Portland State University. Department of History
Date of Award
Master of Arts (M.A.) in History
1 online resource (xv, 349 pages)
Russians -- California -- History, Fort Ross (Calif.) -- History, California -- History -- To 1846
The essential objective of this study was to fill a bibliographic void of secondary source material concerning Russian California. This was accomplished by combining available translations and more specific studies on the subject into one extensive work. Introductory chapters provide: (1) a brief statement regarding Russia's massive eastward expansion through Siberia, to Kamchatka and Alaska; (2) an examination of the nature of the Russian-American Company; and (3) a detailed look at the programs instituted by the Company to provision Alaska and Kamchatka. The establishment of Fort Ross in 1811 is viewed as one of those programs. The settlement's primary function throughout its existence was to send foodstuffs to Russia's northern colonies. The main body of the paper describes fully the structure of the settlement and analyzes the various activities, undertaken by the Russians at Fort Ross, in order to provide grain to the Company. Those activities were sea otter hunting, manufacturing, and agriculture and animal husbandry. In closing, the paper focuses on the Native Californians of Fort Ross, detailing their culture and their relationship with imperialist powers in nineteenth-century California.
The industries of Fort Ross--hunting, manufacturing, and husbandry--met with failure. Each endeavor proved to be either inadequate or untimely: The harvesting of pelts was quickly curtailed by the depletion of animal populations; a successful manufacturing enterprise was interrupted by foreign competition; and lack of labor and expertise hindered the Russians' effort to transform the Ross Counter into the Company’s “granary.” The research conducted for this study led to the conclusion that the Russians' decision to abandon their California settlement was finalized when another means to provision the northern colonies became available.
A Study of Fort Ross necessarily demands an international historical perspective. A consideration of the Spanish colonial enterprise in Mexico and California, the British activities in the Pacific Northwest, and the increasing strength of the United States on the western coast of North America are essential in understanding the failure of the Russians at Fort Ross and in Alaska.
A number of published, primary source materials were used exhaustively to complete this study. A complete selected bibliography is included. Several categories of material were of prime importance. Briefly, they are: (1) correspondence between the Chief Manager of the Russian-American Company colonies in Alaska and the Company’s Main Office in St. Petersburg. These documents are available on microfilm in the National Archives and in Vneshniaia Politika Rossii, Series I and II, edited by N. N. Bolkhovitinov. (2) Journals, kept by navigators who participated in Russian circumnavigations which made calls in the Russian America, are invaluable sources of information on the circumstances of the colonies. (3) Reports of Company employees, such as Kirill T. Klebnikov and Ferdinand P. Wrangell provide important statistical information on agricultural production, otter hunting, manufacturing, and the population of Russian California. As mentioned, secondary sources on Russian California are scarce. However, James R. Gibson's work, Imperial Russia in Frontier America, does offer a thorough treatment of Russian trade and husbandry in California.
Mitchell, Kathryn E., "Fort Ross, Russian Colony in California, 1811-1841" (1984). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3109.