A short history of Russian America – the gain and loss of California and Alaska

With all the talks of various reparations, territorial claims and such, I is both interesting and educational to remember the history the the Russian America, and remind certain actors that if the legality of other past documents can be brought into question, so can the sale of Alaska and California.

Below are several articles from “Argumenty i Fakty” that take a look at that history and mull over what could have been done differently. The last article in the series is illustrative of the battle with the monuments in the “Woke-Woke West” as a manifestation of a brainless demolition of history.

Table of contents:

Kindness, “kushka” and “luzhka”. What kind of memory did the Russians leave in California


An Orthodox chapel in Fort Ross.Orthodox chapel in Fort Ross. / Frank Schulenburg / Commons.wikimedia.org

200 years ago, on the 11th of September 1812, the official opening of the Russian colony in California, founded back in March, was marked with cannon and rifle salute. It remained nameless all the preceding months and received the name only six months later. The Russian fortress “by drawing of a lot before the icon of the Saviour” was named Fort Ross.

Alexander I did not deign to reply to Napoleon

The day was also chosen for a reason. It was September the 11th according to the new style (translator note: post 1917). According to the old style it was August the 30th – the Day of the Namesake of Alexander I, Emperor of All Russia. To whom, at a glance, there was absolutely no time for a gun salute in honour of the opening of some kind of colony 15 thousand miles away from him. Rifle and cannon fire was heard at that time much closer to home — the volleys of the Battle of Borodino had barely have time to die down. And in three days Napoleon’s troops would enter Moscow. What California is there to talk about?

However, it turns out that the colony was founded very timely. It was from Moscow that Napoleon offered the Russian emperor peace — on absolutely enslaving terms. The Corsican did not get an official response — that would be too much honour for him. But on the sidelines, Alexander I had the opportunity to express everything he thinks about the proposed peace: “I’d rather lead a militia of men, grow a beard, eat only bread and retreat with battles all the way to Alaska, but I won’t sign such a peace!”

The intention is commendable. But in order to retreat to Alaska, it is necessary to have this very Alaska at your disposal. And in order to eat “only bread” at the same time, it is necessary to make sure that this very bread is in abundance in Alaska and that it is imported not from Russia, but from some closer territories. The colony in California was precisely intended to supply Russian Alaska with bread, and indeed with food in general.

With the most earnest of intentions

I must say that attempts to gain a foothold in California had been made before. And at a very high level. Alexander I’s father, Emperor Paul I, perfectly understood the importance of a colony in California for the development of Russian America. Evidence of this is the events of July 1799. On the 8th, the emperor signed a decree on the foundation of the Russian-American Company, and on the 15th, that is, exactly a week later, declared war on Spain, which claimed the whole of California. Not a single shot was fired in that war, and therefore it is perceived as a kind of curiosity, hastily hushed up after the tragic death of Paul I (translator note: that “tragic death” was an assassination, facilitated by Britain).

However, Russia clearly indicated its intent regarding California. Commander Nikolai Rezanov, the same one, who in 1806 achieved an engagement with the daughter of the commandant of San Francisco at the muzzles of the Russian cannons, wrote shortly before his death: “If in 1799 our company was in the appropriate condition when the war was declared on the Hispanic court, then it would be easy to gain a part of California until the mission of Santa Barbara, and it would be possible to keep this piece of land forever… Now there are still lands that are equally profitable and very necessary for us. If we miss them too, what will posterity say?”

In other word, the foundation of Fort Ross was an attempt not to miss out on the “necessary and profitable lands.” The management of the Russian-American company should be given their due — they did not hesitate. In 1811, a native of the city of Totma, a desperate traveller and entrepreneur Ivan Kuskov buys about 400 hectares of land from California Indians of the Pomo tribe, giving for this three blankets, three pairs of pants, two axes, three hoes and several strings of beads. The price is, of course, ridiculous, and Ivan Alexandrovich could be reproached with the “shameless deception of the unfortunate natives.” But there is one caveat. The Russian, after all, bought the land, albeit at a ridiculous price. While the Spaniards, who laid their hands on almost the whole of California, took the land as they pleased, and even threatened with weapons.

In good memory

By the way, the good memory of the Russians has been entrenched among the Californian Indians for a long time. Vasily Aksenov’s novel “Non-stop Round the Clock”, that written following a trip to the USA and published in 1976, contains a direct quote of an American linguist, professor of Slavic studies at UCLA Dean Worth: “The word “cat” has been known in California for a very long time. The Indians who lived in the San Francisco area called the cat “kushka” (Russian: “koshka”), the spoon – “luzhka” (Russian: “lozhka”), in general they had a lot of Russian words in their vocabulary…”

Which, in general, is not surprising. Compared to the Spaniards, the Russian colonists were for the Indians, if not “white and fluffy”, then very close to that. Naval officer Dmitry Zavalishin, who visited California in 1824, had the opportunity to compare the life of Indians near Fort Ross and at the Catholic mission of San Francisco, where he studied Spanish under the guidance of the head of the mission Padre Thomas. And so, according to Zavalishin’s memoirs, the Indians have always seen the Russians as their protectors: “The Indians were very fond of good—natured Russian sailors, and especially generous and affectionate officers. I know that every time I came to the mission was a holiday for them. No matter how the missionaries argued with me, I would still manage to bargain for forgiveness or mitigation of punishment for disciplinary offences.”

