David Chavchavadze (1818-1884)
David Chavchavadze, the only son of Alexandre Chavchavadze, embodied the wisdom, style, and sophistication of his father. His life was defined by one of the greatest dramas and triumphs in Georgian history.
David was younger than his sisters Nino and Ekaterine, but older than his sister Sophio. After his father’s death, he inherited Alexandre’s entire estate of Tsinandali. Like Alexandre, David initially selected a military career with the Russian Army. He obtained his military education at the St. Petersburg School of Guard Ensigns. Milestones in his military career included the following:
- In 1834 he became a non-commissioned officer of the Ulan Regiment.
- In 1839 at the age of 21, he was commissioned as an officer.
- In 1839 as an ensign, he was sent with an expedition of the fearless Caucasian Corps to participate in a campaign against Lezghins, Muslim tribes of the Northern Caucasus. For his success in this campaign, he was later awarded a III Order of St. Stanislav.
- In 1840 he was transferred to the Nizhegorod Dragoon Regiment. Simultaneously, he served in the Pskov Cuirassier Regiment. In 1840, he was transferred to Caucasia where he joined the detachment of Major General N. Raevsky.
- In 1843 he participated in an expedition against Imam Shamil of Daghestan the guerrilla warfare leader of the Lezghins.
- In 1844 he was assigned as a Staff Captain. On October 3, 1847, he was given the position of Aide-de-Camp to M. S. Vorontsov, Commander-and-Chief and Viceroy of the Caucasus.
- In 1849 he was awarded the III Order of St. Ann.
- In 1851 he was transferred to the Grenadiers' Regiment of Life Guards.
- In 1854 he became a Lieutenant Colonel of Cavalry.
- In 1854, during the Crimean War (1853-1856), he led the military campaign against the attacks of Shamil’s detachments in the rocky Caucasian mountain range. He distinguished himself while defending Shamil’s invading forces, and was granted the title of Colonel and Aide-de-Camp and awarded the II Order of St. Anna.
- In 1855 he retired from the military and was granted a pension for 12 years and numerous honors for his service.
It was during the Crimean War that David’s military exploits became dramatically entangled with his family life. On July 4, 1854, Shamil’s detachment attacked the Chavchavadzes’ magnificent estate of Tsinandali, destroying the house and wreaking havoc upon the surrounding lands. Shamil’s troops looted David’s possessions and captured his wife and children. They also kidnapped Elena Orbeliani, the sister of David’s wife, and her son, who were visiting the Chavchavadzes at the time, along with several servants. During the raid, David’s youngest child—twelve-month-old Lydia—was dropped by her mother as the "mountaineers" galloped their horses at full speed; she died died as a result.
In exchange for the captives, Shamil demanded the release and return of his eldest son, Djemal-Eddin, who had been captured by the Russians in 1839 at the age of six. Now a man in his early twenties serving as a lieutenant in the Russian army, Djemal-Eddin had been raised in St. Petersburg and was estranged from his family and Islam. Shamil calculated that this desperate act of hostage-taking might win the return of his son because David Chavchavadze was a decorated officer in the Russian army and the Chavchavadzes had an excellent relationship with the Russian government. This made David’s family the perfect bargaining chip.
The event startled the entire country. Negotiations among emissaries from both sides lasted for almost nine months. The disconsolate David contacted Shamil through letters to plead for the release of his family, and personally visited the Russian Czar to ask for his intercession. Finally, Czar Nicholas I consented to the release of Djemal-Eddin and 16 mountaineer captives. Payment of ransom of 35,000 pieces of silver and 5,000 pieces of gold was raised by David. The captives were exchanged in David Chavchavadze’s presence on March 10, 1855, on the banks of the Michik River. Shortly afterward, David retired from the military.
Retirement and Death
Following his retirement from the military, David managed his family’s businesses and continued their traditions. With his wife Anna Bagrationi (1822-1905), the granddaughter of Erekle II, he had nine children—six daughters (Salome, Mariam, Tamar, Helen, Anastasia, and Nino) and three sons (Alexandre, Ilia, and Archil). Anna was a devoted wife and mother, and also an effective leader in her own right; in 1867, she founded the first women's school in Telavi. Two years later a similar school was established at Tsinandali.
During the rest of his life, in spite of all of his efforts, David was unable to raise sufficient funds to repay the money advanced for Shamil's ransom and hence was unable to reacquire the Tsinandali property.
David Chavchavadze died in 1884. He is buried at Shuamta convent, Kakheti, Georgia.
- Manuscript #17401_6; Biography of David Chavchavadze Georgian National Museum of Literature; Tbilisi: Georgia
- Chikovani, Iuri. Tavadi Chavchavadzeebi [Nobles Chavchavadzes] Tbilisi: Artanuji, 2002.
- S.V.Dumin., and Y.K.Chikovani., ed. Dvorianskie Rodi Rossiiskoi Imperii [Ancestral Princedoms of the Russian Empire], vol.VI, Moscow: Licominvest, 1998
- Natsarashvili, Otar, Kakhetis gamochenili adamianebi [Famous persons of Kakheti]. Tbilisi: Merani, 2001.
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