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Lives of The First Russian Settlers in Alaska

Russian colonization of the New World began after the Second Kamchatka Expedition of Vitus I. Bering-A.I. Chirikov (1741–2), which discovered the southeast coast of Alaska and the Aleutian and Commander Islands. Enterprising Siberian merchants and fur traders quickly set out to the lands discovered east of Kamchatka with an abundance of valuable furs. Moving along the Aleutian Island chain, they reached the southwestern extremity of Alaska by the beginning of the 1760s. The principal settlements of the period were on Unalaska Island. The oldest was Iliuliuk (also called Unalaska), settled in 1760-1775, with a customs house and an Orthodox church.  The first permanent Russian settlements in America were founded between 1784 and 1786 by the well-known merchant, Grigorii I. Shelikhov, at Three Saints Bay, and later at Kodiak, on Kodiak Island, located on the Kenai Peninsula. Although earlier shore stations had been occupied in Alaska, Three Saints was the first actual colony. (Grigorii brought his wife Natalya to Kodiak.  She was the first European woman in Russian America.)

At Three Saints Bay, its settlers sheltered in huts. The Russians there also built a storehouse and two bathhouses. In the fort at Kodiak, which the Russians called Saint Paul, individual log cabins for officials, barracks for workers, and storehouses were built. There the Russians used pieces of seal gut and also bits of mica and talc to cover the windows in their dwellings and other buildings. Brick ovens were used to heat the buildings. Water was obtained from nearby streams or community wells.

At this time that Shelikhov conceived plans for the development of America as a means of restricting the British fur trade.  He wanted to establish a monopoly of the fur trade from the Bering Strait in the north to California in the south. In 1787, having just returned from his expedition to the shores of the New World, Shelikhov petitioned the authorities of Irkutsk Province for his company, “based on its choice, to give it 50 men from among the exiles located in the provincial city of Irkutsk.” He suggested that these Siberian exiles would help him successfully develop shipping and trade in the Pacific Ocean. However, even with of the support for their projects from the Irkutsk governor and people in the central government, in 1788 Empress Catherine II refused to grant Shelikhov and his partner, I.L. Golikov, the trade privileges and advantages of the treasury they had requested.

In spite of this setback, Shelikhov continued the business of colonization in Russian America, persisting with further requests to the Siberian authorities for assistance. By 1788 a number of Russian settlements had been established by Shelikhov and others over a large region, including the mainland areas around Cook Inlet.  In 1790 he received approval from the Irkutsk governor-general I. A. Pil', to obtain the right to purchase serfs for his company, “for purchasing people as sailors and for various establishments and enterprises of our business our own serfs are necessary.”  However, no consent from the throne was given.

In 1793, Shelikhov and Pil' renewed the petition and this time Empress Catherine approved the request.  On 31 December 1793, Pil' was directed by imperial decree to provide Shelikhov's company with twenty craftsmen and ten families of farmers.

Settlers provided to the company of Shelikhov-Golikov were not serfs in the full sense of the word. It was not possible to sell, mortgage, or give them away; they were owned by the company only for the duration of its existence. Understanding this, Shelikhov tried to strengthen his influence over the settlers by using administrative coercion and debt bondage - enslaving them financially.

The fate and status of the settlers were predetermined in significant measure by an “authorization” of Pil' of 11 May 1794. In it, he gave Shelikhov detailed instruction for the organization of a special settlement in America where the new colonists had to reside. The chief purpose of the future colony was the creation there of a self-sustaining, multi-faceted economy. To further strengthen it, Pil' recommended to Shelikhov to teach Alaska Natives to do agricultural work on a voluntary basis. Intermarriage of the settlers with the local residents was also be encouraged, “in order to have mutual relations between them.” For work in the shipyard at the new settlement, Pil' suggested attracting settlers with pay at 36 rubles per year. He, however, foresaw problems with discipline that might arise, and therefore advised Shelikhov to adopt special measures “for observing peace and tranquility in that area; in order that the mischief and insolence that might sometime occur from these artisans and farmers sent to you there in that place be prevented and suppressed.” In 1786, Shelikhov returned to Russia and in 1790 dispatched Aleksandr A. Baranov to manage his affairs and fur enterprise in Alaska.  Baranov established the Russian American Company and in 1799 was granted a monopoly over Alaska.