Kirill Khlebnikov, a scientist, entrepreneur and one of the directors of a Russian-American company, expressed himself in a higher verse. In his letter to Alexander Pushkin, which was sent three weeks before the poet’s death, Khlebnikov noted: “Brave but cruel Spaniards, with a cross in their hands, in the name of God eradicated idolatrous inhabitants. Rude and strong Russians, with a cross on their chest, saw it for a sin to destroy the wild for naught.”

Here, of course, one can refer to the fact that this information belongs to people who are interested and biased. But here is what a French merchant Auguste Bernard Du Scilly wrote when he visited Fort Ross a year after its foundation: “I found neither disorder nor rudeness here, which, alas, are not uncommon in the Spanish presidios. On the contrary — well-made roofs, beautiful houses, neatly sown and palisaded fields and a completely benevolent atmosphere.”

There was simply not enough strength

In 1836, Fort Ross had a population of 260 people. It consisted of “56 Russians, 115 Creoles, 50 Aleut and 39 baptized Indians.” Among the “Russians”, based on race, was also included a completely unexpected Englishman by blood, Nick Betre, apparently a runaway sailor from an English ship who found shelter and understanding with the Russians along with the “baptized Indians”.

Everything would be fine, but this was a drop in the Spanish Sea surrounding the land of Fort Ross. Yes, all foreigners who have ever visited the Russian colony in California were delighted. The Englishman Frederick Beechey wrote so: “Their new settlement in Ross serves as an example for the whole of California of what fruits diligence and work can bring here.” But there were simply not enough Russians. The colony provided for itself and even sent food to Alaska, as planned. But there were too few Russian colonists. Perhaps the case could have been corrected by the project of the governor of the Russian settlements in America, Alexander Baranov, who in 1817 believed: “One of the patriots sympathizing with our cause could buy at least up to 25 peasant families (translator note: it was a “serf rule”, in effect – slavery of the Russian people in Russia itself), who would then be given freedom and arable land near Fort Ross for resettlement to America.” However, this project remained just that — a project — a permission for the “adventure” was not given.

This lead to a logical finale: “Due to the clashes of the Spaniards and Americans with the Russian colonists and the lack of support of the latter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the Russian-American company had to leave its settlements in California.” In 1841 Fort Ross was sold for $30,000 to a Swiss entrepreneur Johann Zutter. Seven years later, on the lands of John Sutter — this being the name this Swiss adopted — the famous California Gold Rush broke out.

Left without Alaska and Hawaii. How Russia Failed the Pacific Strategy


Cape the Edge of the WorldKuril Islands. Shikotan Island. Cape the Edge of the World. / Galina Sanko / RIA Novosti

145 years ago, on the 7th of May 1875, a treaty was signed in St. Petersburg, which placed several powerful delayed-action mines under the Russian Empire.

The consequences of signing of this agreement are still being echoed to us. Moreover, the problems created then with a stroke of the pen are unlikely to be solved in the near foreseeable future. According to the St. Petersburg Treaty of 1875, Russia received the rights to own the entire territory of Sakhalin Island, in return giving Japan all(!) of the Kuril Islands.

If we were to select historical examples for an imaginary book “How to Fail a Successful Project”, it will not be possible to bypass by this plot. It is the one that should become the best thematic illustration. Russia, having at the beginning of the XIX century a colossal reserve in in the Pacific region, is consistently losing all its positions there over the next hundred years. And at the beginning of the XX century, it end up literally at the broken trough, having turned from almost a hegemon into a defeated country, the most insignificant player in the region. The most interesting thing is that all this was done with one’s own hands and with a smart look.

So, the playing board for the first decade and a half of the XIX century is as follows. Thanks to the efforts of the previous generations of pioneers and “Columbians of Russia”, the Aleutian Islands and Alaska belong to Russia. Thanks to the efforts of Commander Nikolai Rezanov, California is firmly included in the sphere of Russian interests: Six years after his death, Fort Ross would be established there. Through the efforts of the commanders of the ships “Yunona” and “Avos” — Nikolay Khvostov and Gavriil Davydov — all Sakhalin and all the Kuril Islands are added to Russia. The Japanese are horrified: the Russian officers were already eyeing Hokkaido, the second largest island in Japan. Thanks to the efforts of the commander of the sloop “Neva” Yuri Lisyansky, the King of Hawaii Kaumualia asks for Russian citizenship.

