Fort Ross

Now before we leave California ship building in the 1830s, I’d like to revisit the Russians in California. The Spanish were in no hurry to colonize northern California until it looked like the Russians were going to kill all the otters before they had the chance. Then it was on!

 

Now there ain’t anything cuter than an otter, and I sincerely hope that there is a lower rung in hell for otter killers. But that being said, that’s how things were done back then and that’s why we’ve got laws protecting those furry little critters now. It’s just too bad that they almost needed to go extinct before folks came to their senses.

 

Fort Ross (Rus, for “Russian”) was the hub of the southernmost Russian settlements in North America and was established in 1812 wasn’t terribly successful,

and fizzled out in 1841. The Spanish moved up to San Francisco to keep a wary eye on them, but weren’t able to expel them.

 

The Raven Jake Conspiracy Theory on that is that they probably didn’t want to. What H. D. Barrows kept euphemistically referring to as “the coasting trade,” and Michael White just called “smuggling” probably kept things afloat, so to speak, on both sides.

 

As stated by the Wikipedia page: Fort Ross is an interesting landmark in the history of European imperialism. The Spaniards expanded west across the Atlantic and the Russians east across Siberia. In the early nineteenth century the two waves of expansion met on the opposite side of the world along the coast of California.

 

Fort

Ross itself was the hub of a number of smaller Russian settlements comprising what was called Krepost Ross ("Fortress Ross") on official documents and charts produced by the Company itself. Colony Ross referred to the entire area where Russians had settled. These

settlements constituted the southernmost Russian colony in North America, and were spread over an area stretching from Point Arena to Tomales Bay. The colony included a port at Bodega Bay, which was called Port Rumyantsev, a sealing station on the Farallon Islands, 18 miles out to sea from San Francisco, and a number of small farming communities, called "ranchos" including Chernykh, near present day Graton, and Khlebnikov, a mile north of present day Bodega Bay in the Salmon Creek valley, and Rancho Kostromitinov on the Russian River.

 

The communities were supposed to be growing produce and grain for the Russian colonies in Alaska as well as de-ottering the Pacific Ocean, but neither enterprise went all that well. For starters, they’d already managed to kill just about every marine mammal they could find and there weren’t many left.

 

Remember how Michael White said he traded a barrel of whiskey for two fine otter skins? That oughtta tell you something about the value of otter skins.

 

Second, when I was at Fort Ross on July 14, 2007, it was a fine summer day EVERY PLACE ELSE BESIDES FORT ROSS, where it was freezing cold and foggy. Their farming operation was bound to fail.

 

In 1841, the Russians threw in the towel and sold the whole works to John Sutter, THE John Sutter of Sutter’s Mill Gold Rush fame.

 

An interesting little factoid was that one Russian guy, Il'ya G. Voznesensky, spent more than four years in Russian America (just prior to 1841) drawing, painting, and collecting specimens. A prodigious collector, he sent more than 40 trunks with more than 6,000 zoological specimens to St. Petersburg. His collections can still be found at the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), Russian Academy of Sciences, in St. Petersburg. The Russians actually did a lot more to advance the study of the science and natural history of California than did the Spanish (who could care less).

 

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~ by ravenjake on January 2, 2010.

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