Shelikhov sent the settlers to Okhotsk, from where they set sail to America.on the ship Tri Ierarkha. The ship left the Okhotsk port on 13 August 1794 Shelikov laid out his plans in relation to the settlers in a letter of 9 August 1794 to the manager of his Northeast-American Company, A.A. Baranov. In it, Shelikhov wrote of the necessity to establish a fort called St. Ekaterina and a settlement by the name of Slavorossiia on the mainland shore south of Cape St. Elias, and to assign to them the craftsmen and farmers, who would fall under the authority of the 30 Russian workers, while one hundred loyal Aleuts or Kad'yaktsi (Koniags, indigenous people from Kodiak Island) were to help and defend them against the local natives at the beginning. Slaves and hostages taken from the local Indians, could also provide substantial aid to the settlers, in Shelikhov's opinion. “Try to marry settlers that are unmarried now to good [native] American girls,” Shelikhov wrote to Baranov, “for which purpose I sent to you various things as gifts for their brides and future wives, needed for clothing, which should be given for the wedding of each who marries.” Shelikhov named I.G. Polomoshnyi the head of the future colony—the latter had participated with him in the conquest of Kodiak—and then returned in 1792 to Russia. For the development of agriculture in the future colony Shelikhov sent Baranov a multitude of seeds of various plants as well as livestock. In actively attracting craftsmen as settlers, he evidently planned to build a shipyard there for the construction of ships.

The fate of the greater part of the settlers sent by Shelikhov to the New World ended dismally. At the end of September 1794, the galley Tri Ierarkha, which carried settlers, arrived in Pavlov Harbor on Kodiak Island - the main settlement of Shelikhov's company in America. En route the ship called at Unalaska Island, where it left the sick elderly settler Dmitrii Molochkov, who died on this Aleutian Island. This was the first, but far from the last, loss among the American settlers.  The first permanent Russian settlement in Alaska at Three Saints Bay, sheltered its inhabitants in mud-walled huts. The Russians there also built a storehouse and two bathhouses. In the fort at Kodiak, which the Russians called Saint Paul, individual log cabins for officials, barracks for workers, and storehouses were built. There the Russians used pieces of seal gut and also bits of mica and talc to cover the windows in their dwellings and other buildings. Brick ovens were used to heat the buildings. Water was obtained from nearby streams or community wells.

Life in the settlements was particularly difficult for the Russians - the different climate, the food, the heavy work, and the severe conditions of life led to discontent among the settlers.  The settlers always had trouble getting the food they wanted and needed. Part of the trouble came because they wanted food they were used to eating. In particular this meant bread, which was a major part of most workers' diets in Russia. Another reason for the Russians' difficulty in finding the food they wanted was that they did not have the hunting skills Alaska's Natives had developed over the centuries. Although the Russians in Alaska tried to grow the grain crops necessary to make bread, they were not successful. As a result, flour or the grain to make it from had to be imported to Alaska. Sometimes the grain came directly from Russia. Sometimes ships on their way to Alaska from Russia stopped in California to buy wheat. The company built mills at Sitka and other places to grind the grain into flour. Even at Sitka, bread was never plentiful. In 1805, for instance, there was only one pound of bread each day for 200 people. The Russians, Creoles, and Natives at Sitka that year ate eagles, crows, and cuttlefish. Tea washed down whatever the Russians ate. Usually the Russian workers lived on fish. They ate salted fish for four months of each year and fresh fish for the rest of the year. Although they ate whatever fish were caught and edible, cod, halibut, and salmon were the most commonly-eaten fish.  Until the practice was forbidden, Russians in Alaska bought food supplies from passing American ships. After 1837 they also bought food from Hudson's Bay Company farms in what is now Oregon. They began to secretly barter for furs from the natives and refused to work for Shelikhov's company or to obey Polomoshnyi, the bookkeeper/official chief of settlers placed over them, and even threatened to kill him.

