Research of History of the First Russian Settlements in Alaska

The discovery of Alaska and its first settlers.

Levin Egor, 9 “B” class, school 1693.

Table of Contents

1. The First Settlers…………………………………………………………4

2. The Russian-American Company…………………………………… 5

3. Sitka………………………………………………………………………….6

4. Russian Women in Alaska……………………………………………..7

5. Year 1800-1867…………………………………………………………..7

6. Religion……………………………………………………………………..9

7. Russian Immigrants……………………………………………………..9

8. People who are important for Alaska’s History ……………..10-13

9. Alaska Purchase………………………………………………………….14

10. The Department of Alaska…………………………………………..14

11. Alaska becomes a state………………………………………………15

12. Conclusion………………………………………………………………..16

13. Bibliography……………………………………………………………..17

Project aims: to show the connection of Russian history with the history of America; to investigate various information about the first Russian settlements in Alaska; to prove the significance of Russian explorers for America.

Hypothesis: we had a hypothesis that Russians in Alaska connected the history of two countries.

Problems: to analyze existing versions and work out our own version on the given question; to study different topics concerning this question: Russian women and their role, Aleut population and Russian influence, Russian names in Alaska history, the department of Alaska, Russian immigrants.

Methods: systematization and the analysis of the methodological, popular and scientific literature, Internet sites; translation of articles and other materials into English language.

Result: We proved that the history of Alaska closely connected with Russia and Russians greatly influenced its role in America’s history. We created the methodical learner’s guide and video presentation about the history of the first Russian settlements in Alaska.

Numerous indigenous people occupied Alaska for thousands of years before the arrival of European people to the area.

The Tlingit people developed a matriarchal society in what is today Southeast Alaska, along with parts of British Columbia and the Yukon. Also in Southeast were the Haida, now well known for their unique arts, and the Tsimshian people, whose population were decimated by a smallpox epidemic in the 1860s. The Aleutian Islands are still home to the Aleut people’s seafaring society, although they were among the first native Alaskans to be exploited by Russians. Western and Southwestern Alaska are home to the Yup’ik, while their cousins the Alutiiq lived in what is now Southcentral Alaska. The Gwich’in people of the northern Interior region are primarily known today for their dependence on the caribou within the much-contested Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The North Slope and Little Diomede Island are occupied by the widespread Inuit people.

The First Settlers

The first written accounts indicate that the first Europeans to reach Alaska came from Russia.

In 1648 Semyon Dezhnev sailed from the mouth of the Kolyma River through the Arctic Ocean and around the eastern tip of Asia to the Anadyr River. One legend holds that some of his boats were carried off course and were carried to Alaska. There is no evidence, however, of such a settlement or settlements. His discovery was never forwarded to the central government, leaving open the question of whether or not Siberia was connected to North America. In 1725, Tsar Peter I of Russia called for another expedition.

As a part of the 1733-1743 second Kamchatka expedition, the St. Peter, captained by Dane Vitus Bering, and the St. Paul, captained by Russian Alexei Chirikov, set sail from Russia at the Kamchatkan port of Petropavlovsk in June 1741. They were soon separated, but each continued sailing east.

On July 15, Chirikov sighted land, probably the west side of Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. He sent a group of men ashore in a longboat, making them the first Europeans to land on the northwestern coast of North America.

On roughly July 16, Bering and the crew of St. Peter sighted Mount Saint Elias on the Alaskan mainland; they turned westward toward Russia soon afterward. Meanwhile, Chirikov and the St. Paul headed back to Russia in October with news of the land they had found.

In November, however, Bering’s ship was wrecked on Bering Island. There, Bering fell ill and died, and the ship was dashed to pieces by high winds. The stranded crew wintered on the island, then the survivors built a boat from the wreckage and set sail for Russia in August 1742. Bering’s crew reached the shore of Kamchatka in 1742, carrying word of the expedition. The sea otter pelts they brought, soon judged to be the finest fur in the world, would spark Russian settlements in Alaska.

