Communication in Russia in the 17th century: the evidence in Patrick Gordon’s correspondence

Daniel Waugh

Abstract


A unique 17th-century historical source, the diaries of Patrick Gordon, a Scot in Russian service, contains a great deal of information about Russian history. A close reading of the detailed record of daily events in the author’s life reveals details about Russian life, which are not found in other documents. From Gordon’s diaries and correspondence, the article’s author extracted information, which helps us understand the functioning of the postal service in Russia in the late 17th century. Several aspects of the problem are treated. Firstly, information about his correspondents is systematized, including personal, official, and more casual acquaintances. Analysis of the correspondence underscores Gordon’s wide-reaching national, social and familial connections. Secondly, the article describes the routes that letters traveled to and from their addressees. There was a clear preference for sending letters via special couriers or acquaintances who happened to be traveling, even if a government system of communication was available. Thirdly, the article establishes transit times and explains the possible objective or subjective reasons why they might be faster or be delayed. This analysis also reveals something about the interactions between Patrick Gordon and his contemporaries, which is evidenced by the frequency of the correspondence and the direct responses. The author discusses concrete circumstances around the organization of the official postal network and its development in its early stages.

The publication of the article is in two thematically delineated parts. The first examines data about Gordon’s communications network, such as communication routes, official and personal agreements, as well as speed and frequency of exchanges. To a degree the content of the letters is examined here, though their more detailed treatment is to be found in the second part of the article devoted to the analysis of how he obtained political news and intelligence information. Both parts are organized roughly chronologically: it is important to see what changes occurred over nearly half a century covered in the diaries.

The author’s conclusions provide evidence about the broad connections of Russia and Europe as well as the active diplomacy, which made it imperative in the Petrine era to establish a state postal system. In the case of Patrick Gordon, who was an active participant in the political process, we can see how it was essential for him to take advantage of all means of communication in order to maintain his extensive correspondence about political, military, and personal affairs.


Keywords


Patrick Gordon, Peter the Great, history of Russia in the 17th century, history of the post, Russian communications in the 17th century, international relations.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15826/qr.2015.4.129

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