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Translator name :Natalia Kłopotek

In the 14th century, the area of current Podlasie, which earlier had been fought over by Lithuania, Poland, and Ruthenia, remained under the Lithuanian rule. The first mention of Białystok dates back to a document issued in 1426, by virtue of which Duke of Lithuania Vytautas granted the ownership of a village called Bielszczany Stok to Maciej of Tykocin. In the middle of the 15th century, the village became the property of Boyar of Samogitia Jakub Raczek Tabutowicz, who erected the first manor house in the settlement. In 1547, Białystok’s owners were the Wiesiołowski family and in 1569, after the family’s extinction, the town along with the entire Podlaskie Province was incorporated into the Crown. In 1661, it was granted to Stefan Czarniecki as a symbol of gratitude for his military services. After the hetman’s death, the property was inherited by his daughter and son-in-law – Katarzyna Aleksandra and Jan Klemens Branicki of Gryf coat of arms.

It is believed that Białystok was granted city rights by King John III Sobieski sometime before 1691, thanks to the efforts of the then city owner - Stefan Mikołaj Branicki. A town charter dating to 1749 issued by King August II, preserved to this day, is considered to be a confirmation of a town privilege granted earlier.  Although Białystok had been an important urban centre since at least the mid-17th century, it did not gain its truly urban characteristics until 1709, when it came under the ownership of Jan Klemens II Branicki, the Crown Great Hetman, Castellan of Kraków and Stanisław August Poniatowski’s counter-candidate for the Crown of the Republic of Poland. The new owner, universally known as the best “manager” among all magnates, supported the development of trade and municipal institutions, reconstructed the local palace and enclosed it with gardens (which came to be known as the “Versailles of Podlasie”). In the years 1750-1771, there was a theatre operating in the Branicki mansion.  Among the visitors of the Branicki Palace were Polish kings: August I, August III, and Stanisław August, Tsarevich Paul, as well as Emperor Joseph II and the exiled king Louis XVIII.

Following the 1753 fire which destroyed much of Białystok, Branicki reconstructed the city in accordance with a new architectural idea inspired by French and German designs. The buildings constructed at the time were: the Town Hall, a poorhouse, an armory, a clergy house, and many inns. There were also engineering schools, construction schools, and midwifery schools operating in the town. At the end of the 18th century, the so-called sub-department school was founded in the city, subordinate directly to the Vilnius University and transformed into a Prussian high school in 1802. At the time, the city welcomed an increasing number of Jewish migrants, who supported the centre’s economic development.

The period of the Prussian rule (1795 – 1807) saw the gradual deterioration of the town, which was incorporated into the province of New East Prussia. In 1802, the town was owned by the Potocki family, who decided to sell the property to the King of Prussia for a moderate price of 271,000 thalers. By virtue of the Treaty of Tilsit, the town was incorporated into the Russian Empire and became the capital of Belostok Oblast, encompassing the districts of Białystok, Bielsk, Sokółka, and Drohiczyń. At the beginning of the 19th century, after the period of Napoleonic wars, textile industry began to gain importance in Białystok. A large group of soldiers coming from Saxony settled there at the time; they specialised in weaving and spinning and set up numerous workshops in the town, often founding joint venture businesses with the local Jewish capital. At the turn of the 18th century, Białystok became the third biggest (after Moscow and Łódź) centre of textile production in this part of Europe.

When Belostok Oblast was dissolved (1842) and the town was incorporated into the Grodno Governorate, Białystok lost its status of an important administrative centre and in turn became one of the biggest industrial towns in the Polish territory. After 1831, it experienced an economic revival due to customs border being established between Congress Poland and Russia after the November Uprising. Emperor Nicholas I, aiming to hamper  the development of industry in the Kingdom of Poland, imposed high duties on products exported to the partitioning countries, especially Russia. In consequence, textile manufacturers from Łódź, who considered Russia their main outlet of production, started to move their companies as close to the border as possible; some of the most commonly selected towns were Białystok and Supraśl.

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