This is a downright fabulous starting alignment. A significant part of the Pacific Ocean becomes, in fact, the internal Russian sea. The main thing now is to hold on to the positions and at least try to take advantage of the moment. And what has been done by the government?

At best, nothing. But even these “best cases” are as good as absent. Here’s how the verdict on Hawaii begins: “The Sovereign Emperor deigns to believe that the acquisition of these islands and their voluntary admission to his patronage not only cannot bring any significant benefit to Russia…”

The Russian California, a colony centred at Fort Ross, was sold in 1841 to Johann Zutter, an American of Swiss origin. They sale was performed, referring to the economic unprofitably. In seven years, the famous California Gold Rush will begin on Zutter’s lands.

In 1867, again, Alaska and the Aleutian Islands were sold “as unnecessary”. They are sold at a bargain price, getting rid of an “unnecessary and dangerous” asset.

There was, however, some kind of game being played with Japan. But very a very strange one. On the one hand, the actions of Nikolai Khvostov and Gavriil Davydov, who declared Sakhalin and the Kuriles part of the Russian Empire, were recognized as arbitrariness. On the other hand, the development of these lands seems to be going on. On the one hand, there are beautiful words of Emperor Nicholas I, said about the fact that Gennady Nevelskoy declared Sakhalin Island to be Russian in 1850: “Where the Russian flag is raised, it should not be taken down again.” On the other hand, there is the 1855 Treaty of Shimoda, according to which Sakhalin is “jointly owned by Russia and Japan.”

Amazing inconsistency. It is completely unclear whether Sakhalin and the Kuriles are needed by the Russian Empire or it can abandon them at any time. Well, just for the reason that “it doesn’t want to be bothered with it any more.” By the way, it is also completely unclear whether Russia still wants to maintain its influence on Japan or if this region is no longer of any interest to it.

The Japanese came to the last thought after the Civil War and the Meiji Revolution. Russia did not take part in the events of 1863-1869, when Japan turned from a previously closed country into a power that embarked on the Western path of development. England, France, USA, Holland, Germany — they were all got involved in those events. These states did not hesitate to use force to make Japan come out of its self-isolation. The bombing of Kagoshima or the shelling of Shimonoseki, the capture of Yokohama, the compensation for the murder of the Europeans, extracted at gunpoint — this is how Japan was forced into the new world.

And what about Russia, Japan’s closest neighbour, which has a common border with it?

Nothing again. At all. Russia did not even demand compensation for the Russian subjects killed in Japan, and there were a considerable number of such.

This had the most deplorable consequences. Here is how the Russian sailor, traveller and publicist Alexander Maksimov speaks about the result in a series of essays “Our tasks in the Pacific Ocean”: “Russia did not take part in this grand demonstration. Because of this, she lost political influence in Japan, since the coup took place without her, which significantly diminished the political importance of Russia as a great European power in the eyes of the Japanese.”

It became clear to Japan that, firstly, Russia is not as strong as it seems. And secondly, that its interests in the Pacific are amorphous. And, therefore, you can bend Russian diplomats to your will. Which was demonstrated in St. Petersburg. Under pressure from the Japanese side, the tsarist government made absolutely unthinkable concessions. For Sakhalin, which was already in fact controlled by Russia, the tsarist government gave the Russian Kuriles, thereby depriving itself of the possibility of open access to the Pacific Ocean from The Sea of Okhotsk.

The direct consequences of this act became clear in 1905, when during the Russian-Japanese war our entire Far East was blocked by Japan. We are still dealing with the long-term consequences of this.

“To hold on to this patch of land.” Russians in America were a bone in the throat of the world powers


An Indian fights a cossack“Indians fight Cossacks” – the theme of the “Russian threat” for the American continent was popular in the first Hollywood westerns of the twentieth century. batu1961.wordpress.com

280 years ago, on the 20th of August 1741, the participants of the Second Kamchatka Expedition led by Vitus Bering and Alexey Chirikov discovered Alaska.

In any case, this date was considered official for a long time. Subsequently, the priority of the expedition of Afanasy Shestakov and Dmitry Pavlutsky was approved – the boat “Saint Gabriel” moored to the shores of Alaska in 1732. It happened on the 21st of August, so the date is about the same. There is, however, evidence that Russian settlements in Alaska existed as early as the XVII and even in the XVI centuries.

Commercial backwaters

However, even if this fragmentary information finds ironclad confirmation, the overall situation will not change. We firmly know that Alaska was once a Russian possession – by right of discovery and development. We know no less firmly that in 1867 it was sold. But what was going on there during these 120-odd years, if you count from the time of Bering’s expedition?

