At the time of Peter the Great an entire family of Jewish diplomats lived in St. Petersburg - the Veselovsky brothers. That family was of Ashkenazic origin. The founder of the dynasty, Pavel, was from the Polish town of Veselovo. Pavel Veselovsky rendered certain services to the Russian army during the siege of the city of Smolensk in 1654 and after that he moved to Russia. Veselovsky was a relative of the vice-chancellor of Russia, Piotr Shafirov; he was married to an aunt of Shafirov. Four sons of Pavel (Abraham, Isaac, Fiodor, Yakov), as well as their cousin Piotr Shafirov, became well-known diplomats.
The eldest son of Pavel Veselovsky, Abraham (1685-1782), was brought up in the house of his cousin, the outstanding Russian diplomat Piotr Shafirov. It was in that house that he met the Tsar Peter I. The quick wit and good education of the young man produced a favorable impression on the Tsar and he promised Abraham a splendid future.
Veselovsky started his career as a "private secretary" of Peter I. During the famous Poltava battle, which determined the fate of the Northern War, Abraham Veselovsky was the aide-de-camp of Peter the Great. After that battle, Peter sent Abraham to Copenhagen as the secretary of the Ambassadors' Prikaz to inform the Danish court about the glorious victory of the Russian army.
Beginning in 1715 Abraham Veselovsky became the Russian ambassador to Vienna.
The ambassador's duties were not limited to representation of Russia; Abraham was required to search abroad for qualified specialists, as the whole Russian Empire and its capital, in the process of construction, badly needed experienced engineers, architects, physicians, sculptors and other professionals. Many scholars mention a letter from Abraham Veselovski to Peter the Great, in which Veselovski recommends to the Tsar one Jewish physician who is ready to come to Russia under condition that he be permitted to keep his faith. Peter responded, "I don't care if a man is baptized or circumcised. The only thing I want is for him to be a good man and to know his business."
Abraham Veselovsky took part in Prince Alexey's conspiracy against his father and in 1717, afraid of the Tsar's anger, he chose not to return to Russia as he was ordered to do by Peter. Veselovsky remained alive but chose voluntary exile to Europe. He became one of the first Russian "dissidents". The Duchess Yekaterina Dashkova, who met him later in Geneva and became a friend of his, wrote in her memoirs, "he fled to Holland, married there and rejecting his homeland settled in Geneva".
Abraham Veselovsky became a close friend of Voltaire, who also lived in Geneva. Many years later Voltaire in a letter to Catherine II recommended Veselovsky as a very bright and educated man. Catherine permitted Abraham, who was nearly one hundred years old, to return to Russia, but he did not avail himself of her invitation. Many Russian travellers who visited Geneva in those days met Abraham Veselovsky.
The second son of Pavel Veselovsky - Isaac - was a very witty man and was known for his puns. Isaac Veselovsky knew several foreign languages and started his diplomatic career as a secretary of the Ambassadors' prikaz (ministry). Because of his brother's participation in the plot of Prince Alexey, Isaac was removed from service. In 1741 when Elizabeth began her reign, Isaac Veselovsky was given his position once again.
It is known that when Isaac Veselovsky learned about the decree of Elizabeth concerning the expulsion of Jews from Little Russia (the Ukraine) in 1742 he appealed to the Empress on their behalf. His petition was supported by vice-chancellor Bestuzhev-Riumin but Elizabeth rejected it. However, the attitude of the Empress towards Isaac Veselovsky did not change and she made him the Russian language tutor of Peter III, the heir to the throne.
Fiodor Veselovsky (the exact years of his long life are not known) was also a diplomat. In 1708 he became the secretary of the Russian Embassy in Rome and in 1716 he headed the Embassy in London.
Fiodor fell in disgrace under Peter the Great because of the participation of his brother Abraham in the plot of Prince Alexey. When the plot was disclosed Peter ordered Fiodor Veselovsky to return to Russia, but the latter, having reasons to be afraid for his life, chose not to do it. Later Peter II forgave him and permitted him to return to Russia. Unlike Abraham, Fiodor Veselovsky made use of this permission and went back to Petersburg.
In 1760 he moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow as he was appointed the curator of the Moscow University.
The lifespan of the youngest of the brothers Veselovsky, Yakov (Jacob), is not known. From the extant documents we have learned that from 1719 Yakov Veselovsky was the secretary of Alexander Menshikov. Veselovsky was even considered to be Menshikov's favorite despite the traditional anti-semitism of the latter.
An interesting detail can be found in a Jesuit report, where they listed ten obstacles to carrying out their activity in Russia. Under number seven the monks wrote: "Jews prevail in the Russian court". As an example, the Jesuits wrote that even Menshikov's secretary was Jewish.
Abraham Veselovsky (1685-1782)