The first Russian colony in Alaska was founded in 1784 by Grigory Shelikhov with his wife Natalia and 100 russian fur traders established a settlement at Three Saints Bay, near the present-day Kodiak Island. With the arrival of the Russian fur traders, many Aleuts were killed by the newcomers or overworked in the hunting of fur seals. Many other Aleuts died of diseases brought by the Russians.

The Russians built a village on the bay and a dozen smaller settlements and outposts in the surrounding area. The settlement consisted of several homes, a business office, a general store, and a blacksmith’s forge with a carpenter’s shop.

The Russians were the first Europeans to live in Alaska. They were there mostly because of the great supply of furs. The first trappers and traders came to Alaska in the late 1500s. Alaska was the Russian frontier of the day. It was a common saying among the Russians was «God is in heaven and the Czar is far away». They used this to justify just about anything. They demanded a heavy tribute of furs from all of the natives they encountered. They often took hostages to enforce the tribute.

The Russian-American Company

The Russian-American Company was formed in 1799 for the purpose of hunting sea otters for their fur. The peak population of the Russian colonies was about 4,000,000, although almost all of these were Native Alaskans.

The Russian-American Company was a Russian trading monopoly that established colonies in North America (primarily in California and Alaska) during the 19th century. The Northeastern Company, headed by the merchants Grigory I. Shelikov and Ivan I. Golikov, was organized in 1781 to establish colonies on the North American coast and carry on the fur trade. After Shelikov’s death (1795), the group merged with three others to form the United American Company. To confront foreign activity more effectively, the Russian tsar Paul I approved the formation of a monopoly, and all other companies were absorbed into United American. With the support of Shelikov’s son-in-law, the nobleman Nikolay P. Rezanov, the organization was granted a 20-year charter in 1799 and was renamed the Russian-American Company. The tsar gave them exclusive trading rights in North America north of latitude 55° and made them responsible for the administration of Russian settlements there.

Kodiak served as Alaska’s capital until 1806, when the Russian-American Company, organized in 1799 under charter from the emperor Paul I, moved its headquarters to Sitka, where there was an abundance of sea otters. The chief manager of the company’s operations (essentially the governor of the Russian colonies), Aleksandr Baranov, was an aggressive administrator. His first effort to establish a settlement at Old Harbor near Sitka was destroyed by the Tlingit. His second attempt, in 1804 at Novo-Arkhangelsk (“New Archangel,” now Sitka), was successful, but not without a struggle that resulted in the battle of Sitka, the only major armed conflict between Native Alaskans and Europeans. Yet compared to the previous Russian fur traders, the Russian-American Company maintained relatively good relations with the Aleuts and the native peoples of the southeast, as well as with the Yupik of the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim river valleys. It was not uncommon for Aleuts to marry Russians and convert to the Russian Orthodox faith, and quite a few Aleuts—some with Russian surnames—worked for the Russian-American Company.

During this time, British and American merchants were rivals of the company. A period of bitter competition among fur traders was resolved in 1824 when Russia concluded separate treaties with the United States and Great Britain that established trade boundaries and commercial regulations. The Russian-American Company continued to govern Alaska until the region’s purchase by the United States in 1867.

These small beginnings of development would later see tens and hundreds of thousands of inhabitants enjoying the beauties and resources of the great land of Alaska. Subsequently, Russian explorers and settlers continued to establish trading posts in mainland Alaska, on the Aleutian Islands, Hawaii, and Northern California.


Sitka, city and borough, historically the most notable Alaskan settlement, southeastern Alaska, U.S.