Thanks to the famous rock opera “Juna” and “Avos” by Alexey Rybnikov, to the words of Andrei Voznesensky, a nobleman Nikolai Rezanov became associated with Alaska in our minds. The beginning of the XIX century, romanticism, the Russian commander, the Spanish beauty Conchita, the tear-jerking aria “You’ll wake me up at dawn” … At the centre of it is, of course, love and death. Alaska is just an unobtrusive background.

In short, Russian America is perceived as a kind of backwater. The periphery of a huge empire, a merchant project related to hunting sea animals and trade. Nothing interesting, especially when you consider what large-scale events unfolded during these 120 years in Europe.

But if you look closely, the Russian presence in America will suddenly find itself at the very centre of the political life of the world. At the centre of the diplomatic and espionage passions, intrigues, conspiracies and the underhanded struggle of giant empires.

The Russians are coming!

The second Kamchatka expedition had a clear goal: “Efforts should be made to continue scouting the land from Anadyrsk and bring the gentiles living there into Russian citizenship.” It is believed that Alaska was implied with that “continue”. In fact, something different was meant: “Between the famous Kamchatka and the American coasts to go to the Hispanic possessions of the province of the Mexicans.”

It is unknown at what stage the leak occurred, but a year before Bering was appointed head of the expedition, the Spanish representative at the St. Petersburg court submits a note to the English resident “About the intention of the Russian government to establish a settlement in that part of America, which, according to the Madrid court, belongs to the Spanish Catholic majesty.” As a result, the Russian Vice-Chancellor Andrei Osterman “makes an informal presentation in a friendly and courteous tone so that no threat would appear.” Bering’s plans were hastily corrected.

But Russians don’t just give up. In the 14 years since the discovery of Bering, Russia has equipped 22 expeditions to the American shores. As a matter of fact, unofficially – the expeditions were kind of commercial. And in 1755, the Spanish Jesuit educator Andres Marcos Burriel publicly declared for the first time about the “Russian threat” to the American shores of the Pacific Ocean.

How seriously this was taken in Madrid is evidenced by the royal instruction of 1761 to the Marquis Almodovar, the envoy to St. Petersburg: As the Russians have been more successful in their voyages near the shores of America than other countries, you are instructed to establish the boundaries of the discoveries made by the Russians while sailing to California, and also, if possible, to hinder the further progress of the Russians.”

The Russian presence in America has become a headache. Every Spanish envoy in St. Petersburg received the same instructions.

Bogged down in the European wars

The greatest success was accompanied by the Spanish Count Lasi, who in 1772 received a detailed description of the Russian expeditions from “a certain person who had access to the imperial archives.” According to his calculations, it turned out that there were already too many Russians in America, and even the smallest settlement on the islands of the Kodiak archipelago had 4 thousand hunters. Having overestimated the number of Russians in America by about 100 times, Count Lasi provoked a real hysteria. The Spaniards are frantically colonizing California. The Mission and the city of San Francisco were founded in 1776. Spanish ships make long-distance raids to the shores of Alaska. In 1779 they get to the 61st degrees of the North latitude and put a cross in Prince William Bay, proclaiming the whole of Alaska as the property of the Spanish king.

The answer could be the expedition of Captain Grigory Mulovsky. In 1787, he was appointed commander of the future Pacific Squadron and received the following instructions: “The coats of arms and signs of other powers found North of the 55th parallel are ordered to be torn down, levelled and destroyed. Under favourable circumstances, extend the Empire’s possessions to the 43rd parallel, and if possible, to the South of the 33rd parallel.” In fact, Mulovsky was supposed to capture California, where the Spanish colonists had just begun to settle in.

Perhaps he would have succeeded. But then began a very untimely war with Turkey, and a year later – with Sweden. The project was curtailed, and Captain Mulovsky himself died in a battle with the Swedes in 1789.

Russia became stuck in European wars for a long time. But Russian industrialists actively mastered America, disregarding any claims of any royal majesties. In February 1790, the traveller and merchant Grigory Shelikhov reported to the Irkutsk governor: “Along the main American land from Kodiak Island to California, far beyond the Cape of St. Elijah, in many places, by the means and on the payroll of the Company, according to my instructions, imperial signs were taken and left, being the coats of arms and boards with the inscription: land belonging to Russia…”

A forfeited victory

In a few years, relations between Russia and Spain escalated in earnest. Emperor Paul I paid special attention to the development of America. And he tried to solve the Spanish question in his own way. He accepted the Order of Malta under his protection, became the Grand Master, thus claiming ownership of the island of Malta, and demanded recognition of the new title from European courts. The Spanish King Charles IV refused. In response, Paul made two original moves. On July the 8th 1799, he signed a decree establishing the Russian-American company, and on the 15th of July he declared war on Spain.