Though chief manager of the company’s operations (essentially the governor of the Russian colonies) Baranov tried in vain to persuade them to be calm, the settlers conspired to arm themselves and seize a ship, on which they intended to sail to their comrades in the Kuril Islands. A letter from Shelikhov's widow (he died in the summer of 1795), N.A. Shelikhova, to Count P.A. Zubov of 22 November 1795, remarks how the settlers

… formed a conspiracy in which, with guns given to them for security from savages (Alaska natives), when a ship moved to the shore, they were going to seize it and set off to the Kuril Islands, and one among them was selected as the navigator. They already had three guns with supplies; but the head of the company discovered their conspiracy; the three main culprits, according to the directives in the local Commander-in-Chief's instructions, were punished with flogging and sent to separate artels (workstations) and in this way their undertaking weakened.

One of them, Savelii Stolbtsov, died in the Karluk artel in 1796.

Following the floggings the settlers were quiet. In winter and spring of 1795, in accordance with the wishes of the leadership, seven of them were married to baptized Koniags. Later still, three more settlers married indigenous Alaskans; some women already had children from previous marriages or relationships.

In July 1799 Baranov was granted a monopoly over Alaska, returned on the brig Oryol and established the settlement of Arkhangelsk. It was destroyed by Tlingits in 1802 but rebuilt nearby in 1804 and given the name Novo-Arkhangelsk (New Archangel). It soon become the primary settlement and colonial capital of Russian America. After the Alaska Purchase, it was renamed Sitka, the first capital of Alaska Territory.

An expedition for the establishment of a new colony set off in summer of 1795 in two ships: the primary part of the settlers, led by G.I. Polomoshnyi, left Kodiak on the galley Tri Ierarkha under the command of navigator G.L. Pribylov; two other settlers (one of them with his wife) were on the small, one-mast sailing-rowing ship Ol'ga, commanded by Baranov himself, who had decided to personally investigate the American coast. Arriving in Yakutat on 8 August, the manager did not find Pribylov there with Polomoshnyi. Nevertheless, he made a solemn procession (according to a scenario that had been laid out in one of Shelikhov's letters) with the Russian flag and coat of arms, the twenty workers who were with him marching with rifles and falconets, conducting military exercises. Under a three-gun salute from rifles and cannons, the surrounding territories were declared possessions of the Russian Empire. This was announced to the local Tlingit, who after long negotiations agreed to the construction of a colony on their lands. The chief of the Yakutat people accepted the copper Russian coat of arms and gave one of his sons as an amanat hostage. In his place, Baranov left Yakutat to spend the winter among the Tlingit, with five workers, all the settlers he had brought with him, three Koniag, and a female Aleut interpreter under the leadership of a non-commissioned officer of the Corps of Mining Engineers, Dmitrii Tarkhanov.

Having returned to Kodiak, the settlers spent the winter there “with many squabbles between them and Mr. Polomoshnyi,” according to Baranov. During the course of the severe winter of 1795–6, three of them died on Kodiak. In the spring of 1796, the manager placed three families of settlers on the Kenai Peninsula between Fort Aleksandrovskii, which belonged to the Shelikhov company and Fort Nikolaevskii, occupied by workers of Lebedev-Lastochkin's company. The “Shelikhov” settlers quickly found a common language with the “Lebedev people” and they did almost nothing the whole year, living through trade with the last of the goods provided to them by Polomoshnyi. Only in the second year did a few turnips and radishes grow in the gardens laid out by the settlers, but the ears of cereal plants perished from cold and fog. Finally, the “Lebedev people,” evidently having ceased obtaining goods from the settlers, decided to oust them from their place. In Baranov's words, the workers of the Lebedev company “created various obstacles for acquisitions and attempts at cultivation of cereals and growing vegetables, hindering in all kinds of disgraceful ways, crushed plants and did nasty things, finally, even cutting off and taking the creek, which was there under them.” In addition, the “Lebedev people” beat the “Shelikhov” workers sent to the settlers for assistance and did not allow them use of a fish trap set in the stream by the small community of settlers during salmon spawning. Therefore, wrote Baranov, “there was nothing more to do than to become distanced from the fray and take thence entirely the settlement without proper trial in growing.” After liquidation of the settlement on the Kenai Peninsula, one of the settlers led the party and spent the winter on Kodiak, while another died at Fort Aleksandrovskii.

In the spring of 1796, Baranov decided to fulfill the will of G.I. Shelikhov and established a fort and settlement at Yakutat. Almost simultaneously, the galley Tri Ierarkha was again sent to Yakutat with settlers for establishing a new colony there. The party and ship reached Yakutat at the end of June. The Russians who had been left there the previous year under the leadership of Dmitrii Tarkhanov had safely survived the winter among the Indians, though they often had gone hungry.

