(svobodnye khlebopashtsy or vol’nye khlebopashtsy), in 19th-century Russia, former serfs emancipated under the terms of Alexander I’s ukase of Feb. 20, 1803. By the terms of the ukase, pomeshchiki (gentry landowners) could emancipate both individual serfs and entire villages, provided they gave them allotments of land. In return for their freedom and the land they were allotted, the peasants had to make redemption payments to the pomeshchik or else perform various other duties. If they did not do so, they could be returned to the pomeshchik.
Few pomeshchiki made use of the ukase. During the entire reign of Alexander I, only 47,000 males, or about 0.5 percent of the total serf population, were given the status of free cultivators. Freed household serfs and individual peasants were considered free cultivators, provided they acquired allotments of land. The legal status of free cultivators was much like that of the state peasants; in 1848 the two groups were merged in a single legal category.