Situated 95 miles (150 km) southwest of Juneau, on the western coast of Baranof Island in the Alexander Archipelago, it is the only city in southeastern Alaska that lies on the Pacific Ocean. The area was originally inhabited by Tlingit Indians. It was explored by a Russian expedition in 1741, and Old Sitka, or Fort St. Michael, was established in July 1799 by Aleksandr Baranov (Baranof), the first Russian governor of Alaska. The fort was destroyed by the Tlingit in 1802. The present city was founded as Novo Arkhangelsk (“New Archangel”) in 1804, when Baranov moved the headquarters of the Russian-American Company (a Russian trading company) there from Kodiak. After 1867 the settlement was commonly known as Sitka (derived from a Tlingit phrase meaning “on the outside of Shee (Baranof Island)”).

Russian Women in Alaska

Very few Russian women came to Alaska. Those who did met great hardships. Most of the women came to Alaska to help their husbands govern the new Alaskan settlements. Some came because they were teachers. And a few of them were instrumental in our history without ever leaving their country.

Catherine the Great sent Gregorii Shelikhov to Alaska to control the fur trade. His company, the Shelikhov Trading Company and its successor, the Russian-American Company controlled the fur industry. Shelikhov hired Alexander Baranof. Baranof served the company for 30 years. He became something of a legend. He was the kind of person that commanded respect, awe, and fear. Baranof eventually came to be an administrator over the colonies. His daughter, Anna, had an important role in Alaska’s history.

With the Russians came Russian Catholics. They began to teach the natives their religion. There is still a dominance of the Catholic religion among Alaskan natives today. But upon the arrival of Margaretha Etholen, wife of the governor of Russian America, the Lutheran church was introduced to the natives; who up to that point had been taught nothing but Catholic religion.

1800 to 1867

Alexandr Baranov, «Lord of Alaska,» not only played an active role in the Russian–American Company, but he was also the first governor of Russian America.

By 1804, Alexandr Baranov, now manager of the Russian–American Company, had consolidated the company’s hold on fur trade activities in the Americas following his victory over the local Tlingit clan at the Battle of Sitka. Despite these efforts, the Russians never fully colonized Alaska. For the most part they clung to the coast and shunned the interior.

From 1812 to 1841 Fort Ross, California was active. From 1814 to 1817 Russian Fort Elizabeth was operating in Hawaii. By the 1830s, the Russian monopoly on trade was weakening. The Hudson’s Bay Company set up posts on the southern edge of Russian America in 1839 under terms of a lease resulting from an earlier attempt in 1833 to block the establishment of such posts. The Hudson’s Bay Company began siphoning off trade.

The Americans were also becoming a force. Baranov began to depend heavily on American supply ships, since they came more frequently than Russian ones. In addition, Americans could sell furs to the Canton market, which was closed to the Russians. The downside was that American hunters and trappers encroached on territory Russians considered theirs. The Russo-American Treaty of 1824 recognized exclusive Russian rights to the fur trade above Latitude 54°, 40′ North, with the American rights and claims restricted to below that line, as was also the context of the Treaty of Saint Petersburg, a parallel agreement with the British in 1825. The agreements soon went by the wayside, however, and with the retirement of Alexandr Baranov in 1818, the Russian hold on Alaska was further weakened.

When the Russian-American Company’s charter was renewed in 1821, it stipulated that the chief managers from then on be naval officers. Most naval officers did not have any experience in the fur trade, so the company suffered. The second charter also tried to cut off all contact with foreigners, especially the competitive Americans, but this strategy backfired since the Russian colony had become used to relying on American supply ships, and America had become a valued customer for furs. Eventually the Russian–American Company entered into an agreement with the Hudson’s Bay Company, which gave the British rights to sail through Russian territory.

Although the mid–19th century were not a good time for Russians in Alaska, conditions improved for the coastal Alaska Natives who had survived contact, primarily the Aleuts, Koniags, and Tlingits. The Tlingits were never conquered and continued to wage war on the Russians into the 1850s. The Aleuts, many of whom had been removed from their home islands and sent as far south as California to hunt sea otter for Russians, continued to decline in population during the 1840s. The naval officers of the Russian–American Company established schools and hospitals for the Aleuts and gave them jobs. Russian Orthodox clergy moved into the Aleutian Islands. The Aleut population began to increase.

