By M. Wolansky
We want to clarify the origin of the name of the city, for which evidentiary historical documents does not exist. Therefore we need to refer to legends that were transmitted from generation in generation.
The legend most told is that where Pruzhany is now was once empty and without inhabitants. Among the many swamps that covered the area, the Muchawietz River flowed. There was once a princess whose name was Pruzhina who carried a small child in her arms. As she was crossing the river, a snake jumped out of the water and pulled her child from her arms and swallowed him. In her dear boy's memory, the princess ordered that a church be built on that place. Inhabitants of the surrounding area began to arrive at the church and settle there. Little by little a town called Pruzhana was formed, according to its founder's name. Based on this, according to the legend, the shield of Pruzhana was created. It representation was a snake with a half swallowed boy in its mouth.
Another version of the same legend relates that it was not the mother's name, but rather her boy was called Pruzhina. The mother ordered that the town around the church be named after her son. Another version, which ignores the previous versions, states that the origin of the name Pruzhana is similar to the word Pozshrala (in Belarussian), or Pozsharla (in Polish) which means to swallow.
A similar version is found in the writings of the well-known Polish historian, Balinsky. He tells that the local princess’s child's nurse placed the boy in the river and the river swallowed him; that is the basis for naming the place that subsequently was changed to Pruzshana. Balinsky adds that this story seems to be invented. The same words are repeated in the notation, Historical News on the city of Pruzshene, in the book, Urban Towns in Russian Empire.
A second legend relates that the whole region around Pruzhany was covered with forests, and here and there were villages. The area, which is now the city, was barren and without inhabitants. For that reason people called it Porozshnia or Pruzshnia, which means, empty, and the name became Pruzhana. For that reason the town that was settled there acquired this name.
According to historical documents (which we will mention later) our city received the name Pruzshene in the XVI century. Until then our town was called, Dobutshin, the same as the village that was located almost 7 km N.W. of the city is called.
There is also another legend that clarifies the change of the name, Dobutshin, to Pruzhany. Once a there was a village where Dobutshin is today. It so happened that a terrible epidemic affected almost the entire population. The few survivors escaped from that infected place and they settled on the banks of the Muchawietz River where they built a new city with the name of Pruzene.
It is obvious that the legends mentioned above are not historically accurate. In a trial and error process in answer to the questions about the origin of the name, these legends are discussed.
Most likely, the name Pruzene derives from the name of the river, Pruzshanka, that flows into the river, Muchawietz. Today we know only the meaning of the names of our rivers, as follows: Wietz means the one who comes from the north, and Mucha means the one that comes from the east; their waters flow together forming the river Muchawietz in the vicinity of the city. In the swamps to the east of the city the small river, Baba, flows and pours its waters to the left side of the Muchawietz. There are indications of the existence of another small river of which flowed out of a fringe of swamps. This small river extended in the past from south to west, where Kobriner St is today. It skirted the new cemetery and flowed into the right side of the Muchawietz. In old maps, this small river was called Lacha.
Nobody knows very much about the river Pruzhanka. From a very remote time and until today there exists in Pruzhany a divorce record, which says, "In the city that is beside the river Muchawietz, on the river Pruzhanka, on the river Pirohovke and on sources of water--". It proves that a river Pruzhanka existed. With regard to Pirohovke we think that it is the same as the Baba. On the maps before the war, the Baba was called Pirogowka. In general some of the small rivers of Pruzhany changed their names. In the XVI century the old Lacha was called Paliachva. The Kobriner Economie tells the following, "The forest was located on one side of the fields and, on the other side, the Paliachva flows.
The same source is talking about a river called Pruzhanka when it says: " ...vegetable gardens from Derechin, to the left behind the street Derechin, and in front of the river Muchawietz at the other end of the small river Pruzhanka was the way from Derechin to Pruzhanka". Considering that there is not any small river near Derechin that flows into the Muchawietz, it is fairly sure Pruzhanka is the new name of the river Pirohovka, and that is the same one that is currently the river Baba. The only incomprehensible thing in the divorce records is that it names the river Pruzhanka and Pirohovka at the same time as if they were two rivers. This can be explained in the following way: at the beginning of the Acts it was written, "on the river Muchawietz and on the river Pruzhanka". In the course of the time they began to call it with the second name, the writers of these documents wanted to conserve these names, and they also added the new one.
