Windham Life and Times February 25, 2022

An Extraordinary African American Life: Nancy Gardner Prince

Fedor Yakovlevich Alekseev’s 1824 painting of the St Petersburg flood. The Decemberist Revolt

  According to Environment and Society “The flood of November 7, 1824 was the greatest flood in the history of St Petersburg. Short-lived storms surges are not unusual in St. Petersburg, which is located on the delta of the river Neva, but this one far exceeded the normal levels. On the evening of 6 November 1824, a storm broke out over the Baltic Sea, abating only toward morning. It caused surges to move eastward up the Gulf of Finland, and at 10 A.M. the flooding began. By 2 P.M. the Neva was already returning to its curse. However, during the course of the flood the Neva’s water level reached a record height of 4.2 meters above sea level, making it the most destructive flood the city ad ever witnessed.”

     What follows is Nancy Gardner Price’s eyewitness account of the flood. St. Petersburg was inundated October 9th, 1824. The water rose sixteen feet in most parts of the city; many of the inhabitants were drowned. An Island between the city and Cronstradt, containing five hundred inhabitants, was inundated, and all were drowned, and great damage was done at Cronstradt. The morning of this day was fair; there was a high wind. Mr. Prince went early to the Palace, as it was his turn to serve; our children boarders were gone to school; our servant had gone of an errand. I heard a cry, and to my astonishment, when I looked out to see what was the matter, the waters covered the earth. I had not then learned the language, but I beckoned to the people to come in; the waters continued to rise until 10 o’clock, A. M. The waters were then within two inches of my window, when they ebbed and went out as fast as they had come in, leaving to our view a dreadful sight. The people who came into my house for their safety retired, and I was left alone. At four o’clock in the afternoon, there was darkness that might be felt, such as I had never experienced before. My situation was the more painful being alone, and not being able to speak. I waited until ten in the evening; I then took a lantern, and started to go to a neighbor’s, whose children went to the same school with my boarders. I made my way through a long yard, over the bodies of men and beasts, and when opposite their gate I sunk; I made one grasp, and the earth gave away; I grasped again, and fortunately got hold of the leg of a horse, that had been drowned. I drew myself up covered with mire, and made my way a little further, when I was knocked down by striking against a boat, that had been washed up and left by the retiring waters; and as I had lost my lantern, I was obliged to grope my way as I could, and feeling along the walk, I at last found the door that I aimed at. My family were safe, and they accompanied me home. At 12 o’clock, Mr. Prince came home, as no one was permitted to leave the Palace till his Majesty had viewed the city. In the morning the children and the girl returned, and I went to view the pit into which I had sunk. It was large enough to hold a dozen like myself, when the earth had caved in. Had not that horse been there, I should never again seen the light of day, and no one would have known my fate. Thus, through the providence of God, I escaped from the flood and the pit.

     “Decembrist were “any of the Russian revolutionaries who led an unsuccessful uprising on Dec. 14, 1825, and through their martyrdom provided a source of inspiration to succeeding generations of Russian dissidents. The Decembrists were primarily members of the upper classes who had military backgrounds; some had participated in the Russian occupation of France after the Napoleonic Wars…”

This is how Nancy Gardner Prince remembered the revolt: “January, 1826, the corpse of Alexander was brought in state, and was met three miles from the city by the nobles of the Court; and they formed a procession, and the body was brought in state into the building where the Imperial family were deposited. March, of the same year, the corpse of Elizabeth was brought in the same manner. Constantine was then king of Poland, he was next heir to the throne, and was unanimously voted by the people, but refused, and resigned the crown in favor of his brother Nicholas. The day appointed the people were ordered to assemble as usual, at the ringing of the bells; they rejected Nicholas, a sign was given by the leaders that was well understood, and the people, great and small rushed to the square and cried with one voice for Constantine. The Emperor with his prime minister, and city governor, rode into the midst of them entreating them to retire, without avail, they were obliged to order the cannons fired upon the mob; it was not known when they discharged them that the Emperor and his ministers were in the crowd. He was wonderfully preserved while both his friends and their horses were killed. There was a general seizing of all classes, who were taken into custody. The scene cannot be described; the bodies of the killed and mangled were cast into the river, and the snow and ice were stained with the blood of human victims as they were obliged to drive the cannon to and fro in the midst of the crowd. The bones of these wounded who might have been cured were crushed. The cannon are very large, drawn by eight horses trained for the purpose. The scene was awful; all business was stopped. This deep plot originated, 1814, in Germany, with the Russian nobility and German, under the pretense of the Free Mason’s lodge. When they returned home they increased their numbers and presented their chart to the Emperor for permission which was granted. In the year 1822, the Emperor being suspicious that all was not right took their chart from them. They carried it on in small parties, rapidly increasing, believing they would soon be able to destroy all the Imperial branches, and have a republican government. Had not this taken place undoubtedly they would have at last succeeded. So deep was the foundation of this plot laid, both males and females were engaged in it. The prison-houses were filled, and thirty of the leading men were put into solitary confinement, and twenty-six of the number died, four were burned. A stage was erected and faggots were placed underneath, each prisoner was secured by iron chains, presenting a most appalling sight to an eye-witness. A priest was in attendance to cheer their last dying moments, then fire was set to the faggots and these brave men were consumed. Others received the knout, and even the princesses and ladies of rank were imprisoned and flogged in their own habitations. Those that survived their punishment were banished to Siberia. The mode of banishment is very imposing and very heart-rending, severing them from all dear relatives and friends, for they are never permitted to take their children. When they arrive at the gate of the city, their first sight is a guard of soldiers, then wagons with provisions, then the noblemen in their banished apparel guarded, then each side conveyances for the females, then ladies in order guarded by soldiers…”

“The St. Petersburg Flood of 1824.” Environment & Society Portal, Arcadia (2014), no. 7. Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society. tersburg-flood-1824

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