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Regional History
Russia's Colony
The Europeans Fight over Alaska

The clash between competing European nations on the Northwest Coast often disrupted Native culture. Baranov's return to Southeast Alaska in 1804 serves as an example of the clashes that occurred.

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Sitka, 1805
Collection Name: Alaska Historical Library, Alaska Centennial Collection.
A Russian tsar had sent naval ships to America to help defend Russia's claim to the archipelago. The ship waiting to help Baranov, the Neva, shelled the Tlingit post. Realizing they could not hang on, the Indians fled over the mountains. Eventually the Tlingit returned to the area and worked out an agreement with the Russians. The Russians taught the Indians how to grow potatoes, and the Tlingit then traded potatoes and deer meat to the Russians. In fact, the Russians came to depend on food supplied by the Tlingit, for the journey from Russia was long and expensive, and often supplies did not arrive. Without the food supplied by the Tlingit and the labor supplied by the Aleuts, the Russians would not have been successful in colonizing Alaska.

The original charter for the R-A Company was for twenty years. When the government renewed it, the Russian Navy took charge of the colony. From 1818 on, the Chief Manager/Governor of Russian America was a Russian naval officer.

Baranov served the Company from 1799 until 1818. During his tenure he directed Russian hunters throughout the Aleutian Islands, around Kodiak Island, in Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound, and in the Alexander Archipelago. He established a Russian post in California, Ft. Ross, on the coast north of San Francisco. The Russians operated Ft. Ross until 1841when they sold it to a California settler.


Sitka, 1805
Collection Name: Alaska Historical Library, Alaska Centennial Collection.
The naval governors of Russian America served terms of five years. From 1818 to 1867 they expanded the colony northward along the Bering Sea coast, and up the Yukon River five hundred miles to the village of Nulato. Russian explorers recorded detailed knowledge about North America, as the governors and government agents tried to develop various resources besides furs. It is in teresting that at no time during the life of the colony were there more than 833 Russians in all of Alaska. The Russians attempted to hunt whales fishery and mine coal. They conducted a mineral survey of the Kenai Peninsula and reported finding small amounts of gold. They traded for land mammal furs with the Athabaskans along the Yukon River. The furs were the only resource that returned any significant profit for the Company. By the 1850s, some Russian leaders were raising questions about the viability of their American colony.

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