Russia and Spain had never been at war with each other. For the very reason that they had no points of contact. But under Paul such a point appeared. The Pacific coast of America. The world community was seriously worried. They talked about a joint Russian-English invasion of California, which almost led to the evacuation of San Francisco…

Not a single shot was fired in that war, and therefore it is perceived as a curiosity, curtailed after the death of Paul. However, this is what Commander Nikolai Rezanov – the one who in 1806 achieved an engagement with the daughter of the commandant of San Francisco at the Russian cannon points – said about the opportunities that opened up at that time: “If in 1799, when war was declared on the Hispanic court, our company was in the appropriate shape, then it would be easy to use a part of California up to the Santa Barbara mission and it would be possible to keep this patch of land forever… If the government had previously given a thought to this part of the world, if it respected it as it should have, then California would never be a Hispanic belonging. Now there are still lands that are equally profitable and very necessary for us. If we miss them too, what will posterity say?”

The posterity can only regret that Commander Rezanov’s death overtook him in the following year, in 1807. California has forever sailed away from Russia. Alaska followed suit right behind her.

The “Correct” Wrangel. Polar Explorer Couldn’t Bear the Sale of Alaska


F.P.WrangelFyodor Petrovich Wrangel is a navigator who circumnavigated the Earth three times. Commons.wikimedia.org

225 years ago, in January 1797, a son was born to an artillery major, who was named Ferdinand Friedrich Georg Ludwig.

Since that occurred in Pskov, the boy later happened to have a different, Russified name — Fyodor Petrovich. But neither the surname nor the title were changed — Baron Wrangel.

Those for whom there is only one Wrangel — a white general and a “black baron” of the Civil War — will have to change their minds. The “Black Baron” came from the Swedish branch of the Wrangels, known for the fact that 22 of its representatives were killed in the Battle of Poltava in 1709. Note that they did not fight for Russia, but on the side of Charles XII.

So the laurels of the Russian Wrangel, who brought true glory and honour to his homeland, should justly go to another, whose ancestors came from Denmark. To the famous navigator, who circumnavigated the Earth three times, a polar explorer, a fierce opponent of the sale of Alaska — Fyodor Petrovich von Wrangel.

A cartoon character?

In this series of heralded and pretentious characteristics, one more is somehow always lost, relating not so much to history as to the contemporary times. The fact is that Fyodor Wrangel is one of two Russian navigators whose names are firmly tied to the cult domestic cartoons. The first is, of course, Admiral Ivan Fedorovich Kruzenshtern, about whom speaks the cat Matroskin from the cartoon “Winter in Prostokvashino”. And the second one is precisely Fyodor Petrovich. Here it is necessary to stretch the imagination — his surname in its “pure form” does not appear anywhere. But the character bearing it is not just mentioned, but is the principal character. Moreover, this surname also sounds in the title of a multi—part cartoon…

If anyone remembered the “Adventures of Captain Wrungel”, congratulations. This is exactly him. The sailor and writer Andrey Nekrasov, who is the author of the book on which the animated series of the same name is based, aid directly: “After a short search, a simple association emerged: Baron Munchausen, Baron Wrangel (the famous Russian sailor, after whom a large island in the Eastern Arctic is named) and, as a derivative, Captain Wrungel.”

The most curious thing is that these two navigators, who got into the golden fund of the Russian animation, knew each other in real life. Ivan Kruzenshtern was even in some way the godfather of Wrangel. Little Ferdinand was orphaned early and brought up in the house of his uncle Wilhelm. It was to him that Kruzenshtern came to visit, having recently returned from the first Russian circumnavigation.

“Twists and turns of speech”

Stories about Kamchatka and America, Cape Horn and the Pacific Ocean… In general, the fate of little Wrangel was decided. He could only go to the Naval Cadet Corps.

The biographers wrote sparingly about his stay in the corps: “He crossed the threshold of this educational institution without speaking a word in Russian, and came out of it as a Russified officer so much that he spoke Russian much better and more freely than German, knowing perfectly all the twists and turns of Russian speech.”

One can guess what “twists and turns of Russian speech” young Wrangel learned in the corps from his own memories, which are far from blissful: “For pranks, the most common punishment was rods, hits of 100 or more; in companies, and sometimes in classes, cadets and midshipmen sang sailor songs. In a word, the upbringing was Spartan, the learning was abysmal… ”

A runaway midshipman?

But the tempering was excellent. Most likely, it was in the corps that Wrangel learned to truly achieve his goals, and not always in a legal way. He was the first of 99 graduates of 1815 who were promoted to midshipmen — this honour was awarded only to cadets who were the best in their studies, behaviour and obedience. He was assigned to the frigate “Avtroil”, which sailed through the Gulf of Finland — such boredom. But Wrangel finds out in a roundabout way that they are recruiting for a new Russian circumnavigation. But what a misfortune — the head of the expedition, the commander of the sloop “Kamchatka” Vasily Golovnin, only takes with him those officers with whom he is personally acquainted.

