According to his son-in-law and first biographer, Abram (or Ibrahim)
was the son of a ruler in Africa: possibly Chad, possibly Abyssinia.
At an early age he was either abducted or sent to the court of the
Turkish Sultan in Constantinople. Bought from the Sultan, Abram
arrived in Russia and was baptised with Tsar Peter standing as his
godfather. Peter visited France in 1717, and at the same time Abram
was sent to study there. He returned with the conventional skills
of an officer of artillery, but he had also acquired a new surname,
Hannibal (in Russian, Gannibal), and the name had significant echoes
of republican defiance. A respected military engineer, he was promoted
under successive rulers and lived on into the reign of Catherine
the Great. There is no reliable likeness of Gannibal. Hugh Barnes,
in his book Gannibal: The Moor of Petersburg (2005), has
shown that this portrait, long thought to be of Gannibal, cannot
be of him.
Gannibal's third son (of 11) by his second marriage Osip Abramovich
married Marya Alexeevna Pushkin, and their daughter was Pushkin’s
mother Nadezhda. Pushkin’s father Sergei Lvovich Pushkin came
from a family of boyars (nobles) whose fortunes had declined under
Peter the Great. Sergei Lvovich inherited the family estates, and
had the reputation of being idle, frivolous and miserly. He was
also a fluent French speaker and had a large library of French literature
and philosophy, both of which offered Pushkin a solid grounding
for his later education. Pushkin’s mother inherited the family
estates from her father Osip, but he had left it so heavily encumbered
with debt that, during her lifetime, the income went into paying
it off. She was beautiful and elegant, but Pushkin was no closer
to her than he was to his father.
Guest-curated for the British Library by Mike Phillips
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