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Gomirje history

Settling in Gomirje
“Manojlo Grbić: "Karlovačko vladičanstvo" “(“The Church District of Karlovac”)
with footnotes and additional information from other sources

Part four

Settling in Gomirje and Gomirje district.

Both Ottoman and Venetian  historical accounts speak of 325  souls” of “Vlah” defenders of the fortress of Klis, who were allowed by the Ottomans after final defeat to move out in peace in 1596.

The Serbian settlement in and around Gomirje was created at the end of the sixteenth century. In the year of 1596  the Turks, helped by the Venetian forces, took over the fortress of Klis from the “Uskoci of Senj”. Senj was a coastal fortress town, and *Uskoci* were outlaw-ish and brave free citizens and pirate soldiers with several different *Vlah* Stipanović soldiers listed in conscription records over the years , even a duke who received his title form the Emperor.  By that time the town of Klis had a number of permanent settlers. After the fall of the city they enlisted the help of general Lenković, and asked the Imperial Court (in Austria) to be given permission to move and settle elsewhere. These *Vlah soldiers* from Klis  were  Serbs of Eastern-Orthodox faith who had fled the Ottoman rule after the Kosovo battle in 1389 and migrated through Hercegovina, the  coast of Dalmatia and inland throughout XV and XVI century. They were free-standing army  men hired by the Austrian army  who received pay for their service and fought relentlessly and courageously against the Ottomans as part of the Uskoci watchmen units.

From 1538. and the first imperial charter of privileges granted to the Serbs in Military Krajina by the Austrian emperor Ferdinand I, which is an important historical document for naming them not as generic Vlahs or Uskoci but as Serbian or Rascian  captains and dukes and their people in nearby  Žumberak district,  they  were free to settle in the Military Frontier province, free to practice their Eastern Orthodox religion which was at the time  illegal and persecuted  as schismatic by the Catholic church elsewhere, and they did not have to pay taxes to the feudal barons or bishops for the lands that they farmed. Their status of free citizens  awarded  amidst feudal serfdom and slavery  was what differed them from the rest of the native farmers in the region who were owned by their masters and often included in the property censuses as taxable units.

Representatives of the Klis defenders were give audience in Graz, Austria in the summer of the year 1596, where the watchmen  begged to be taken on as soldiers and given protection, for they had lost everything and were loyal and brave servicemen. They were received by the emperor Rudolph  himself, who, after this audience, gave out orders to both the army commander of the Military Krajina region general Lenković and archduke Ferdinand to settle the honest men of Klis and Dalmatia to either city of Senj or elsewhere in Krajina. (source- charter dated 24th of July 1596).

Immediately after that the Serbs settled in Gomirje, Vrbovsko and Moravica (called Varanica at the time).

A wooden church was first built on this site in 1597, and between 1600-1602  Monastery Gomirje  was built.

Families noted as founders of the Gomirje Monastery  in the existing church archives are:


 When the first settlers  arrived  in Gomirje they only had one monk with them. He held the service in the wooden church  but  was too old to follow the men in the battle, which was standard practice back then. They needed to have a  religious backbone in their community and came from long tradition of erecting churches and monasteries wherever they migrated. That is why the original settler families came together and those wealthier among them donated the money needed to build a proper  temple and a monastery. When the stone-built temple was completed in 1602, as the church records euphemistically say they  brought six monks and all the necessary books and religious objects that are required for the church to be opened and hold liturgies  from the Krka monastery  who brought along with them  everything needed for religious services. The settlers  later wrote to the military command how of those six monks three are excellent, and fight courageously by their side when they go into the battle.

The lands that they settled on belonged to the noble families of  counts Frankopani and Zrinjski but had been deserted for a long time, so the counts allowed the Serbs to settle thinking that this would be a great influx of new feudal serfs ( kmetovi ) for their properties. The Serbs had no intention of agreeing to the status of what they called in one letter common folk and slaves… for we were promised rights and privileges  of Uskoci by the emperor himself

Count Đuro Zrinjski sent out a letter of complaint to the archduke in 1601, stating that …the commanders had lead the Vlahs out of Turkish lands about two years ago, and settled them on his property without his permission…so he begs the duke to make them (the Serbs) serve him in every way -  damit sie mier, wass ich ihnen in ainen vnd andern anbefelhen dienen, gehorhen vnd allen gehorsamb, wie sichs gebürt laisten. Not waiting for the response, he started harassing them and driving them away, so they asked for protection the imperial military command because not only did they not receive the promised rights and privileges and the same status as the rest of the *Uskoci *have, but now this count is chasing them away from the best lands. Their captain sent the letter to the general, the general sent the letter to the archduke, who ordered the count Zrinjski to leave them alone and promised the Serbs that they will get their freedom and rights of Uskoci in exchange for keeping the count safe from the Turks: ..."bey denen zuegesprochenen freyheiten, allermassen dieselben die ander Ussqoqqen haben, zu erhalten vnd zu schüzen.

While the lands around Gomirje were empty no one cared much, but after the Serbs settled there the two Croatian counts started quarreling over who would rule over them, and the dispute ended up before the imperial court. During the court proceedings both noblemen stated that they haven’t yielded any income from either the Vlahs or the land, because …it was their belief that they  were requested to allow the settlers to come on this unfarmed land , and that they would start collecting taxes after the court decides which count has the right of ownership to do that.

The counts were ordered to leave the settlers alone (again), but the harassment continued (again), so the Serbs had to complain to the military commander in 1602. (again) how … they only came here because they were promised lands and support, and that they cannot serve two masters at the same time (alluding to their primary loyalty to the military service), that their total number is 300 people (women and children included) , that their fortunes are gone wiped out by the Turks and people are starving, and that they need help to deal with  the counts who are trying to enslave them and turn into *kmets*.  In several subsequent letters the generals explained to the archduke that the counts are spiteful and greedy and that the Serbs may, if not supported, move out and leave this portion of the border totally without protection.