After about two months into the construction in Yakutat, on 2 September 1796, Baranov sent the galley Tri Ierarkha under the command of V.G. Medvednikov with a cargo of 500 sea otter hides to Kodiak. The galley did not reach Pavlov Harbor: on 10 September, it wrecked in Kamishak Bay in Cook Inlet, where it had been carried by a strong storm. With the shipwreck perished a Russian promyshlennik, the settler Yakov Volchenkov as well as his wife Avdot'ya and a female Tlingit interpreter. This was a common kind of loss for the settlers, and by no means the last time.

On the day of Volchenkov's shipwreck, Baranov set off in his vessel Ol'ga for Kodiak, leaving 21 settlers with wives and children to stay the winter in Yakutat under the leadership of Polomoshnyi, accompanied by 28 workers, who were led by S.F. Larionov, as well as several Koniag for hunting and work. The winter of 1796–7 turned into a true tragedy for them: many became ill from scurvy due to insufficient fresh food, as a result of which 13 workers had died by the spring, as well as seven men, one woman, and two children among the other settlers. The situation was complicated by constant conflicts between Polomoshnyi and the promyshlennik chief Larionov.

In the summer of 1797, Baranov ordered twenty two-man baidarkas with 40 Koniag, from the flotilla who had returned from hunting in the straits of the Alexander Archipelago, to reinforce the colony in Yakutat. The manager wanted to personally visit Yakutat that year but was not able to because a visit to Cook Inlet and Fort Konstantinovskii, abandoned in this year by the “Lebedev people,” took priority. It was quickly occupied by Baranov's people. Subsequently, the aged settler Andrei Budantsov with his wife Ulita and child were transferred here from the small settlement on the Kenai Peninsula. Baranov intended to send him on to the other settlers in Yakutat but doubted that the sick old man could make the trip. The manager wrote in 1798:

Some settlers, of whom now there remain fifteen men, besides Budintsov [sic], who is so weak and old as to hardly be able to make it there [to Yakutat] and now lies in Chugach [at Fort Konstantinovskii], having become sick; even among those fourteen who are left in Yakutat from last year, 1797, many are sick and decrepit; the year scarcely will be without decline; what can such a small number of the remaining settlers do in a place surrounded by barbaric peoples, who live all over mainland America.

In general, the colony at Yakutat did not provide any benefit for the company, but on the contrary, required constant expense for maintenance. Far from becoming the agricultural granary of Russian America, the colony itself needed food, which was shipped there from Kodiak. This is not surprising: at 60° north latitude only a few vegetables (potatoes, radishes, beets, turnips, and carrots) could ripen. Therefore, the basic food of the settlers was fish, for the preparation of which several dozen natives who had participated in the baidarka fleet that hunted sea otters in the straits of the Alexander Archipelago were left in Yakutat to spend the winter.

Since especially many workers perished in the tragic winter of 1796–7, Baranov was forced to dispatch four more for duty at garrison service there at the Yakutat fort. By that time, the manager saw few prospects for the Novorossiisk colony. The only reason for preserving it was the possibility of keeping furs there and to provide a safe resting place for native party members on the annual trip to the straits of the Alexander Archipelago. Baranov had little hope that trade with the northern Tlingit in Yakutat could develop. Meanwhile, Russian colonists had little to offer the Indians, considering the constant deficit of European wares in the Russian colonies at that time.

Only in June 1799, sailing in his shebek Ol'ga to establish a new Russian colony on Sitka (Baranof) Island, did Baranov visit Yakutat, where he found “utter disorder in affairs and people” because of the discord of the local leadership. The settlers, together with Larionov's workers and the Yakutat people, brought a lot of complaints to the manager about Polomoshnyi, and upon confronting him, according to Baranov, “incriminated him in many unjust and cruel acts, and dishonesty in the written reports.” The manager had no choice but to replace Polomoshnyi at the post of head of the Novorossiisk colony, assigning in his place the Kursk merchant Nikolai Mukhin.