And then the midshipman decides to go the way of deception — he goes ashore from the frigate and submits a report of illness. The Admiral orders to find Wrangel and bring him on board. At this point the midshipman is already committing a crime — he runs away on a coaster to St. Petersburg. And he makes his way straight to Golovnin: “I beg you to take me, at least as a sailor!”

Courage can take cities — Golovnin gives the midshipman a position on the sloop. And rightly so. Wrangel proved himself to be an irreplaceable person and an outstanding officer in the circumnavigation of the world. A curious detail. In his reports and writings, Golovnin never called his officers by name.


There are exactly two exceptions. Feopempt Lutkovsky and Fyodor Wrangel. Everything is clear about the first one — he was the brother of Golovnin’s wife. But Wrangel was awarded this honour solely on merit — for perseverance, determination, firmness of character, the ability to achieve the impossible. In general, for the features expressed in the family motto of the Wrangel coat of arms: “Frangas, non flectes”. That is, “Break, but do not bend”.

Holy truth. He did not bend when it took several years to spend on Kolyma and Chukotka to finalise Russia’s priority in opening and developing the Northern Sea Route. The result of the expedition, which lasted from 1820 to 1824 in inhumanly difficult conditions, was Wrangel’s literary work “Journey through Northern Siberia and the Arctic Sea”. It was opened by a harsh phrase: “The vast expanse of the globe, located between the White Sea and the Bering Strait, is discovered and described by the Russians. All attempts by navigators of other nations to penetrate the Arctic Sea from Europe to China or from the Great Ocean to the Atlantic are limited to the West by the Kara Sea, and to the East by the meridian of Cape Severny. Insurmountable obstacles that stopped foreigners from further sailing were overcome by our sailors…”
“Indians fight Cossacks” – the theme of the “Russian threat” for the American continent was popular in the first Hollywood westerns of the twentieth century.
“To hold this flap.” Russians in America were a bone in the throat of the world powers
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The work of his life

But he still had to break. The big blow was the moment when he, being the governor of the Russian America, managed to convince Mexico to cede the fertile lands in California, South of Fort Ross, to Russia. Then Nicholas I did not want to deal with the “rebellious” Mexican Republic.

But the stubborn and adventurous Wrangel was completely broken by the government’s intention to sell all Russian possessions in America. His whole life’s work was collapsing before his eyes. When he was given reasons that with the sale of Alaska, the border would be reduced and it would be easier to ensure its security, he replied ironically: “In this regard, you will not even regret selling Kamchatka, while leasing to the Americans the Amur Region with the new ports and Sakhalin…” When the sale of Alaska became a fait accompli, he wrote: “So, the Russian flag is no longer flying on the American mainland, and the field of my intensive long-term activity has passed into the wrong hands. Will Russia’s power and prosperity win in the future? It’s not for me to answer.”

His health began to deteriorate sharply. Three years after the sale of Alaska, Wrangel died of a heart attack.

“For the future generations.” Will the Russian ruler of Alaska be saved by ransom?


A.BaranovMonument to Alexander Baranov. A frame from youtube.com

The monument to the first ruler of the settlements of the Russian America, Alexander Baranov, located in the American city of Sitka, can be bought out. This intention was announced by the representatives of the Art Russe Foundation.

“This monument represents an extremely important period in the history of relations between Russia and the United States”

“We became aware of the intention in the near future to demolish the monument to Alexander Baranov, installed in Sitka, Alaska. We firmly believe in the need to protect this monument for historical purposes and preserve it for future generations,” – the managing director of the foundation, Rena Lavery, said in a statement – “This monument represents an extremely important period in the history of relations between Russia and the United States at the beginning of the XIX century, when Alexander Baranov served as governor of the Russian settlements in America. Consequently The Art Russe Foundation is interested in acquiring this monument and preserving it as an important part of our collection of the historical heritage of Russia and is ready for appropriate negotiations with authorized representatives of Alaska,” the foundation said in a letter addressed to “all interested parties.”

The Art Russe Foundation was established in 2012 with the aim of preserving the cultural heritage of Russia and the Soviet Union. Currently, Art Russe has one of the largest private collections of works of fine art and sculpture of the XIX-XX centuries, which is essentially a historical catalogue of art and life in Russia and the Soviet Union during this period.

