipt of them under pledge (Pfand-Besitz); these transactions are renewable, however, up to 99 years.  Beginning in 1859, the government began to sell government estates to persons of all ranks, which, while causing protest from the nobility, created, however, the opportunity for non-nobles to own land in C. Gubernia.  Every noble of age listed on the “matricula” (cf.) or noble pedigree book has the right to participate in general assemblies of the nobility at gubernia and uyezd levels.  Every three years there are “regular” deputies’ Landtagen and “extraordinary” Landtagen by appointment of the presiding officer of the nobility (Landesbevollmächtiger).  Regular Landtagen have two sessions: preparatory or “relational” and final or “instructional.”  The gubernia is divided into 33 parishes, each of which sends one elected deputy elected by the nobility from amongst them to LandtagenOberhauptman, uyezd and parish assemblies consist of all nobles having the right to vote.  In Mitava, there is a “committee of the nobility” consisting of the gubernia presiding officer of the nobility and 10 uyezd presiding officers (Kreismarschälle), a secretary, and a treasurer of the nobility.  One of the uyezd presiding officers takes care of the ongoing affairs of the committee and is called the “residing officer”; he receives a salary.  For relations with parish assemblies, an “officer” is selected in each of them, summoning the parish assemblies and presiding over them.  In addition, the nobility selects a lay member of the Evangelical Lutheran General Consistory, and the president, ecclesiastical vice president, and lay representatives of the C. Gubernia Lutheran Consistory, as well as the main church trustees and lay representatives of the main church trustees.  Legal reforms were introduced in C. Gubernia in 1889.  Given the existence in C. Gubernia of the mortgage system, “serf divisions” were founded in judicial commissions.  The C. nobility has the right to accept into its society, with entry into the matricula, of nobles of other gubernias.  However, it exercises this right very rarely.  In the cities, the residents are divided into two categories: 1) those having the right of citizenship and 2) those not having this right.  The former make up the “Burgerschaft,” consisting of a “corporation of merchants” and a “corporation of craftsmen” or “large and small guilds” (cf.).  For public education in C. Gubernia a “higher commission of agricultural people’s schools” is still maintained, presided over by the gubernia presiding officer of the nobility, consisting of three members from the government, a member from the nobility, a superintendent general, a pastor, and a main church trustee.

            Literature.  Oranovsky, “Materials for Geography and Statistics of Russia. C. Gubernia” (St.P, 1862); von Burzi, “Materials for Military Geography and Military Statistics of Russia.  Military Review of C. Gubernia” (St.P, 1863); Ludmer, “Summary of Statistical Data” (pt. I, Mitava, 1888; XVI publication of the C. Statistical Committee); Möhring, “Resultate der relativen Werthberechnung der Privatbestizlichkeiten in Kurland” (Mitava, 1887); Ludmer, “Informational Booklet of C. Gubernia” (Mitava, 1890); same, “Informational Index of Mills and Factories in C. Gubernia in 1888” (Mitava, 1890); same, “Educational Institutions in C. Gubernia 1890-91” (Mitava, 1892); “Statistisches Jahrbuch für das Gouvernement Kurland” for 1860, 1861 and 1863; “Mitauscher Kalender,” various years; “Address Calendar of C. Gubernia”; “Economic and Moral Daily Life of the Baltic Peasants” (“Notes of the Fatherland,” 1867); Bienenstamm, “Geographischer Abriss der Ostseeprovinzen”; “On Compulsory Service in C. Gubernia” (official work, 1888); K. Sluchevsky, “On the North of Russia. V.III.  Baltic Area” (St.P., 1888); Kayserling und Derschau, “Beschreibung der Provinz Kurland” (Mitava, 1805); “Notes on Land Conscription in C. Gubernia” (1889); v. Heyking, “Statistische Studien über die ländlichen Zustände Kurlands”; “News of the C. Committee of the Nobility” (Mitava, 1886); “Die Lohnverhältmisse der ländlichen Arbeiter in Kurland”; Kampenhausen, “Der Bauerlandverkauf auf den Privatgütern Kurland’s in den Jahren 1864-72”; “Reports of the C. Peasant Commission”; v. Heyking, “Der Gesindeverkauf auf den Privatgütern Kurland’s” (“Baltische Wochenschrift,” 1865, Nos. 3 and 4); Bienenstamm, “Beschreibung von Kurland” (Mitava, 1841); Possart, “Statistik und Geographie von Kurland” (Stuttg., 1843); Rathlef, “Skizze der ororgraphischen Verhältnisse von Liv-Esth- und Kurland” (Revel, 1852); Köppen, “Die Bewohner Kur- and Livlands” (“Bul.hist.phil.” III, 46); Rittich, “Materials for an Ethnography of Russia.  Baltic Region” (St.P).  Maps: military-topographic map of C. Gubernia (scale 3 verstas per inch); Schubert special map of C. Gubernia (scale 10 verstas per inch); Oranovsky – map of C. Gubernia (1 page); Rathlef, “Karte zur Skizze v. Liv-Esth- und Kurland” (1 page).  K.Vr.

