Photographic book

Alaska in the 18th and 19th centuries


John Sutter
John Sutter

Shelikhov died in 1795. His son-in-law and successor, Nikolay Petrovich Rezanov, obtained in 1799 a charter from the Russian ruler, Tsar Paul I, that granted his company, the Russian-American Company, a monopoly of the American fur trade. It empowered the company to take possession of all territories already occupied by Russians north of 55° north latitude and to establish new settlements not only in that area but also to the south, provided this did not cause conflict with other powers.

Baranov established a southern settlement in 1812, near Bodega Bay in California, calling it Selenie Ross (now known as Fort Ross). The Russians remained there nearly 30 years, but Fort Ross never fulfilled their expectation of supplying Alaska with food. In 1841 the company sold Fort Ross to John Sutter, a German entrepreneur who became important in California history: It was at his mill in Coloma that gold was found in 1848, starting the California Gold Rush.

The directors of the company retired Baranov in 1818. He sailed for Russia, but died at sea on the way. His retirement came in the last years of the company’s charter and ushered in a new phase in the development of Russian America. Russian naval officers succeeded him. When the charter was renewed in 1821, it stipulated that the chief managers, or governors as they came to be called, had to be naval officers.

The navy improved the colony’s administration, considerably enlarging the bureaucracy. But unlike Baranov, the naval officers had little interest in business. Also, the Russian navy was unable to stem the intrusion of British and Americans into Alaska. An attempt by the tsar to forbid all foreign vessels within 160 km (100 mi) of Russian-claimed lands was met with protests from the British and United States governments.

The dispute with the United States was settled by a convention of 1824 setting 54°40’ north latitude as the southern boundary of Russian territory. Russia agreed with Britain in 1825 that Russian claims would extend eastward to the 141st meridian, southward to the 56th parallel, and southward from there along a narrow strip of land (the Panhandle) on the Pacific coast. Russia gave both powers the right to trade along the Alaska coast for ten years. That ended Russian expansion in America.

After skirmishes in southeastern Alaska between Russians and the Hudson’s Bay Company, Russia in 1839 leased to Hudson’s Bay the southeastern mainland south of Cape Spencer for ten years for a nominal rent. In return, Hudson’s Bay promised to supply Alaska and Kamchatka with food and manufactured goods. The lease was renewed in 1849. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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