The Eastern Arctic Seas Encyclopedia

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

Russian America

Reference work entry

Russian America – the informal name of the territories in Alaska discovered and developed by Russians, the western coast of North America to 55°N – a number of areas in Northern California and the Aleutian Islands in the possession of Russia from the late eighteenth century till 1867, i.e., before signing the agreement for the sale of Russian Alaska to the United States. The administrative center of R.A. was New Archangel (also Novoarkhangelsk, now Sitka). From 1799 until the last days of R.A., the decisive role in the exploration and development of these territories belonged to the Russian–American Company. In all, there were about 15 settlements in Russian America, including a fort in the town of Ross, California. The total area of the Russian colonies was 1,519,000 km2. Due to declaring a war on Russia by Britain and France at the end of March 1854, there was a real danger of capture of the Russian possessions in North America by the United Naval Forces of the European states. To avoid this, the Russian vice-consul in San Francisco P.S. Kostromitinov signed on behalf of the Russian–American Company a fictitious agreement on establishing the American–Russian Trading Company there and transferring to this company all of the property, trade, and privileges in the Russian–American Company territory in North America for 3 years.

The transaction was based on mutual trust. However, as a result of complexities of the legal nature which emerged soon after the signing, the question about the real rather than fictitious sale of R.A. arose. By the time of the sale of Alaska, there were 812 Russians; more than 25,000 Eskimos, Indians, and Aleuts; and about 1,500 Creoles – children born in marriages and nonmarital relationship between Russians and women from the local Aleut and Indian population. By 1877, on the island of Sitka, there were five Russian families; the rest are either returned to Russia or moved to San Francisco. The history of R.A. has remained in the names of many geographic features within this territory, which have names of Russian scientists, sailors, merchants, and other prominent individuals: Island of Chirikof, Strait of Shelikof, Island of Wrangel, Island of Kupriyanov, Mountain and Volcano of Veniaminof, Island of Krenitsyn, Island of Baranov, Island and Strait of Hagemeister, City and Bay of Kotzebue, Cape of Kutuzov, Island of Shumagin, Pribilof Islands, Cape and Mountains of Rumyantsev, Chichagof Island, Cape and Strait of Etholén, etc.

Russian America in 1860 (Source:

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