George Smihula (1777-1831)
Updated: Aug 21, 2020
George, my 3X great-grandfather, was born in Pongracovce, a small village near Bijacovce in what is now Spis County, Slovakia. At the time of his birth it was part of Hungary. Bijacovce became the main ancestral village and is where the Roman Catholic Church is located. At the age of 31, George married 16-year-old Mary Jurik who died shortly after the birth of their second daughter Mary in 1812. (First-born daughter Anna died in infancy). Later that year, he married Mary Pamula; they had two known children--Anna (1814) and George (1820). We are descended from this daughter Anna (1814-1870) who married George Tomecko (1811-1848) and who were my 2 X great-grandparents.
An agricultural census was taken in 1828, and 51-year-old George was listed in Bijacovce as a farmer having 4 oxen, 1 cow, 2 sheep, and being taxed for 2 adults. The census reported the village had 84 houses and 605 inhabitants. It would have been a typical feudal village; the peasants did not own their land and they were heavily taxed.
In 1831, a cholera epidemic spread throughout the region. There were more than 200,000 deaths, especially among those who were starving due to the 1830 crop failure. The peasants felt that the lands they occupied were unfairly classified for taxation purposes. A grass-roots rebellion occurred in the summer of 1831 when the struggling and oppressed peasants rebelled against the nobility. There was violence in many communities, but the rebellion was loosely organized and lacked cohesive leadership. It was quickly suppressed by the military and punishment for the rebels was swift and severe. An estimated 40,000 serfs throughout the area (including women and children) were condemned for their participation in the uprising. Many were imprisoned and many executed. By November when the King prohibited more executions, about 120 peasants had already been executed.
Sadly, George was one of those executed. He was hanged on September 7, 1831. His burial record includes the priest's notation (translated): "The Judicial Seat of Statarine Sedition on 11 August of this year pronounced guilty the disgraced, rabble-rousing accused, and he was sentenced to condemnation by hanging in the hills between Bijacovce and Pongracovce". He was 54 years old, leaving his 42-year-old widow Mary, 17-year-old Anna, 19-year-old Mary (already married) and 11-year-old George.
Many of the Smihula family immigrated to the United States in later years. However, Michael Smihula (one of George's great-grandsons) remained in Bijacovce. It was descendants of Michael that my granddaughter Heather met when she visited Bijacovce in July 2015. They welcomed her warmly and showed her a book which contained the history of the uprising in Bijacovce and George's participation in it. She photographed the church (built in the 1700s) and family tombstones. Ondrej [Andrew] Smihula, the teenager she met, is her fifth cousin once-removed. Ondrej told Heather that the site of the 1831 hangings can still be found and a small chapel has been built on the site. Heather's blog post contains a fascinating report of her visit. See https://heatherwandering.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/who-do-you-think-you-are/#more-350