Now let's take a look at the historical past of the area, and let us calculate how old the city is. S. Vislouch brings many sources about this issue, and its reflection on the limits of the district of Kobrin, until half of XVI's century. Based on different sources, it demonstrates that in half of XIV century the whole area surrounding the river Muchawietz was covered with swamps and impenetrable forests, and they had very few human settlements. At this time, Kobrin was a city that belonged to the great landowner OLGUIERD. After his death his son ROMAN assumed the ownership. Some years later on February 14, 1404 his uncle the landowner WITOLD confirms him. The administrative and political situation of Kobrin is unknown, but at the beginning of XV century we find that Kobrin was an independent feudal district and Pruzhany is included.
At that time Pruzhany was first mentioned in an historical document. It is in a letter sent by the great landowner ZIGMUNT KEYSTUTOVICH on September 25, 1433 addressed to IAGIELON about the battles with ZVIDRIGIELON. In that letter he complains to the great landowner that the inhabitants of SLUTZK (Slutshanie) destroyed everything around Brisk and Kamenietz and they also included the inhabitants of Pruzhany (Prushanoi), Kobrin, Zhditov, Viady and Slonim.
According to the text, we deduce that the word Pruzhanoi refers to the administrative area around the town called Pruzhene. Can we deduce that the town could also be the center of the area and had the same name? We don't find any contradiction in this respect in any place. But there are cases in current times in which the administrative areas are not called according to the name of the administrative center.
The mentioned landowner of Kobrin ROMAN, begins the dynasty of landowner KOBRINSKY that ends with the third generation. SEMEN KOBRINSKY, son of ROMAN takes active part in the fights of this time, he suffered a defeat and lost part of his holdings, and among them Kobrin. Based on the later peace agreements, he recovered the city again. The landowner SEMEN possessed lands that included Kobrin and Pruzhany, and these became his son, IVÁN SEMENOVICH’s KOBRINSKY patrimony, which could be the founder of our city.
Among records of birth certificates in Lithuania, we find a document of the landowner, IVÁN, in which he appears as founder of the first church in Pruzhany. As in all birth records, this one was also written in Byelorussian. For the interest and the importance of this document and for the history of our city, we reproduce the complete text:
“With great commendation to God and the Trinity, the only God. IVÁN son of SEMEN landowner of Kobrin, ruler of the whole territory of ZHCHAMUTE, together with his wife the landowner, TEODORA, in the city founded by them called DOBUCHINY they give a piece of land to build a church with the name "Birth of the son of God". We also give a contribution of our belongings, the whole production of winter, as well as cereals for our priest VASILY LUCKASEVITSH and his followers will direct our recently built church of the "Son of God". We also give part of our lands, so they can offer lodging to their servants. These lands near the church which are called Places, begin in the wide street called Setlzer Road and end in the river Muchawietz. About the distance from one end to the other: on one hand the street of the backyard where the kennels were, and on the other side where the house of Jewish prayers (synagogue) was located, whose lands were used in its width. Each member of the village Postolava should donate for our church 45 groshn annually. We give lands near the village SLONIMTZY for its cultivation as well as the crop of hay. We also add the island Dubowa on the river Much, near the village SLONIMTZY, for the establishment of other parishioners. On the island they will have some heaps of hay. All this is donated forever, for our church whose lands are our patrimony. The priest and his parishioners are exempt of payment of taxes. We grant the permission to our priest VASILY LUCKASEVITSH and his followers to have a winery for their own consumption and for the taverns. In the mills of DOBUCHIN they will be allowed to mill 15 barrels for the whole year without payment of taxes. Nobody should interfere in our donations, because they were given to our priest and his followers. To the persons who dare to violate this donation that we grant forever to our church of the birth of the Son of God for the redemption of our soul and commendation of the name of God, a curse of the 318 Sacred Fathers who were in the Council of Nicker, will fall on them and they will be called to the terrible judge. We trust and we confirm the above mentioned, and we sign this Act that was granted on October 9 1473 in the city of Kobrin. Signed: IVÁN son of SEMEN landowner of Kobrin, governor of the territory of YAMUT, and TEODORA the landowner.”
