Best known as Alexander Baranov’s replacement as chief manager of Russian America, Semen Ivanovich Janovski had a long and rich life. He was born April 15, 1789 in Chernigov gubernia, entered the Naval Academy at the age of 15, and later served on Russian warships in the Baltic and North Atlantic. In 1816, Janovski sailed from Kronshtadt to Sitka on the ship Suvorov as a new employee of the Russian-American Company. Soon after arrival in the colonies, he met and married Alexander Baranov’s daughter Irina, who was twelve years younger than him. Three days after the wedding, Baranov was removed from his post by Lieutenant L.A. Hagemeister sent for this purpose by the Main Office. Hagemeister himself left the colonies on October 24, 1818, after appointing Janovski acting chief manager.
Much of Janovski’s effort in his new position was dedicated to inspection of the colonies’ affairs. It was during one such inspection that he met the Russian Orthodox monk and missionary Herman, future saint of Russian America. Initially, Janovski’s disposition to the monk was unfavorable, and he even recommended sending him away from Alaska as an instigator of anti-colonial management feelings among Alaska Natives. However, personal contact changed Janovski’s attitude and re-instilled his respect for the religious mission in Alaska. Janovski’s recollections of Herman and conversations with him are among the main sources on the holy father’s life and missionary activities.
Before Janovski’s departure for St. Petersburg in 1820, Herman advised him not to take his wife to St. Petersburg, but settle in his estate in southern Russia. Janovski disregarded this advice, and returned to the capital, where Irina contracted an unknown disease, of which she died in 1824. Two years later, Janovski re-married. His second wife bore him four children, one of whom, Elizaveta, drew a portrait of St. Herman and the view of his chapel on Spruce Island, based on her father’s narrative. Although not drawn from the nature, these images are a legacy of the Russian-Orthodox mission to Alaska and of the uneasy balance between spiritual and imperial powers in Russian America.
After his return to the capital, Janovski sued the Russian-American Company for one million rubles, which according to his calculations the company owed to Alexander Baranov, as his rightful heir. The suit failed, and Janovski left the Company. From 1834 to 1854 he occupied the post of director of a gymnasium in Kaluga, and then retired to his estate. At some point after 1865, he entered the monastery in Kaluga, becoming the monk Sergei. His daughter Elizaveta and his son Alexander also choose monastic lives. Monk Sergei died on January 6, 1876, at the age of 87.
Sources and Literature:
Janovski, S.I. Iz Pis’ma Semena Ivanovicha Janovskogo Valaamskomu Igumenu Damaskinu of 22-go ianvaria 1865 g [Excerpt from a letter from Semen Ivanovich Janovski to the Valaam Hegumen Damaskin, January22, 1865] . Valaamskie Missionery v Amerike (v kontse XVIII stoletiya) [Valaam Missionaries in Amerika (at the end of the eighteenth century)], St. Petersburg, 1900, pp. 131-144.
Kholopov, Yu. V. Odisseya Leitenanta Janovskogo: Zhizn’ I Neobyknovennye Prikliucheniya Moreplavatelya, Glavnogo Pravitelya Russkoi Ameriki, Kaluzhskogo Dvoryanina [Odyssey of the Lieutenant Janovski: Life and Amazing Adventures of a Seafarer, Chief Manager of Russian America and Kaluga Nobleman] Kaluga, Russia, 1998.
Korsun, Sergei. Prepodobnyi German Alaskinskii, Valaamsky Podvizhnik v Amerike, Materialy k Zhizneopisaniyu [St. Herman of Alaska, Valaam monk in Amerika, Biographic Materials]. Valaamsky monastery, St. Petersburg, 2005.
Korsun, Sergei and Lydia Black. Herman, a Wilderness Saint: from Sarov, Russia to Kodiak, Alaska. Jordanville, Holy Trinity Publications, New York, 2012.
Korsun, Sergei. A. German Alaskinsky and S.I. Janovski [Herman of Alaska and S.I. Janovski] Piatye Mezhdunarodnye Istoricheskie I Svyato-Innokentievskie Chteniya “K 270-letiyu vykhoda Rossii k beregam Ameriki I nachala osvoeniya Tikhogo okeanan (1741-2011)”: Materialy.19-20 oktyabrya 2011 g. Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, 2012, pp. 50-53.
Pierce R. A. Builders of Alaska. The Russian Governors: 1818-1867. The Limestone Press, Kingston, Ontario, 1986.
Pierce, Richard. Russian America: A Biographical Dictionary. The Limestone Press, Kingston, Ontario and Fairbanks, Alaska, 1990