On 30 June Baranov left an uneasy Yakutat and set off farther south to Sitka. Polomoshnyi, now former chief of the settlers, tried to escape from the Novorossiisk colony since he seriously feared for his life. In August, Polomoshnyi, his family, and the relatives of his settler wife (Egor Markov's family) were taken aboard the brig Orël under the command of Lieutenant G.T. Talin, who had left for Yakutat from Sitka, where Baranov was building Fort Mikhailovskii. In Yakutat, Talin together with Polomoshnyi tried to persuade the settlers to collectively denounce the heads of the company, Baranov, S.F. Larionov, and N. Mukhin, to the government. Talin proceeded to take without authorization the furs stored in Yakutat and sailed to Kodiak, but the Orël did not succeed in reaching Pavlov Harbor: At Sukli (Montague) Island the ship was caught in a storm and wrecked. Five people drowned—Polomoshnyi, his settler wife Agrafena Markova, his son and daughter, and Agrafena's sister Mariia, and all the furs were lost to the sum of 22,000 rubles.

After laying the foundation for Fort Mikhailovskii on Sitka Island in 1799, Yakutat lost its significance as the foremost Russian outpost in southeast Alaska and ultimately turned into a staging base for hunting parties on their way from Kodiak to the straits of the Alexander Archipelago. At least two settlers, the “farmer” Aleksandr Golovin and blacksmith Gerasim Klokhtin, participated in the construction of Fort Mikhailovskii together with Baranov and were left to spend the winter on Sitka. In 1800 Golovin returned to Yakutat, while Klokhtin remained in the new settlement and perished at the hands of the Tlingit Indians during their seizure of Fort Mikhailovskii in June 1802.

The settlers from the Novorossiisk settlement also took an indirect part in the dramatic events that were unfolding at this time in southeast Alaska. Two of them were taken along by the commander of a hunting party, Kuskov, when he set off once more from Yakutat to Sitka in June 1802 (the first time Kuskov left Yakutat in May, but after a battle with Indians at Dry Bay he had to go back). Having learned on this trip of the destruction of Fort Mikhailovskii, Kuskov's baidarka flotilla hurried back to Yakutat, where they found a multitude of Tlingit gathered, allegedly for a fishing expedition. According to K.T. Khlebnikov, the Indians intended to fall upon the Russian fort and settlement in Yakutat that very night, but the unexpected return of Kuskov's party upset their plans and forced them to give up the attack. Soon they dispersed to their own villages, and nothing happened.

The news of the destruction of Fort Mikhailovskii caused the settlers of Yakutat to panic. Together with their leader Nikolai Mukhin, they demanded that Kuskov immediately evacuate them to Kodiak, assuring him that they would be the next victims of the bloodthirsty Indians. However, the lack of a suitable ship and Kuskov's coaxing forced them to put off this undertaking. Kuskov left two Russian workers and 20 Koniag in Yakutat as reinforcements, while he himself set off to Fort Konstantinovskii with the primary part of the party, from where he proceeded to Baranov on Kodiak.

Captain Gavriil Sarychev and Joseph Billings visited the Three Sainnts harbor in 1790 and members of their expedition published the first contemporary descriptions of the settlement.  In 1807 Sarychev only briefly described the settlement, but he pointed out that the dwellings were mud-walled huts - probably referring to single-story structures banded with earth and constructed by laying vertical planks against a main frame.  In 1802 expedition secretary Martin Sauer reported five houses built after the "Russian fashion," barracks, a bath house, building which housed the hostages, storehouses, ropewalk,  smithy, carpenter's shop and cooperage, two vessels of about 30 tons each, hauled on a low scaffold near the water and armed for defense, and gardens. 

According to early reports there were approximately 50 Russians, several of their wives, agriculture was being attempted, and there was a so-called school.  Sauer specifies that cabbages and potatoes were being grown and that four cows and twelve goats were being kept.  Later accounts report that many natural products such as whale meat, berries, and salmon were processed for distribution elsewhere.  The settlement served as a local base for recruiting or impressing and managing native fur hunters, trappers, and laborers.

