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James Cook


James Cook
James Cook

Spain was also interested in the North Pacific. The fear of Russian expansion persuaded the Spanish to occupy Alta California (now the state of California) and build forts at San Diego, Monterey, and other California settlements. Expeditions were sent to Alaska in 1774, 1777, 1778, and 1790 to explore and perhaps take possession of territory. However, when the Spanish confronted ships of Britain at Nootka Sound (now in British Columbia, Canada), they gave up all claims to territory north of there.

Britain, France, and the United States explored Alaska but did not attempt to acquire territory. In 1778 British Captain James Cook mapped the Alaskan coast and visited the Aleutians. Cook sailed from Alaska with sea otter pelts, which his men sold in China at high prices. Subsequent British interest in Alaska centered on trade. The French sent one expedition to Alaska under the ill-fated Jean François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse, who was lost at sea on his way home in 1788. The French Revolution in 1789 cut short France’s interest in the region.

The Russian fur companies were annoyed by the foreign competition, especially from the British, who offered the indigenous peoples better and cheaper goods than the Russians did. The Russians felt it was necessary to establish a colony. In 1784 Shelikhov built several ships and sailed to Kodiak Island. After defeating some Eskimo in a skirmish, he established the first permanent Russian settlement there on Three Saints Bay.

By 1786 Shelikhov was the leading fur merchant in the Aleutians but needed an able manager for his enterprises. He found one in Aleksandr Andreyevich Baranov, a Siberian fur merchant, who arrived on Kodiak in 1791. He soon moved the settlement from Three Saints Bay to Pavlovsk, on the northern side of the island, which had a better harbor and abundant forests to provide wood for construction. Pavlovsk is now the town of Kodiak.

Baranov faced many problems. Much of the food and almost all finished goods had to be imported, and Russian supply ships were few. Labor was a key problem throughout the Russian period. There never were enough workers for defense, shipbuilding, or the day-to-day tasks of the colony. Therefore, Natives made up much of the workforce and did most of the fur hunting, while the Russian colonists trapped, cured skins, and stood guard duty.

Baranov also built settlements in the Aleutians and southeastern Alaska. The most important of these, Novo-Arkhangel’sk (New Archangel), was built in the Alexander Archipelago in 1799. In 1802 the Tlingit attacked and destroyed the fort. Baranov returned in 1804 and, aided by a Russian warship, defeated the Tlingit. He then rebuilt Novo-Arkhangel’sk 4.8 km (3 mi) to the south, where it grew to become the city of Sitka. Encarta "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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