In 1799, Czar Paul I granted sole rights for trade in America to the Russian American Company, and six years later the company began to trade furs in China. The Hudson’s Bay Company, however, tried to gain interest in Alaska, eventually making a deal with Russia to lease part of the Alaskan mainland. By 1857, the Russian American Company had been surpassed in the fur trade by Hudson’s Bay Company. The Tzar was ready to revoke trading rights by this point since the Russian American Company was having great financial difficulties, but the company managed to hang on for a few more years through coal and whaling, both of which soon failed. The company tried trading ice, in which Kad’yak was engaged at the time of its sinking. The ice trade was successful, but it was not enough to keep the company alive.

The company expired, and in 1867, the United States paid Russia $7.2 million for Alaska, officially ending Russia’s reign over the area. The purchase, made by Secretary of State William H. Seward, was ridiculed at the time and dubbed «Seward’s Folly», though the critics of the purchase were soon embarrassed when Alaska quickly proved to be a land teeming with natural resources.

The selling of Alaska to the United States did not erase the history of Russian commercial interest in Alaska, and the wreck of Kad’yak is probably just one small part of underwater remains that the Russians have left behind. Kad’yak is the only Russian American Company shipwreck that has certainly been identified, though remains near St. Michael on the Yukon Delta may prove to be those of another Russian American ship, called Politkofsky. Fifty-two Russian wrecks in the North Pacific have also been documented, and of those, roughly 49 have been identified tentatively based on their locations.


The largest religious organization in the state is the Roman Catholic Church, which had 54,359 and 102 congregations in 2000. Southern Baptists constituted the largest Protestant denomination, with 22,959 adherents and 68 congregations.

Many Aleuts were converted to the Russian Orthodox religion during the 18th century, and small Russian Orthodox congregations are still active on the Aleutian Islands, in Kodiak and southeastern Alaska, and along the Yukon River. The Orthodox Church in America—Territorial Dioceses had 20,000 adherents and 46 congregations in 2000.

Other major groups were the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), 19,019 adherents; Assembly of God, 11,638; Independent, Non-Charismatic Churches, 7,600; and Episcopalians, 6,693. There were about 3,525 Jews and 1,381 Muslims. About 65.7% of the population were not counted as members of any religious organization.

Ferdinand Petrovich Wrangel

Ferdinant Petrovich Wrangel was a Russian explorer who completed the mapping of the northeastern coast of Siberia (1820–24). Wrangel Island off the Siberian coast was named in his honour.

He was governor of the Russian settlements in America (1829–35), director of the Russian American Company (1840–49), and naval minister (1855–57), retiring in 1864. A member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, he helped found the Russian Geographical Society.

Grigory Shelikhov

Grigory Ivanovich Shelekhov (1747–July 20-31, 1795.) was a Russian seafarer and merchant born in Rylsk.

Shelekhov organized commercial trips of the merchant ships to the Kuril Islands and the Aleutian Islands starting from 1775. In 1783–1786, he led an expedition to the shores of Russian America, during which they founded the first permanent Russian settlements in North America. Shelekhov’s voyage was done under the auspices of the so-called Shelekhov-Golikov company, the other owner of which was Ivan Larionovich Golikov.

Ivan Golikov

Ivan Larionovich Golikov — a Kursk merchant of the 1st guild. In 1777, together with G.I.Shelikhov, he had started to equip and send harvesting ships to the Pacific Ocean. In common with the nephew M.S.Golikovym and G.I.Shelihovym has based in 1781 trading-trade company (50 % of an authorized capital stock)

As a mayor took part in grand welcome of empress Catherine II when she 1787 has visited on June, 13th Kursk, coming back from the travel to Crimea. Among other gifts, Golikov brings to it a card of «Shelikhova of wandering». The empress has shown interest to merchants-seafarers and partners receive the official invitation to the Court yard. After this success, in 1788 Golikov and Grigory Shelihov go to St.-Petersburg with the application on an imperial name to petition for privileges and the state loan for the company.