Already in 1803, the governor of Russian America intended to start a military campaign against the Tlingit, in an attempt to bring Sitka Island back under his control. To this aim, he began to concentrate forces at Yakutat for an expedition to the south into the straits of the Alexander Archipelago, which was populated by the recalcitrant Indians. Baranov sent the galley Sv. Aleksandr Nevskii to Yakutat at the beginning of May, and he set off there himself on the shebek Ol'ga not long after. In Yakutat, the governor met his assistant Kuskov, who was returning with the baidarka flotilla after an unsuccessful hunt in the south. Baranov wanted to turn Kuskov's party back and join in the planned conquest of Sitka, but Kuskov was able to talk the governor out of an inadequately prepared military expedition. To succeed, more and better ships were necessary, which Baranov clearly did not have. To improve this situation, he laid out two new small ships in Yakutat, the Ermak and the Rostislav. Before his return to Kodiak, Baranov substantially strengthened the garrison at the Yakutat fort and settlement, leaving there under Kuskov's command about a hundred Russians and approximately as many party members, and male and female kaiury with instructions to finish building the ships in spring 1804.

At the end of September 1804, Baranov's forces, with the additional support of the naval sloop Neva commanded by Yu.F. Lisianskii, successfully dislodged the Tlingit from their fort on the western shore of Sitka Island and established a new Russian fort named Novo-Arkhangel'sk. It was located not far from the site of the former Indian settlement. In 1808, Novo-Arkhangel'sk became the “capital” of Russian America.

After spending the winter there, Baranov sent a party of 302 baidarkas under Kuskov's leadership from Novo-Arkhangel'sk into the straits of the Alexander Archipelago in July 1805 to hunt sea otters. After its safe return to Novo-Arkhangel'sk in August, Baranov sent a large part of the hunting flotilla, led by T.S. Demyanenkov, to Kodiak, with orders to make a call at Yakutat. On the way there, a Tlingit told Demyanenkov that local Indians had destroyed the fort and settlement at Yakutat. Approaching Yakutat at night, his own observations confirmed the reports, and he decided not to land on hostile shores and set off directly to Fort Konstantinovskii on Nuchek Island. However, Demyanenkov did not reach it: he and all his people perished at sea in a storm.

The Russian-American Co. built a fort in Yakutat in 1805, to harvest sea otter pelts. Because the Russians would not allow local Tlingits access to their traditional fisheries, a Tlingit war party attacked and destroyed the post.  Only nine families of settlers were left in Yakutat in 1805 (in 1798 there were fifteen, not counting several widows and children), as well as more than a dozen workers, led by S.F. Larionov. According to official data for 1807 from the board of directors of the Russian-American Company, during the tragedy in Yakutat 22 Russians with “faithful islanders,” that is, kaiury and native residents, lived in the fort and settlement (for a total of more than forty people). As a result of the Indian attack, fourteen Russians “and with them also many [native] islanders” of the total population of the Russian colony at Yakutat perished. Only four workers and four settlers with two women and three boys succeeded in escaping. These ran to the northwest along the coast toward Fort Konstantinovskii, but were captured by Eyak Indians. They were evidently subsequently released by the Indians, perhaps for ransom, for Baranov wrote in a letter that those settlers and native Americans who fled to the Eyak safely reached Fort Konstantinovskii on Nuchek Island in 1806. Even earlier three (possibly six) Chugach, who had succeeded in escaping from Yakutat during the massacre, managed to arrive at of Fort Konstantinovskii in a baidarka and reported to its commander the catastrophe that had befallen the Russian colony on 20 August 1805.

The number of Russians and dependent natives who were saved from the Indian attack at Yakutat was in fact even greater, since other survivors were captured by the Yakutat Indians and Tlingit groups who lived to the south. To help them, Baranov used the American skipper Oliver Kimball on the ship Peacock. As Baranov reported in a letter of 14 November 1806 to Kuskov, Kimball, tacking by the Tlingit settlement of Kaknau, was able to capture one of the influential Tlingit chiefs, whom the Americans exchanged for “a Yakutat female settler, who lived with the locksmith Isai [Shchepotkin],” and two Koniag (a man and a woman). Kimball transported them to Kodiak. For his aid, the American received twelve baidarkas from Baranov for hunting sea otters along the California shores. Of course, at this time several people from the Yakutat colony continued to still remain captives of the Tlingit: a certain “German” and the settlers Luka Filipov and (Avdot'ia or Pelageia?) Ivanova, whom the Tlingit confined quite “decently,” not “using them in work.”

