José de Ribas
Josep de Ribas i Boyons (Naples, Kingdom of Naples, June 6, 1749 – Saint Petersburg, Russia, December 14 [O.S. December 2] 1800), known in Spanish as José Pascual Domingo de Ribas y Boyons and in Russian as Iosif (Osip) Mikhailovich Deribas (Russian: Ио́сиф (О́сип) Миха́йлович Дериба́с), was an Italian-born in Russian service, who founded the city of Odessa. Odessa's most famous street, Deribasovskaya, is named after him.
Son of the Spanish consul in Naples and his Irish wife, he had been born in that city, then dynastically joined to the Kingdom of Spain, and served in the Neapolitan army in the late 1760s, but he joined the Russian Army as a "member of the Spanish nobility" in 1772, taking part in the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774 and afterwards remaining "on the margins of the empress's court" as "one of the many young men hoping to gain [her] favor." When the Russo-Turkish War of 1787-1792 broke out, he was made the liaison between Potemkin and the unit commanded by John Paul Jones:
He worked assiduously to smoothe relations between Jones and the European officers, especially Nassau-Siegen, as well as with Potemkin. He dealt with cases of insubordination and drunkenness by talking firmly with the offenders rather than exacting immediate punishment. His performance was noted and rewarded. Potemkin personally transferred him from the navy and placed him in charge of an army detachment under the operational command of Count Ivan Gudovich, one of the most decorated and accomplished generals in the southern theater.
In late 1789, de Ribas's grenadiers captured Khadjibey (the village on the future site of Odessa) without a battle: "It was, in fact, one of the great non-battles of the war. The entire affair lasted no more than half an hour. The Ottoman garrison, a few-dozen startled soldiers and their senior officer, surrendered on the spot."
His greatest deed was the storming of Izmail in 1790 under the supreme command of Alexander Suvorov. De Ribas proposed a plan of attack, which was approved by Suvorov, and led both Russian navy and land forces to capture the mighty fortress. The defeat was seen as a catastrophe in the Ottoman Empire, while in Russia it was glorified in the country's early, unofficial national anthem, "Let the thunder of victory sound!". In 1791 de Ribas was promoted to Rear Admiral and commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. He was promoted to Vice Admiral in 1795 and to full Admiral in 1796.
Shortly after the end of the war, he proposed a plan to Catherine of transforming the Ottoman garrison town of Khadjibey into a major Russian port with an ice-free harbor; she accepted the idea, and on May 27, 1794 she issued an edict ordering its development as a commercial and shipping center and naming de Ribas the chief administrator (glavnyi nachal'nik) of the project. He began constructing stone houses and administrative buildings and may have been the one to suggest naming the city after the ancient Greek town of Odessos (though Catherine is said to have insisted on a feminine ending, making it Odessa).
As a son-in-law of Ivan Betskoy and a secretary to Prince Potemkin, he became one of the earliest administrators of the New Russia. He may have been involved in the conspiracy to overthrow Emperor Paul, but died several months before the coup took place. Contemporaries thought he had been poisoned by one of the conspirators, Count von der Pahlen, to keep him from revealing the plot under the effects of the fever. De Ribas died in Saint Petersburg. His tomb is in the Smolensky Lutheran Cemetery.
- Aleksandr Deribas, "Staraja Odessa", Optimum, 2012, p. 7.
- Charles King, Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011; ISBN 0393070840), p. 44.
- King, Odessa, p. 45.
- King, Odessa, p. 47.
- King, Odessa, p. 48.
- King, Odessa, pp. 51-52.
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