A group of residents of the American city of Sitka in Alaska proposed to demolish the monument to Alexander Baranov, who was the ruler of the Russian settlements in America at the turn of the XVIII-XIX centuries.

pic.twitter.com/jvEVZgGM3n — BzdyszekDzapadłowski (@BzdDzapadlowski) June 26, 2020

A statue with a meaning

The monument to Baranov, erected in Sitka (formerly Novo-Arkhangelsk) in 1989, was threatened due to the campaign that swept across the United States to demolish monuments to figures of the past involved in racism and slavery.

As the manager of the city of Sitka John Leach (Alaska) told TASS, a group of local activists is seeking to move the statue of Baranov from the city centre.

“There is a group of people in the city who, as I would say, are holding peaceful protests against this statue due to the meaning it has. In a sense, the performances of this group are on a par with everything else that is happening in the United States right now,” the manager noted.

Activists claim that the monument to the Russian ruler may offend the feelings of representatives of the indigenous peoples of Alaska.

At the same time, there are voices in defence of the monument. So far, no final decision has been made on this issue.

The mayor of Sitka, Gary Paxton, in an interview with TASS, suggested that the situation could be resolved not by demolishing the monument, but by installing a new monument: “I believe that the following will happen: we will begin a process as a result of which a respectful attitude will be shown to this statue, and at the same time we will erect a statue of a suitable representative of the Tlingit people of the same period. We will do this in a civilized manner and with respect, through an open process, we will decide how and where both statues will be placed.”

Conflict over the sea otters

Baranov managed the settlements of the Russian America for 28 years — from 1790 to 1818. It was a period of active and successful development. However the current opponents of the Russian leader are focused on the confrontation of Baranov and Russian settlers with the Tlingit Indians. The reason for the confrontation was the fishing of sea otters — they were actively hunted by both Indians and Russians. The Tlingit people thought that the Russians were occupying their lands and started a war. There is a version that the captain of the American vessel Globe, William Cunningham, acted as a provocateur — he threatened the Indians with a complete cessation of trade if they did not get rid of the Russian presence on their land.

The armed confrontation in 1802-1805 claimed the lives of dozens of Russian settlers, hundreds of their Aleut allies, as well as hundreds of Tlingit.

It is worth noting, however, that there was no mass extermination of Indians in Alaska under the Russians, unlike in the main territory of the United States. Moreover, the Tlingit ancestral settlement continued to exist right next to Novo-Arkhangelsk after the armistice.

In general, Baranov was definitely not a bloodthirsty conqueror, ready to commit any crimes for the sake of personal enrichment.

However, modern American activists do not have time to understand the intricacies of the events of more than 200 years ago. Due to the absence of racists and slaveholders in the history of Alaska, the ruler of the Russian settlements was chosen for the role of the “historical enemy”.

The head of the Art Russe Foundation, businessman Andrey Filatov, said: “For me, this is primarily the preservation of the memory of statesmen who influenced the history of Russia, the development of its economy and statehood. Alexander Andreevich Baranov is not just the first head of the Russian settlements in North America, an incredibly gifted and energetic entrepreneur, he participated in the creation of new trade relations of Russia with China and America, his participation in the trade and economic development of the country is huge.”

Russian America Stamp 1991
Photo: Commons.wikimedia.org

“We should be grateful to Roosevelt for the support of Russia”

The foundation also expressed its readiness to buy a monument to the 26th US President Theodore Roosevelt, located in front of the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

The local authorities approved the decision to dismantle the monument. The reason was the alleged inequality of peoples embedded in the sculpture — an Indian and an African-American walk next to Roosevelt, who is riding on the horseback.

“We should be grateful to Roosevelt for the support of Russia in the difficult losing war with Japan… It was America under the presidency of Roosevelt that mediated the peace negotiations of 1905, and the Portsmouth Peace Treaty signed in the United States was concluded on such favourable terms for Russia, that Witte (Sergey Witte — head of government, chief negotiator from Russia — editor note) returned home a winner,” Filatov said.

Sentenced to transfer. Americans will get rid of the Russian ruler of Alaska


Monument to A.Baranov Monument to Alexander Baranov. / Anna Vernaya / RIA Novosti

The monument to the first chief ruler of Russian settlements in Alaska, Alexander Baranov, installed in the American city of Sitka, will still be dismantled. This decision was made by the local authorities.

“I don’t care what the Russians think”

According to TASS, the city council of Sitka voted to move the monument from the Central Park to the local museum. At the same time, the resolution stipulates that the removal should take place “as soon as possible.” Six members of the council voted for this decision, one against it. In connection with the adoption of the decision, the initiative which provided for the resolution of the question of the fate of the monument by a vote of the city’s residents in the fall of 2020 was withdrawn from discussion.

During the discussion of the issue, one of the members of the city council, Tor Christensen, noted with irritation that recently calls and emails with a request to keep the monument in its former place had been coming from various places, including Russia.