Finally, in 1604. the archduke announced his ruling and wrote back to the counts Zrinjski and Frankopan that he cannot allow the Serbs to be turned into servants and given to them, and that he stands by his previous ruling on the subject. On top of that he ordered them to pay immediately and in cash 80 000 forints in the name of the costs of provisions in food, ammunition and salaries for the soldiers, as well as covering all future costs of the army men stationed  in Gomirje.

This correspondence shows exactly how different the status of the *Vlah*-*Uskoci*-Serbs was to that of common feudal times plebs in medieval Croatian territories ruled by Austria. Also, the number of these settlers is similar in different sources -300 or 325, and compared with the number of families  that founded  the monastery - a dozen, shows just how closely the descendants carrying these Gomirje surnames are related to them.  There would have been only one initial family that settled in the area for every surname written down as the founders.

In the year 1622. the municipality of Gomirje consisted of three villages – Gomirje, Vrbovsko and Moravice, and according to the census these three villages had 48 households - large traditional family communes known as *zadruga*,  with 1160 people. More Serbs arrived from Bosnia in 1605, but their surnames were different.  Of  these 1160 people 300 were soldiers - men of military age between 16 and 60, and of those  300  the number of paid  soldiers who received salary and served as watchmen was 60. The rest of these 300 Gomirje soldiers farmed their land, and were required to go and fight the Turks when called by the captains from Ogulin, under their own leadership of *vojvode*. Serb leaders had peace title of *knez* (king,lord) and war title of *vojvoda* (duke).

In a little while, in 1639,  Croatian counts who continued to try to bring the settlers under their own command forcibly removed people from Petrovo Polje, and had those who wouldn’t leave killed. One group settled around Brinj, and later moved to Plaški, and 17 families came to Vitunj. These places had no Serbian inhabitants prior to this, and only two men - Nikola Mamula and Nikola Kresović - had been awarded plots of land in Vitunj by the emperor Ferdinand II in 1632. for their courage in war.  The seventeen families were settled on the land that bordered these two plots.

Families that settled in Vitunj  1639 :
1. Radota Voćić                     with 7 souls
2. Ivoš Mihajilović                 with 14
3. Lazar Mihajilović               with 5
4. Božidar Koraćević              with 8
5. Stevan Kosanović               with 7
6. Rada Radelić                      with 7
7. Milašin Radelić                   with 6
8. Ignjatija Trbojević              with 7
9. Đuro Nožić*                       with 8
10. Mila Kovačević                  with 6
11. Radovan Brvić*                  with 5
12. Cvjetko Čudanović*          with 4
13. Ilija Vagavić*                     with 4
14. Petar Hranilović                with 4
15. Radojica Voćić                  with 4
16. Vojin Ličanin*                   with 6
17. Prerad Kosanović              with 6

According to this list, some other families largely present  in Vitunj like STJEPANOVIĆ and VUJNOVIĆ moved there at an apparently a later date, wtih no mentions of Stjepanović in Vitunj  in this book at all,  and a mention of  a village dignitary Simo Vujnović in  Vitunj in 1816. who had some important imperial charters of rights of Serbs stored in his house,  but unfortunatelly both the house and the documents burned in a fire: "Godine 1816. bile su u Vitunju, u kući Sime Vujinovića, gdje ih je čitao ondašnji gomirski arhimahdrit Rajačić i gdje na skoro izgorješe zajedno sa kućom Siminom.” However,  some  surnames* listed in this historical source appear to be   family clan *nicknames* and are not found in later vital records of Vitunj residents.

Because of these Serbian settlers that were allowed to take up land in villages that were not like Gomirje empty but very well developed, the Croatian town people from Ogulin rebelled and went and destroyed the crops and orchards of the Vitunj settlers in  1640. They  demanded that the counts remove these non-believers from Vitunj within eight days.  The  army general in Karlovac, count Vuk Frankopan described in his report to the emperor dated 5th of July 1640 those that rebelled against the Serbs as  schemers and wanderers who came to Ogulin from other places because they were in debt and commited offences, and that their number in Ogulin town grew so much that they claimed for themselves all the land from Ogulin to Modruša., that they never come to help when help is needed, that they refuse to take part  in watch duty and fighting against the Turks - Das sey allerhandt lampengesindl, welches irer schulden halber oder andern beesen stükhen halber auss Crain, Weintahl vnd andern orthen entlaufen müessen, aldorten zu Ogulin in solcher menge vndergeschlaift, dass sie vnsern wissentlichen Frangepänischen grundt von Ogulin biss Modrusch für sich selbsten impatronieret… verwaigern sich doch in nothfall oder lärmenszeit ainige hilf zu laisten, wöllen auch, wann die besolden Oguliner mit der veldtarbeit zu thun, vnd damals der Türkischen gafahr vndervorfen sein, ainiche wacht nit halten, vill weniger sich zu ainicher gränizverhäkhach gebrauchen lassen.

There was a long and detailed investigation hearing in Ogulin held regarding this rebellion, during which count Gašpar, who was the owner of land in Vitunj on which the Serbs settled, and who had actually invited them to settle there on his land said that  ...he did so on the orders from the emperor, that the Serbs settled on his land and not the land that belong to Ogulin, and that the Serbs will be a thousand times more useful against the sworn enemy (the Turks)  than those rebels from Ogulin.

There were no other significant group settling of Serbs to any part of Gomirje district recorded after the Vitunj settlement. One report from 1659, twenty years after this last migration,  recorded that the entire district consisted of 83 households with 800 men of military service age.