Together with Shelikhov’s family, Golikov owned Northeast American, Northern and Kuril companies. On July 18th, 1797 he has united the capitals with the company of Irkutsk merchants of Mylnikov, and thus appeared the new «American Golikov, Shelikhov and Mylnikov Company» a bit later. Golikov was one of the founders and the co-owner of the Connected American company and the largest shareholder of the Russian-American company.

Nikolai Rezanov

Nikolay Petrovich Rezanov (1764 – 1807) was a Russian nobleman and statesman who promoted the project of Russian colonization of Alaska and California and also one of the ten barons of Russia.

He had just succeeded in persuading Catherine II to sign his charter when she died, and he was obliged to start over with the ill-balanced and intractable Emperor Paul. For a time the outlook was hopeless, but Rezanov’s skill, subtlety and address prevailed, and shortly before the assassination of Paul he obtained his signature to the momentous instrument which granted the Russian-American Company dominion over the Pacific Northwest coast of North America, from latitude 55 degrees northward; and over the chain of islands extending from Kamchatka northward to Alaska and southward to Japan, for a term of twenty years.

After spending the winter of 1805–06 in Sitka (Novo-Arkhangelsk, or New Archangel), Alaska, centre of the company’s colonial administration, he sailed for the Spanish settlements in California to trade furs for foodstuffs and to arrange a treaty for the regular provisioning of the company’s colonies from New Spain. Reaching San Francisco in April 1806, he was told that Spanish colonies were forbidden by law to enter into foreign trade. Rezanov, however, gained the support of the Spanish clergy and became affianced to the San Francisco commandante’s daughter, said to be the most beautiful girl in California. Rezanov returned to Sitka with a shipload of food, and with the promise of the Spanish governor, Don José Argüello, to forward a copy of the proposed treaty to Spain.

Alexander Baranov

Alexander Baranov, «Lord of Alaska,» not only played an active role in the Russian–American Company, but he was also the first governor of Russian America.

Alexander Andreyevich Baranov was born in 1746 in Kargopol, in St. Petersburg Governorate of the Russian Empire.

Alexander ran away from home at the age of fifteen. He became a successful merchant in Irkutsk, Siberia. He was lured to Russian America, by the growing Maritime Fur Trade there. He became a successful trader there and established and managed trading posts in the Kodiak Island region.

From 1799 to 1818, through Nikolai Rezanov’s intervention, he became chief manager for the influential Russian-American Company. He managed all of the company’s interests in Russian America, including the Aleutian and Kuril Islands. Activity in the region flourished as trading in sea otters and seals boomed. Baranov convinced native hunters to expand their range to include the coasts of California. Baranov also advocated more educational opportunities for the Alaska Native Americans. Under his leadership, schools were created and frontier communities became less isolated. During Baranov’s rule, Russian Orthodox missionaries operated in Russian America.

Aleksey Chirikov

Aleksey Ilich Chirikov was an explorer, second in command on the Arctic expeditions of Vitus Bering, whose discovery of southern Alaska supported Russian claims to northwestern America as far south as 55°.

Chirikov joined Bering’s first exploratory mission in the far northern Pacific in midsummer of 1727. Chirikov again was second in command on the second Bering expedition (1733–43), whose goal was to map Siberia’s Arctic coast and explore routes to America. It was 1741 before the organization and dispatch of coastal parties were complete and the American quest could sail from Okhotsk. Chirikov commanded the St. Paul and Bering the St. Peter, supported by smaller vessels with supplies and scientist-observers. A storm separated Bering and Chirikov on June 20, and Chirikov lingered in the area several days before heading east alone. Bering, meanwhile, moved on to the north and west, and to his death.