In 1807, Baranov intended to send the ship Sv. Aleksandr Nevskii to Yakutat to rescue the remaining captives and property of the devastated colony still in Indian hands. He tried to disguise his expedition by recruiting English and Americans to join the crew and entrusting the command to the American John Smith. According to the governor's plan, Smith was supposed to lure the Indians on board the ship for trade and then take them captive. If he caught the murderers of the settlers, he was to deliver them in chains to Kodiak. Since the brig Sv. Aleksandr Nevskii was unavailable for the campaign to Yakutat, Baranov substituted the ship Kad'yak under the command of Navigator N.I. Bulygin. However, Bulygin's expedition to Yakutat was unsuccessful: Baranov wrote Kuskov on 24 March 1808 that the Russians failed to retrieve the cannons or other property from the plundered fort and settlement. Furthermore, it turned out that the settler Filipov had died in Indian captivity and that the Tlingit, fearing the vengeance of the Russians for his death, did not return the settler Ivanova. Nevertheless, apparently using the amanaty, Baranov was able to bring back several other captives from Yakutat, which the RAC board of directors reported to the emperor on 5 November 1809.

The young son of Stepan Larionov, the commander of the Yakutat fort, Creole (that is, a Mestizo) Dmitrii Larionov, continued to remain in Indian captivity. He was not able to escape until 1819. Two of his older brothers—Andrei and Ivan—had already been in the RAC service for several years by that time, although their sister Pelageia and Indian mother continued to live among the Tlingit.

Almost no information has been preserved about the fate of the surviving Yakutat settlers from 1805 to 1818, because a substantial part of the materials of “Baranov's archive” was lost, in particular documents that covered this period. Nevertheless, I have been able to unearth some information on the settlers and their children before 1818 in AVPRI. Thus, the son of the settler (coppersmith) Semën Krylatskii—Creole Sergei Krylatskii—is indicated in the list of Creoles for 1816. At this time he was 22 years old (he was born in 1795), had learned to read and write, and had mastered arithmetic as well as navigation. He had two sisters, of 17 and 5 years old, named Nadezhda and Avdot'ia. In the list another Creole Krylatskii, Mikhail, is mentioned, who studied at the Novo-Arkhangel'sk school: in 1816 he was eleven, and likely a sibling. Sergei Krylatskii worked as a clerk in the Okhotsk office of the RAC in 1816. At this same time the son of another settler, seven-year-old Pëtr Fëdorovich Balakin, studied “Russian reading and writing and the Bible” at the Kodiak school.

Only five of the adult male settlers remained in the service of the Russian-American Company in 1817. In a financial document of the RAC's Okhotsk office for 29 April 1817, which regarded the payment of poll taxes by “workers” who were in the company service, among others, the “settlers of the Irkutsk district” Semën Krylatskii, Ivan Shchukin, Stepan Kazantsev, Aleksandr Golovin, and Fëdor Balakin are named. The state collected from each of them 20 rubles, 27 kopecks for the year 1817. Of them, Stepan Kazantsev was grouped under the heading of the “Kuril Department” and probably resided in Okhotsk, while the remaining “American” settlers lived on Kodiak. These were evidently the very four settlers who succeeded in escaping from the Yakutat during the slaughter of 1805.

In 1799 there were about 225 Russians in Alaska. Their number expanded after 1799, reaching a total of 470 by 1805. By 1817 the Russian-American Company, by then the only active fur-trading company in Alaska, had 450 to 500 workers and 26 sailors scattered in 16 Alaska sites.

In 1818, the management of Russian America was transformed: Captain-Lieutenant L.A. von Hagemeister replaced the aged Baranov as governor of the colony. From this year until the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867, the post of governor was occupied exclusively by officers of the Imperial Naval Fleet. They established more rigorous discipline and accountability in the colonies. Therefore, from this time onward we have rather complete information on the settlers in America. In April 1818 two of them, the locksmith Ivan Shchukin and coppersmith Ivan Krylatskii, submitted a petition to Hagemeister with the request that they be released to go to Russia, a request they repeated a year later. The directors of the company responded by claiming that they did not have the right to return settlers to the homeland without government sanction which would be sent to them in America through a formal decree. In addition, in the documents of the RAC board of directors, together with Shchukin and Krylatskii, two more “settlers” are indicated by mistake, Podomarëv and Sokolov, who were allegedly given by the government to Shelikhov. They belonged to the category of Siberian exiles who had been recruited to go to America, and not about American colonist settlers proper.

