The First Russian Contact in Alaska

Of the European countries, Russia was the first to explore in the North Pacific. The Russians had been exploring the Arctic, looking for new lands, since the tenth century. Under Ivan IV the Terrible (1547-1582) they began to explore east of the Ural Mountains into Siberia, to trade and to conquer the indigenous people there. By1647, they had crossed Siberia to Sea of Okhotsk, at the northwest edge of the North Pacific Ocean. The next year a Cossack (a special Russian military group who were fierce fighters and loyal to the Russian tsars) named Semen Dezhnev sailed along the Siberian coast and through Bering Strait to the mouth of the Anadyr River.

In 1725 the tsar Peter the Great (1672-1725) commissioned Vitus Bering to sail east from the Kamchatka Peninsula. In 1727, Bering sailed north through Bering Strait to the Arctic ice pack and back to Kamchatka. Due to storms and fog in Bering Strait he did not see the North American mainland to the east. In the summer of 1732 a Cossack named Mikhail Gvozdev sailed from Kamchatka northward through the Bering Strait and found the Diomede Islands. They were met with a hail of arrows shot by Eskimos on the second island. The next day they anchored off the American coast at Cape Prince of Wales. Soon after Gvozdev sighted King Island where an Alaskan Native approached the ship in a kayak. Following that meeting Gvozdev returned to Kamchatka. His voyage represents the first Russian contact with the American mainland, and with Alaska Native people.

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