The following spring Chirikov commanded an expedition in search of Bering, passing not far from the present Bering Island in the Komandor Islands, where, unknown to the searchers, the St. Peter lay wrecked and Bering dead. Weather forced a return to port, and, before Chirikov could set out again, survivors from the wrecked St. Peter had straggled back to the mainland in supply vessels and the effort was canceled.

This was Chirikov’s last expedition. He later returned to St. Petersburg, where he took part in the mapping of the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Purchase of Alaska

The Alaska Purchase was the acquisition of the Alaska territory by the United States from Russia in the year 1867 by a treaty ratified by the Senate.

Russia had offered to sell its North American territory to the United States on several occasions, but the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 led to the postponement of discussions. In December 1866, Following the Union’s victory in the Civil War, the Tsar then instructed the Russian ambassador to the United States, Eduard de Stoeckl, to re-enter into negotiations with the United States Secretary of State William H. Seward in the beginning of March 1867. The negotiations concluded after an all-night session with the signing of the treaty at 4 a.m. on March 30, 1867, with the purchase price set at $7.2 million,

The cost and logistical difficulties of supplying the territory had made it an economic liability to the Russians, who were additionally struggling with debt accrued during the disastrous Crimean War (1853–56). Though Russian interactions with the native Aleut people had been largely peaceful, the Tlingit tribes were more restive, leading to sporadic episodes of violence and the interruption of provisions. Political forces in Russia increasingly looked instead toward Asian expansion and—in light of the American philosophy of Manifest Destiny and increased competition from the British Hudson’s Bay Company, which leased a southern portion of the territory—viewed the eventual control of the territory by the United States as inevitable and perhaps beneficial.

Following the Union’s victory in the Civil War, the Tsar then instructed the Russian ambassador to the United States, Eduard de Stoeckl, to re-enter into negotiations with Seward in the beginning of March 1867. The negotiations concluded after an all-night session with the signing of the treaty at 4 a.m. on March 30, 1867, with the purchase price set at $7.2 million

The Department of Alaska

After Alaska was purchased, the United States created a “Department of Alaska” which had control of the territory. This Department lasted for a little over ten years, from 1867 to 1884. During this time, very little was done for the development of Alaska. In 1884, the United States reorganized the region. The Department of Alaska was changed to the District of Alaska.

Shortly after this change took place, gold was discovered close to Alaska. Specifically, gold was discovered in the Yukon Territory, in Canada. Numerous individuals traveled from mainland United States to Alaska with the hope of finding gold. In 1899, gold was found in Alaska, in Nome, Alaska. The influx of individuals to Alaska also meant that towns had to be built, and the region was further developed. In 1902, the construction of a railroad in Alaska began. The railroad connected Seward to Fairbanks.

Alaska becomes a state.

In 1912, Congress passed the Second Organic Act. This yet again reorganized Alaska, and changed the name to the Territory of Alaska. During this time, the first discussion of Alaska’s statehood began. It was brought to the attention of Congress by James Wickersham, but it failed to pass. The population of Alaska at that time was not interested in becoming a state.

However, after World War II, the question of Alaskan statehood was brought before Congress yet again. The invasion of two areas of Alaska by the Japanese highlighted the importance of the territory for the United States. This, combined with the discovery of oil in Alaska, influenced Congress to promote the idea that Alaska become a state.

On July 7, 1958, Dwight Eisenhower signed the Alaskan Statehood Act. So, officially when did Alaska become a state? On January 3, 1959 Alaska was officially admitted to the United States.


I believe that this project has allowed me to prove the importance of the first Russian settlers for assimilation of Alaska and for the beginning of America’s influence on Alaska.

Various Russian explorers paved the way to Alaska for American traders, immigrants and etc.

Even though most of Alaska’s inhabitants were Russians and the native tribes, in the end it had been sold to the USA by Tsar Alexander II due to strategical and political reasons. Most Russian people moved off the island after that, but in the end Russia will forever be known as the first nation to settle on Alaska and explore it.


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10. Internet websites:,,