*) See map of Courland Gubernia in volume XV, page 510, “Map of Kovno and Courland Gubernias”

**) There is not a single covered berth along the entire 320 verstas of the coast of C. Gubernia.  For large ships, only the ports of Libava (cf.) and Vindava (cf.) are accessible, but they too suffer from seasonal shallow waters and “bars.”


from Vol.56, reprint of Brockhaus-Efron publication of 1890, Terra Publishers, 1992. Full Russian text available here. English translation below by Karen Freund, posted with the translator’s permission.

Sasmaken – small town in Kurland Gubernia, Talsen Uyezd, near Lake Ervalen.  1800 residents, half Jews.  Lutheran church, synagogue, 1 Jewish house of worship.  Post office and telegraph.


from Vol.64, reprint of Brockhaus-Efron publication of 1890, Terra Publishers, 1992. Full Russian text available here. English translation below by Karen Freund, posted with the translator’s permission.

Talsen – town in Courland Gubernia, administrative center of T. Uyezd, near small lake.  T. was founded in the XVII century.  4,319 residents; of these, 41% are Jews, 33% are Latvians, 25% are Germans, the rest are Russians and Poles.  7 primary schools, 4 mills and factories, 42 trading establishments, 2 savings and loans.

            Talsen Uyezd is located in the northwestern part of Courland Gubernia, along the western shore of the Gulf of Riga.  Area – 2,768.9 square verstas.  The landscape is hilly in the middle section, towards the south taking on the character of a plateau, serving as a watershed for the course flowing to the Vindava and to the influx to the Abau.  The northern section is lowlands, covered with peat bogs, forests and lakes.  The shore of the Gulf of Riga is covered with dunes, among which are many swamps – “yeomen.”  Some points in the uyezd do not exceed 600 feet; the landscape in the middle section of the uyezd, near the town of T., is very picturesque and is named “Courland Switzerland.”  The shore of the Gulf of Riga has no bays.  The soil of T.U., with the exception of the northern swampy section and the shore of the Gulf, consists primarily of clay loan; with sufficient fertilization this soil is very suitable for cultivation.  Mineral resources: iron ore, turf and amber, the latter in significant quantities is found along the shores of the Gulf and Angern Lake.  Water.  Of the rivers, the most significant are the Abau, a tributary of the Vindava.  There are many lakes, with a total area of 59 square verstas, the most significant of which is Angern (44 square verstas); the rest are small.  The area of the swamps, due to ongoing drainage operations in the uyezd, is decreasing.  Population.  In 1897 in T.U. there were 61,511 residents (28,931 male and 32,580 female).  There are 2,167 population centers, including 4 small towns (T., Kandau, Zabeln and Sosmaken) and approximately 1,500 separate homesteads.  88% are Latvians, 6% are Jews (exclusively in the small towns), 5% are Germans and Germanized Latvians, 1% are Russians and others.  Approximately 93% are Lutherans.  Peasants, comprising over 80% of the total population, belong mostly to the class of farm laborers and knechten (84%).  Land ownership.  Peasants who received their personal freedom were provided land only for use.  In 1863, peasants were granted the right to purchase these lands.  Purchasing proceeded quite quickly, and presently, of 1,397 peasant homesteads settled on landlords’ lands, 1,131 have purchased their lands.  Of the 288,000 desyatinas of the total area of the uyezd, 52,000 desyatinas belong to the government, 138,000 desyatinas belong to private owners, 88,000 desyatinas belong to peasants; the remainder are under water and unusable lands.  Of government land, 24,000 desyatinas are settled by peasants, and the remaining 28,000 desyatinas comprise the so-called grange lands (i.e. to be exploited by the government itself – forests) and various forms of “widmy” (V1, 235).  Agriculture in T.U. is at a high level: both landlord and peasant lands are well fertilized (with manure, superphosphate, bonemeal).  Arable lands (together with homesteads and vegetable gardens) comprise 21.8%, grasslands (meadow, pastures and so forth) – 29.2%, forest – 38.8%, unusable lands 10.2%.  For peasants, arable land comprises 41%, meadow and pasture lands – 57.5%, forest – 1.3%; for private owners, arable land is 13.7%, meadow and pasture – 20.1%, forest – 61.2%.  Rye, barley, oats, wheat, potatoes and feed grasses are cultivated, the latter more by private owners (24% of sowing).  T.U. is one of the most fertile areas of Courland Gubernia; the average harvests (for 40 years) are: rye – 6.2 times sowing, wheat – 6.8, oats – 5.9, barley – 6.2, potatoes – 5.4.  Part of the grain is sold as seeds abroad, via the Vindava.  Livestock: 15,000 horses, 35,000 head of cattle, 34,000 sheep, 17,000 pigs.  Industrial activity is weak: in 1898 in T.U. there were 57 mills and factories with 259 workers and output of 356,000 rubles; of these, the largest were 3 iron forges, 4 starch factories, 1 steam sawmill and 4 steam mills.  Trade, with the exception of the sale of grain and lumber materials, is small and concentrated mainly in the small towns.  There are 12 savings and loans, and 5 post offices and telegraph offices.  There are 57 educational establishments, all primary.  A railroad (Riga-Vindava) crosses the uyezd over 46 verstas.

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