We cannot assure with certainty the year in which the city was founded. This document doesn't give us a date, but we can assure that it was founded in the times of landowner IVÁN KOBRINSKY. This is confirmed by the expression in the principle of the document, where says, "In the city founded, etc.". This means that it was founded in a date near to that document.
We should imagine that this foundation was only formal. Practically speaking, the town that was called DOBUCHIN at the beginning, had the appearance of a city. With defined places and with streets, as is confirmed by the document, with an important population. The city didn't differ much from a village. The cities didn't have their own tribunals, and the inhabitants continued under the order of the Starosta.
The city was directed by the VOYT (mayor or highest official) who was chosen by the Russian orthodox peasants and whose functions were limited. Especially he should guard the box where the seal was kept with the privileges that were established for the city. The urban population and that of the villages worked the land, and/or as craftsmen and tradesmen. They had few general and local markets, because each property, even the smallest, could satisfy all of the family needs. Only in the XVI Century were the cities organized according to the German pattern. The right of Magdenburg is instituted and the city is separated from the village.
The foundation of the city was useful only to separate the city from the village. The number of inhabitants was many, because Jews had a synagogue and a House of Religious Studies. This confirms our hypothesis that in year 1450 the Jewish population and a Chevra Kedisha (Burial Society) existed here. In the year 1863 after the fire of the Great Synagogue, it was discovered that it contained an inscription that was 400 years old. If this is certain, it means that the synagogue already existed in the year 1463, and the landowner, KOBRINSKY, had a document mentioning that the same synagogue burned in the year 1863. The document puts before us the evidence test that in 1463 there were a synagogue and a Jewish community here. The antiquity of 400 years of the synagogue can be real, since the towns in their beginnings didn't grow in few years and the population neither increased very quickly but rather changes happened after decades or centuries.
In year 1563 the King's inspector DIMITR SAPIEHA went on a trip and slept in three cities, Kobrin, Dobuchin, and Horodetz, and 98 villages. According to the description of this trip in the Kobriner Ekonomie, there were eleven Jewish houses in Dobuchin, and the 12th house was the synagogue. It details the names of the eleven proprietors. If we accept this quantity of families as certain for the year 1563, it would be doubtful if 113 years before it could have been a Jewish community.
Inspector SAPIEHA was interested mainly in the quantity of land that was property of Jews and the taxes that they would have to pay. For that reason it didn't interest him at all to mention the quantity of families living there. We could estimate that two or more families inhabited each home. Also, many Jewish families could have rented gentile houses. We would obtain a significant Jewish population if we double the amount of houses in which families of Jews lived. The community of Dobuchin also included the Jews of nearby villages, and of the taverns that were in the road.
There is another fact that can explain the scarce amount of Jewish housings in the year 1563. As it is known, in the year 1495 the landowner, Alexander, expelled all Jews on Lithuanian lands. It is possible that, due to this expulsion, the Jews in the community of Dobuchin did not exist until 60 years later when Jews were allowed to return to Lithuania (1503-63). From then on Jewish community of Dobuchin was not able grow again.
We don't have tests of the history of Jewish community in our city that refutes our opinion that it began approximately in the XV century.
After the landowner Iván, the dynasty of the Kobrinsky's finishes. After his death all his properties in the city of Kobrin became VATSLAV KOSTEVITSH, his brother-in-law's, property; he was a Catholic. In year 1522 KOSTEVITSH founded a Catholic church in Pruzhany (in the place where the Russian orthodox church is now), at the corner of Patsevich and Shereshev Streets. After the death of KOSTEVITSH it all became BONA, the Polish queen's property; she inaugurated the church in year 1534, and also gave big parcels of land as a gift.
According to Balinsky, then Dobuchin began to be called Pruzhany. In the documents we show later we find that Pruzhany continued being called Dobuchin. Here we present the content of the documents most characteristic where our city is mentioned.
"According to the Decree of the King dated January 23, 1554, addressed to STANISLAV POLISHEVSKY, official of the economy of Kobrin and Dobutshin, and together with the representative of Queen Bona, states to the Catholics of Dobutshin that they should pay a certain tax, which the Catholic priests would then receive instead of the tithe. They should also contribute a quantity of wheat for each field parcel (recompilation of the library Rachinsky, archives of Wilna).
