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Ancestral Cooking Forum

Search Continues Jim Hercules' Link to Guava Jelly

Thank you to all who have posted information on the very illusive but fascinating Jim Hercules described as an "Ethiopian guard" to Tsar Nicholas' court. I first learned of him in Massie's book, "Nicholas and Alexandra." Massie quotes Anna Vyrubova as his source.

My objective in posting the information about Jim Hercules on the AfriGeneas Cooking Forum was to illustrate an historical link to food…guava jelly. Studying the origins of food in the Americas is fascinating research. I recently received a pamphlet from the Gibbes Museum in Charleston, South Carolina that traces rice growing to the Americas. Entitled “The Journey of African Rice to the Americas.” its map includes” glaberrima” not only in South Carolina, but Virginia, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guyana, Surinam and French Guyana.

I appreciate everyone’s response. I like the researchers on AfriGeneas, rely on Primary Sources. Some of the information that was kindly posted here is based on internet postings and forum message boards.

Hercules is said to have been American and on his return from vacationing there would bring back treats for the Tsar's children. Guava jelly was mentioned as one such treat. This leads me to believe that he was from the lower South (if he was American) or from the West Indies.

An earlier post of mine (2001) is in the Afrigeneas archives' mailing list. It's been a few years since I've focused researching Jim Hercules. Historian Henry Wiencek, a frequent contributor to Afrigeneas research, posted a response to my query (May 21, 2001) and added an interesting footnote (and perfect for the Afrigeneas Cooking Forum) about a Virginian named Hercules. He wrote:

"You may want to get in touch with the author, Robert Massie, who can
probably be contacted through the Author's Guild website or his publisher. Massie was formerly president of the Author's Guild (he might still be) and he might have some leads for further research. The name "Hercules" was also in use in Virginia. George Washington's cook, who escaped, was named Hercules."

Also in 2001, I wrote to Professor Lemelin at Bucknell asking him about Hercules. I suggested that there might be a link to guava jelly and Hercules' origins. I wrote:

"...Jim Hercules was described as an "Ethiopian guard" to Tsar Nicholas' court. I first learned of him in Massie's book, "Nicholas and Alexandra." Massie quotes Anna Vyrubova as his source…”

Since my 2001 letter to Professor Lemelin, I’ve found additional information on Hercules.

According to ship manifests, Hercules, an Afro-Caribbean, is the only Jim (James) Hercules found in passenger records that traveled before and during the Russian Revolution.
Jim Hercules is not listed in the American passport database, which again points to a possible Caribbean origin. (This means that as an Afro-Caribbean he would be classified as a British citizen).

I haven't read Mr. King's book, so it's difficult to comment on his research. I do know that from my research that there was more than one man of color named "Jim/James Hercules". But again, according to primary research documents, they point to Hercules’ nativity as the West Indies.

Since guava is one of the "keys" to researching Hercules, my assumption is that Hercules was from an Afro-Caribbean background. I define Afro-Caribbean to also include people in the Gulf Coast Region of North America. In this discussion of doesn't preclude a larger area of the Lower South.

I’ve read some of the postings on the Alexander Palace Forum. With all due respect to the fascinating research and interest (of some) of the posters, their understanding of the history and experience of Africans in the Americas (which includes the Caribbean and South America) might cloud their assumptions.

Some comments include a sentence that seems to have been repeated throughout the internet; on sites/forums that at first look have nothing to do with the Russia and the Imperial family: “There is even a picture of Mr. Hercules taken in 1891”

Another poster to this forum kindly shared the following information:

“There is mention of Jim Hercules on page 126 of a book I am reading now by Greg King, "The Court of the Last Tsar". There is even a picture of Mr. Hercules taken in 1891. Mr. King says in his book that Jim Hercules was born to former slaves in the American South in 1867. After the Civil War he moved to New York City and became a famous boxer. He toured Europe, settled in London, and took British citizenship. Alexander III's wife invited him to Russia, and Alexander III offered him a position as an Abyssinian guard. There is more; please check Mr. King's book in the library (I got it at”

Thank you for the possible leads mentioned above. My questions about the above are this:

I would be interested in finding out the primary resources that refer to Jim Hercules’ birth, since I can’t find him or his parents in the US Census records. Please note that The American Civil War ended in 1865…two years before the birth of Jim Hercules. There was a Hercules family in New York. The census records state that they were born in the West Indies and Mexico. None were born in 1867. The James F Hercules in the census was born in the West Indies. Both of the census cover the years when Hercules would have been at the Court of the Tsar.

His profession as a boxer also fascinates me. I have access to newspaper archives such as the African American newspapers: The Chicago Defender, The New York Amsterdam News, The New York Age, etc. General market newspapers such as the New York Times, The Times of London and Canadian and Jamaican (“The Gleaner”) newspapers. Both Black and General Market papers, which reported on black people and international news. Please note that none of them mention Jim Hercules as connected to the Russian Court and certainly not as a famous boxer.

America’s legendary black boxer Jack Johnson did visit Russia.

The search for Jim Hercules has been very fruitful in a global sense.
There were Blacks living in Russia, prior to, during, and after the Russian Revolution. There were even Blacks who served in the US Colored Troops who were born in Russia.

According to the Oxford African American Center:

“From the eighteenth century, when Peter the Great first recruited black servants, until the post-Soviet present, black people have been rare in the lands that once comprised the Russian empire and, later, the Soviet Union. Except for tiny black enclaves in the Caucasus, blacks have always been outsiders in this part of the world. As early as 1858, the celebrated black Shakespearean actor Ira Aldridge beguiled Russian audiences with the power of his performances, while his presence sparked heated discussions on racial issues in the Russian press. In the decades preceding the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, a number of American blacks went to Russia, where they pursued successful careers as businessmen and diplomats.”
(Russia and the Former Soviet Union
By: Roanne Edwards
Source: Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition)


One of my favorite Civil War historians was Thomas Chester Morris, the African American war correspondent for the Philadelphia Press. He visited Russia and dined with the Imperial Family.

Jamaican born Mary Seacole was a nurse in the Crimean War.

Nancy Gardner Prince, born in 1799 wrote about her experience at the Russian court. She married a servant Nero, who served Tsar Alexander I and Nicholas I.

Richard Theodore Greener, scholar and diplomat was the father of legendary Belle da Costa Greene. In 1898 Greener became the first U.S. consul to Vladivostok, Russia.

Lastly, my book by Massie “Nicholas and Alexandra” (1967) doesn’t mention where Jim Hercules came from. I reviewed Massie’s footnote. It also mentions as a source Ian Verres, author and art historian of (Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna)

At the beginning of the Russian Revolution Jim Hercules would have been 50 years old.

I would be very pleased to read primary sources on Jim Hercules. In the meantime, my interest in the history of people of African descent Russia continues.


K Wyer Lane

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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