Anton Divier (Antonio de Vieira)
The Sephardic Jew Anton Divier (also Antoine Devier, Devier, or Divier - from the spelling of his Portuguese name Antonio de Vieira) came to Russia from Holland together with Peter the Great. The family of Divier left Portugal for Holland to escape from the persecutions of the Inquisition. Anton's father, Emmanuel Vieira, is mentioned in the list of the Amsterdam Jewish community.
Anton served as a ship's boy in the Dutch fleet. During the maneuvers of the Dutch fleet, which were organized by the authorities of Amsterdam especially for Peter the Great, the Tsar payed attention to the young sailor who handed the sails so skilfully. Peter I invited him to join the Russian service and Divier accepted this offer. In Russia he was baptized according to Russian Orthodox ritual.
Divier was well-educated, fluent in several languages and had elegant manners. He quickly rose in his career. Anton began his service as a batman of Peter I and reached the position of Chief of the St. Petersburg Police, a post that can be compared with the position of the Mayor nowadays.
Divier was companiable and had a sense of humor. He became a close friend of Peter I and was a frequent guest in his home (he was one of the few persons who permited to enter Peter's workshop in the Summer Palace without a previous announcement) and tutored Peter's children.
In order to consolidate his position Divier married Anna Danilovna Menshikova in 1722, the eldest of three sisters of the General Governor of Saint-Petersburg, Menshikov.
However, Menshikov himself did not approve of his sister's choice and relations between him and his new relative were strained. The Prince strove to destroy the career of his brother-in-law whom he hated but did not manage to do so during the life of Peter I.
In 1718 Peter the Great appointed Anton Divier General-Chief of the St. Petersburg police. By that time the population of St. Petersburg had reached thirty five thousand and was continuing to grow. Divier had to work hard at creating the police service which had not existed in Russia before.
At that time the responsibilities of the Chief of police were extremely various. Besides police functions the new service was responsible for the control of commerce, sanitary inspection of the city, illumination and pavement of the streets and the organization of public services and amenities in general, and even, to a certain extent, building construction in the city.
The very first order given by Divier was a decree about the rules of street paving. Starting in 1721 the General-Chief of police worked on city lighting. For the first time street lights appeared. They burned five hours a day; hemp-seed oil was used as a fuel.
It was Divier who submitted to the Senate a proposal about the need to have a special architect who would supervise the construction of the city. The General-Chief of police did not disdain checking the scales of the tradesmen in the market. His duties also included preventing drinking, depravity and stealing.
After the death of Peter I Menshikov accused Divier of high treason and the latter was summoned to the court. The powerful favorite demanded from Catherine, the widow of Peter the Great, an edict for the exile of Divier to Siberia and added in his own hand: "whipping and deprivation of all ranks and properties". Menshikov did not feel pity even for his sister. Anna Danilovna who was also exiled, together with he four children into a remote province of Russia.
Divier spent many years in exile. However, his energy found an outlet even in those conditions. In the city of Okhotsk he took part in preparing the equipment for the expedition of Vitus Bering, who would in the future discover the straits separating Asia from America.
Divier outlasted Menshikov, who was also exiled just a few months later. Peter's daughter Elizabeth, Divier's former pupil, who ascended the throne in 1741 brought him back from exile. Anton was again appointed General-Chief of Police of the capital and he again received all his ranks and properties. However, Divier could not recover from the severe trials which he had had to undergo and he soon died. He was buried June 27, 1745 in the Lazarevskoye cemetery of the Alexander Nevski monastery.
Of the four children of Divier and Anna Menshikova, only one son, Peter, survived in exile. He started his service as a page at the court of Duchess Anna of Golschtein and then he became an officer in the Golschtein artillery. In 1736 he came back to Russia. During the reign of Elizabeth the title of General-in-Chief was conferred on him. Peter left two sons, Anton and Mikhail.
Anton Divier (1682-1745)