A verdict in the process carried out by the priest of the church in Pruzhany, TIMOPHEY FEDOROVITSH, presented by the peasants of Pruzhany, NICOLAI ZUBOVSKY and JAN STAVETSKY and, in general other peasants, he prohibited walkers on the street going toward the Christian markets from trading in the entrances of the churches. The peasants protested because the traders bothered the prayer in the Church. They also showed orders established by the inspectors of the King that stated that they could trade only in the market of the city and not near the churches. The verdict was in favor of Russian peasants (Commission of Wilna, 1577).
On August 7 1560 a Jew of Kobrin called FAIVUSH BEN YOSEF had leased a still of beer in Kobrin and in Dobuchin. He had to pay10 kop groshen for that to Kobrin, and 20 kop groshen for that to Dobuchin."
On April 23, 1562, the trial for the issue of a tavern lease in Dobutshin to a Jew of Brest, PESACH BEN AIZIK, with the King's marshal, JAROSLAV MATVEIEVITSH, was postponed because Mr. JAROSLAV should leave to a battle according to Ordinance of the King.
On November 23, 1562 DAVID BEN SHMUEL and ABRAHAM DLUGATSH on one hand, and YOSEF BEN SHALOM for the other one, agreed to obey the verdict of the judges in the discussion about the lease of the “myth” that consisted in the payment of taxes on the merchandise brought from Kobrin, Grodno and Pruzana."
In 1563 the issues mentioned as registered in Kobriner Ekonomie, use the name Dobutshin. According to documents the city had the following streets: Market Square and Yard, Kobriner, Chvatke, Zahorie, Seltser and Derechin streets. Also the following suburbs: Derechin, Chvatke and Rohasnitza.
On February 15, 1583, a Jew of Pruzhany called MORDECHAI BEN YAAKOV, transported toward Lublin goat leathers. Another Jew called LEIB BEN NATHAN also transported toward Lublin a cart with goatskins.
On March 4 1583, a Jew of Pruzhany called ELIAHU BEN CHAIM transported merchandise of Lublin. It was steel, plums, cloths, figs, grape raisins, pepper oil and rice."
After King STEPHAN BATORY’s death in the year 1586, his wife the queen ANNA YAGELONKA, queen BONA’s daughter, as widow, receives an allowance consisting of properties in Kobrin and Pruzhany. In year 1588 she gives to the new city, a privilege, for which Pruzhany will receive MAGDEBURGH rights and is ascended to the category of city.
MAGDEBURGH rights granted the city autonomy and independence. The elected Urban Commission managed urban matters. It was headed by a Voyt (boss of the city) that was later called Mayor. The city had its own judges and it did not depend on the judge of the Starosta (District Chief). The city decided on the taxes to be paid by the citizens. It established the general fair (yarid) and the market days.
Together with this privilege there is also granted to our city a shield, and the seal of the city. The shield represented a blue snake and a boy half swallowed in its mouth on a silvered base that had a crown on it. Later the colors were changed to a brown snake on a green base.
As we mentioned before, the legend relates that a boy that was caught by a snake is represented on the shield. Certainly the shield doesn't have any relationship with the legend, on the contrary one believes the legend because of the shield. Anna Iagelonka when giving the city the privileges, instead of creating a new shield renovated the shield of her family SFORTZA of Milan, Italy because her mother Bona’s origin was Italian.
December 18, 1615, the plebeian KRISHTOV DUBOVSKY presented a complaint against the boss Mayor JAN STAVETSKY and the officials of the MAGDEBURGIE of Pruzahny. They said that the day in which their complaint about offenses against urban peasants that they were settled in the land belonging to the church should be heard, the peasants entered the Municipality, made a scandal and ended up fighting. Judges were dispersed and they didn't continue the trial (library of Ratchinshky, Wilna).
The oldest documents with the urban seal, are conserved in Pruzhany and they correspond a years 1750/1796. The stamp is on the paper, and it has on top in the center, the above-mentioned shield with an inscription in Latin.
In later years, this stamp depended on political conditions, and on different occasions it was redesigned. In year 1925 the municipality changed its old shield. This and the stamp are used until today.
 See chapter on "Privileges"