“To be honest, I don’t care what the Russians think. I don’t think the Russians are friends right now,” TASS quoted him as saying.

It is stated that the statue of Baranov will be presented in the museum’s exposition in a “historical context”. How this will look in practice is unknown.

The founder of Novo-Arkhangelsk

Alexander Andreevich Baranov, a native of Kargopol, came from a merchant family. Until 1780, he was engaged in commercial and industrial operations in Kargopol and beyond: in the Olonets province, Moscow, St. Petersburg.

Having moved to Irkutsk in 1780, Baranov purchased two factories, including a glass factory, organized several fishing expeditions to north-east Asia and Alaska. In 1787 he was elected an honorary member of the Imperial Free Economic Society.

In 1790, industrialist Grigory Shelikhov offered Baranov to head the management of the North-eastern Company, which in 1799 was reorganized into the Russian-American company. So Alexander Baranov became the main ruler of Russian settlements in America. In 1799, he founded Fort Novo-Arkhangelsk on Sitka Island, where the administrative centre of the Russian America was moved. The modern American city of Sitka is Novo-Arkhangelsk, founded by Baranov.

The Russian America was rapidly developing during the 28 years that Baranov was in office. New settlements appeared under him, a shipyard was created, a copper smelter, coal mining was organized. Thanks to Baranov’s energy and administrative abilities, the trade relations of Russian settlements in North America with California, Hawaii and China have significantly expanded. In 1812, by order of Baranov, a Russian trading post Fort Ross was founded in California by adviser Ivan Kuskov, an employee of the commercial Company.

The monument to Baranov by sculptor Joan Bugbee-Jackson was donated to the municipality in 1989 by one of the local families and installed in the park in front of the Harrigan Centennial Hall Community Center, on the ocean shore.

War and peace

At the end of June 2020, it became known that a group of activists from the city of Sitka was seeking to move the monument.

“There is a group of people in the city who, as I would say, are holding peaceful protests against this statue due to the meaning it has. In a sense, the performances of this group are on a par with everything else that is happening in the United States right now,” Sitka manager John Leach told TASS.

Baranov is blamed for the conflict with the Tlingit Indians, which resulted in a three-year war in 1802-1805. The reason for the confrontation was the fishing of sea otters — they were actively hunted by both the Indians and the Russians.

A full-scale conflict began after a detachment of 600 Indians led by Chief Katlian attacked the Mikhailovsky fortress on Sitka Island in June 1802. The attack occurred at a time when most of the inhabitants of the fortress were fishing. After the capture of the fortress, the returning fishermen were attacked. In total, as a result of this action of the Indians, more than 20 Russians and more than 200 of their Aleutian allies died. The Russians managed to recapture Sitka only in 1804. The fortifications of the Mikhailovskaya Fortress, where the Indians settled, had to be taken during a real assault. The losses on both sides amounted to several dozen people, but in the end the fortress was taken. On the 20th of August 1805 the Eyak warriors of the Tlahaik-Tekuedi clan led by Tanukh and Lushvak and their allies from among the Tlingit clan Kuashkquan burned the village of Yakutat, killing 14 Russian settlers and a large number of Aleuts. Following this, an attempt was made to capture the Konstantinovskaya fortress, where the Indians intended to sneak under the pretence of trade. However, their plans were revealed, and the detachment was defeated by the Russian allies from among the Indians.

The conflict, for all its ferocity, was nothing compared to what was happening on the territory of the United States. The Russian settlers did not carry out any mass extermination and corralling of Indians into the reservation. Moreover, the Tlingit ancestral settlement continued to be located directly next to Novo-Arkhangelsk even after the end of the war.

“Supervision of the enslavement”

In the presentation of the authors of the current resolution, everything looked different. In their opinion, Baranov “directly supervised the enslavement of the Tlingit and Aleut peoples.” The authors of the resolution do not explain how enslavement was carried out outside the existence of the institution of slavery. But it is reported that the statue of Baranov “causes pain to indigenous peoples to this day,” and also “sends the wrong signal to residents and guests of Sitka.”

Baranov was a man of his time, which, in general, was not distinguished by humanism and philanthropy. But even against the backdrop of the founding fathers of the United States, the first ruler of the Russian settlements of Alaska is simply a tender man, a real Mahatma Gandhi.

Ultimately, this issue is solely the business of the Americans — they have erected a monument to Baranov, and they are moving it. But I can’t get rid of the feeling that it’s not at all about the founder of Sitka, but the desire of the local activists to follow the fashion — if monuments to Confederate figures, Columbus and other racists are being felled somewhere, then you definitely need to find your “racist” in Alaska. And if Alexander Baranov’s sins do not reach such levels, they just need to be inflated.

The only question is what will remain of the American history after getting rid of all the “undesirables” within the framework of the modern understanding of the historical figures.