The settlers also lodged other complaints. On 22 April 1818, Shchukin complained to Hagemeister about the former manager of the Kodiak office, I.I. Banner, who had acquired Shchukin's home on Kodiak for 200 rubles, which he had subsequently resold to the navigator N.I. Bulygin for 565 rubles. Shchukin requested to be paid the 365 rubles as compensation. Semën Krylatskii asserted that Baranov and the naval officers N.A. Khvostov and G.I. Davydov burned down his home on Kodiak just for amusement. In 1819, the directors of the RAC arranged for the new governor of Russian America, Lieutenant S.I. Yanovskii, to check the validity of Shchukin and Krylatskii's claims. Yanovskii found that Shchukin's request was unfounded, since the locksmith had willingly sold his home to the company for 200 rubles. Krylatskii's request, in Yanovskii's opinion, should be satisfied, however, since Lieutenant Khvostov had in fact burned the unfinished home of the coppersmith, having gotten into a drunken brawl during a New Year's celebration. Krylatskii received 200 rubles compensation from the RAC in 1821.

The government auditor, Captain of Second Rank V.M. Golovnin, who arrived in the colonies in the summer of 1818 on the war sloop Kamchatka, also turned his attention to the complaints of the settlers. This well-known mariner wrote with bitterness:

The settlers Aleksandr Golovin and Fëdor Balokhov [Balakin, author] complained about the following: in 1794 more than 35 families, who knew some kind of craft, were brought from the Siberian Province; they were sent from there in order to be settled on Kodiak Island, where they could teach the residents agriculture and various crafts; but they separated them from each other, dispatching them to different places and even to the American mainland, where the company required them to do different work and labor and engage in dangerous hunting expeditions; this depleted them so severely that only three men and one woman of the 35 families were left alive after 24 years, instead of the expected increase in their number; if they exploited them in this way, … (the survovors) should now be given subsistence, but, because they are old and ill, the company deprives them of such means.

The Russian-American Company paid the surviving settlers by the same method as its hired workers, but giving additional awards for vocational skills. After 1818 the settlers, together with the workers, were moved to a fixed rate (the standard salary amounted to 350 rubles per year). However, Yanovskii assigned Shchukin and Krylatskii an annual salary of 400 rubles as senior employees of the company. In 1820 Shchukin taught the locksmith business to two boys, for which he received an increase in pay to 500 rubles (though he claimed 1,000 rubles, which Yanovskii refused to pay). The coppersmith Semën Krylatskii, who taught Creole boys metal-working in the shop on Kodiak, also began to receive a salary of 500 rubles.

In 1820 Shchukin and Krylatskii again submitted a petition to return to Russia, and Yanovskii interceded for them before the RAC board of directors. However, the company leadership was in no hurry to part with the last settlers. The RAC directors conveyed this to Captain-Lieutenant M.I. Murav'ev, who had replaced Yanovskii as governor of Russian America, in a dispatch of 4 March 1821. In the opinion of the directors, the settlers were in fact property of the RAC as the heir and successor of G.I. Shelikhov's company; consequently, the directors wrote to Murav'ev,

according to this [understanding], the designated petitioners belong to it; not having the right to act against the will of higher authority, [the company] cannot [allow] the dismissal of the designated settlers, [for they are] people sent to Siberia for crimes, [who had been] then been given to the Company to use as it saw fit; do not hesitate to tell them about this.

However, the settlers persisted with their petitions, as Murav'ev reported to the RAC board of directors in a dispatch of 16 January 1821. At that point, the directors of the company gave up and finally allowed for their return to Siberia. Thus, Murav'ev permitted the surviving settlers to leave the colonies. According to Sarafian, in 1823 Semën Krylatskii, Fëdor Balakin, and Aleksandr Golovin set off for Okhotsk, after 27 years of service in the colonies (Sarafian mentions among the settlers another, a certain Ivan Shishkin, who, however, is not listed among the initial settlers of Russian America). Thus, the American epic of the first Russian settlers in Alaska ended.


Black, Lydia, Russians in America, 1732–1867, Fairbanks, AK: U. of Alaska P., 2004.


See the list of names of Craftsmen and Farmers Given to Shelikhov's Company in America on this site






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