The Eastern Arctic Seas Encyclopedia

2016 Edition
| Editors: Igor S. Zonn, Andrey G. Kostianoy, Aleksandr V. Semenov

Dezhnev, Semen Ivanovich (About 1605–Beginning of 1673)

Reference work entry
Dezhnev, Semen Ivanovich (about 1605–beginning of 1673) – a Cossack Hetman, pathfinder, and Arctic mariner and one of the discoverers of a strait between Asia and North America, the Chukchi Sea, northern part of the Pacific Ocean, and the Chukchi Peninsula. He started his service in Siberia as a common Cossack soldier in Tobolsk at the end of 1630; then, he was moved to Yeniseysk and in 1638 to Yakutskiy Ostrog (settlement). In 1639 and in the summer of 1640, he was collecting the tribute in furs in the Sredniy Vilyuy, along the Tatta and the Amga, the left tributary of the Aldan. In the winter of 1640/1641, he served in the Verkhnyaya Yana Basin in the squadron of D.M. Zyryan (Erila). In the summer of 1641, he was appointed to serve in the squadron of M.V. Stadukhin and reached the small settlement in the Oymyakon (the left tributary of the Indigirka). In the spring of 1642, it was attacked by the Evens. The garrison got the help from the Cossacks, the Tunguses, and the Yakuts, and the attack was defeated. At the beginning of the summer 1643, the squadron of M.V. Stadukhin, including Dezhnev, went down to the mouth of the Indigirka in a koch, navigated by sea as far as the Alazeya River and in its lower parts encountered the koch of D.M. Zyryan. The united group of travelers under the command of M.V. Stadukhin on two vessels set off eastward. The Cossacks reached the Kolyma mouth, where they were attacked by the Yukagirs, but managed to escape up the river and in its middle reaches founded a settlement (now called Nizhnekolymsk).

In the Kolyma, Dezhnev served up to 1647. In the spring of this year, he and his three companions delivered a cargo of furs to Yakutsk. Then Dezhnev asked to be accepted as a member of a trade expedition of F.A. Popov as a tribute collector. Because of heavy ice conditions, the expedition on seven koches set off eastward only next summer. It is generally thought that only three vessels reached the Bering Strait (two crashed in a storm and two more went missing); in the strait, one more vessel sank. In the Bering Sea, another autumn storm separated the two koches left in the expedition. Dezhnev and his 25 companions were thrown off to the Olyutor Peninsula, and only after 10 weeks, the mariners managed to reach the lower reaches of the Anadyr.

This version contradicts the testimonials of Dezhnev himself, which he wrote down in 1662: he stated that six ships out of seven reached the Bering Strait, and during a storm in the Bering Sea or in the Anadyr Gulf, five koches sank, including that of F.A. Popov. After the Koryak Mountains were crossed, Dezhnev and his companions reached the Anadyr. Out of 12 people who went in search of a camping ground, only three came back; 17 Cossacks survived after a winter stay in 1648/1649 and built river ships before the ice broke. In the summer, they went 600 km up the stream and in the upper reaches of the Anadyr in 1650 founded a winter settlement for fur tributary collectors. At the beginning of April, the squadrons of S.I. Motora and M.V. Stadukhin reached this settlement. Dezhnev made an agreement with S.I. Motora to join their efforts and in the autumn attempted to reach the Penzhina without success and roamed the mountains for 3 weeks having no guide. In late autumn, Dezhnev sent part of his company to the lower reaches of the Anadyr to buy some food from the locals. In January 1651, M.V. Stadukhin robbed this food group and in the middle of February went southward to the Penzhina. The members of Dezhnev’s group survived through the spring and in summer and autumn tried to solve the food problem and to find the breeding places of sables, though, with no result. As a result, they surveyed the Anadyr and most of its tributaries; Dezhnev made a drawing of the basin (was not found). In the spring of 1652 on the sandbank in the south of the Anadyr Liman, they discovered the richest breeding ground of walruses with a huge amount of the dead animals’ tusks.

In 1660, Dezhnev was changed after his request and went by land to the Kolyma with the load of treasure bones and from there moved to the lower reaches of the Lena. He stayed for winter in Zhigansk through Yakutsk and reached Moscow in September 1664. He was appointed a title of a Cossack Hetman. On returning to Siberia, he was collecting the tribute on the rivers of the Olenyok, the Yana, and the Vilyuy. In 2002 archeologists excavated Dezhnev’s house in the settlement of Ust-Olenyok. Here he lived with his second wife, a Yakut woman, for 4 years. From here in 1671, he brought his sable treasure to Moscow.

In the period of 40 years in Siberia, Dezhnev participated in many battles and was wounded 13 times including 3 serious wounds. Judging by his written testimonials, he was a very reliable, honest man struggling to execute all the orders.

Dezhnev gave his name to a cape in the Bering Sea, an island in the Laptev Sea, a bay in the Bering Sea, islands in the Kara Sea, a bay close to Zemlya Alexandra Land Island, and the Barents Sea. In 1972 Veliky Ustyug saw the unveiling of a monument in his honor.

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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016