Military General, Nobleman
Right from childhood, Abram Petrovich was unique and a marvel. In a reiteration of Albert Einstein’s wise sayings, Abram took an unconventional path, not meant for crowds, but singled out for extraordinary beings. This led him to places that none of his kindred explored. He ended up being the first and most prominent African intellectual in Europe.
Origin and Early life
Abram, the African godson of Peter the Great of Russia, was born in 1696. Abducted at eight years old, he could hardly offer much information about his origin.
In 1742, in a letter addressed to Empress Catherine, he expressed he was an African native, born in the city of Lagone (modern Logone-Birnin, Cameroon). Abram claimed a high nobility origin in the ancestry of the Abyssinian Prince of Ethiopia. This could mean he was the son of Prince Bruha, the founder of Logone city, in 1700.
They sold him to the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople. In 1703, on arrival at Sublime Porte, they assigned him to Prince Ahmed, a brother to Sultan Mustafa II.
In 1704, he met his new master, Peter Tsar of Russia. Russians regarded Abram to be of a skin color only fit for slavery. He was brilliant and spoke Turkish and Russian languages. In 1705, Abram was baptized in Vilnius, earning the name Petrovich, son of Peter.
By his mid-teens, he had become skillful in the art of war and became the Tsar’s inner circle of advisors.
In 1716, accompanied by Abram, Peter toured Europe to connect Western Europe to Russia. Abram remained in Paris to pursue education in Science, Mathematics, and Military Engineering. He became identified with philosopher Voltaire who often referred to Abram as the “Dark star of the Russian Enlightenment.”
Abram later enrolled in the French army and became promoted to Lieutenant-Engineer, commanding the Artillery unit. He became famous and gained a new name, Hannibal, otherwise Gannibal in the Russian language.
In 1723, Abram traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia. His godfather, Peter, honored him with gifts. Abram built the Fortress of Kronstadt on Kotlin Island, guarding the Northern pass to St. Petersburg.
He masterminded the completion of Lake Ladoga’s massive canal, a project that had stalled for years. He became a chief Russian authority in military and civil engineering.
In 1725, his godfather Peter the great, passed away. Abram suffered dangerous envy from influential people who surrounded him, including Alexander Menshikov.
In 1727, Menshikov took control of the military and banished Abram to Siberia. He lived in Seleginsk in the territory of the Mongolic Buryats along the border of China. Despite these unpleasant events, Abram never gave up his innovative spirit.
He oversaw the construction of a fortress designed to fend off invasions levied by the Roman empire. He led several construction projects.
In an ironic justice, Menshikov was overthrown two years into his reign and exiled to Siberia. In 1741, Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, ascended to the throne.
Abram was recalled to Russia, and the Empress appointed him as the commander of the Russian Army Garrison in Reval (Tallinn, Estonia) from 1742 to 1752. Though Abram received cold treatment from the locals, he used his genius engineering skills to perform spectacular fireworks.
He improved the city’s coastal fortifications and became the top influential personnel. In 1742, Abram submitted an official document to Empress Elizabeth, appealing for nobility and a rank in the coat of arms.
In 1731, Abram married a Greek woman, Evdokia Dioper, in a forced engagement. The marriage did not last because of infidelity. Evdokia bore a white daughter, and Abram threw her into prison for eleven years.
Abram married Christina Regina von Schöberg, of Swedish origin, as a second wife five years later. They had eleven children. Only seven (Ivan, Osip, Isaac, Peter, Sophia, Elizabeth, and Anna) survived into adulthood. Many of them became members of the Russian nobility.
Abram’s most prominent bloodline was Alexander Pushkin, the father of modern Russian literature. He was the grandchild of Abram’s son, Osip. Alexander proudly spoke of his great-grandfather in his novel, “The Moor of Peter the Great.”
Controversies of birthplace
A lot of speculations and scholarly debate by modern historians surround the origin of Abram. German biography of Hannibal connected Abram’s homeland to the north of Ethiopia (Abyssinia). Russian scholars believed he originated from Medri Bahri (modern-day Eritrea).
In 1995, a Russian expert, Dieudonné Gnammankou, argued that Abram came from Logone-Birni, in northern Cameroon.
Abram stated he came from “Logon” or “Lagone” in an address to Empress Elizabeth.” An anthropologist Dmitry Anuchin theorized “Lagone” to Logo-Chewa, Eritrea.
Awards and Honors
In 1742, Empress Elizabeth awarded Abram with the Mikhaylovskoye estate in Pskov Oblast. In an ironic twist, the slave boy became the slave owner with 100 serfs to command.
The reign of Empress Elizabeth saw Russia plunged into seven years of war with Fredrick the Great’s Prussia. Abram turned the Russian army from a motley militia to a professional army.
Despite his success, Abram faced a lot of resentment from Russian top bras and was demoted from the Russian Military Command.
When Empress Elizabeth died in 1762, her nephew, Peter III, took the throne. On June 9th, 1762, Abram performed a spectacular firework for Romanov rules of Russia during a royal dinner. He retired to Mikhaylovskoye.
In November 2010, a commemorative plaque in honor of Abram as a graduate of La Fère’s royal artillery academy in France was unveiled.
On May 14, 1781, Abram died at 85, having lived a whole life. He had formed a peculiar foreign link in a noble genealogy. His legacy is one of struggle and perseverance. He defied the odds to become one of the greatest military and civil engineers in Russian history.
The Black Male Archives Team
- Abram Petrovich Hannibal’s biography
- Abram Gannibal, general of the Russian army
- Abram Petrovich Hannibal (1696? -1781)