The Eastern Arctic Seas Encyclopedia

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

Russian–American Company (RAC)

Reference work entry

Russian–American Company (RAC) – the Russian colonial trading joint-stock company was founded by Gregory Shelikhov and Nikolai Rezanov, was approved by the Decree of Emperor Pavel I of July 8 (19), 1799, and existed until the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867. It was formed by the merger of the Northeastern Company (founded in 1787) and American United Companies (founded in 1797), the owners of which were spouses G.I. Shelikhov and N.A. Shelikhova, as well as I.I. Golikov, M.S. Golikov, and N.P. Mylnikov; with the activities of these companies, the developing of Russian America began. The idea of creating the RAC was supported by the Imperial Court and top Russian government officials – supporters of the expansion of Russian influence in the Pacific Ocean and North America, many of whom later became shareholders of the new company. The RAC replaced many private merchant companies set up in the region after 1741 as a result of numerous trade expeditions of first Russian navigators and explorers. The initial capital asset totaled 724,000 rubles (724 shares of US$ 1,000 each). The board of the company was located in Irkutsk, since 1800 – in St. Petersburg. The company was entitled to exclusively own all businesses and minerals, located in the northwest coast of America from 55°N to the Bering Strait and the Aleutian, Kuril, and other islands. The RAC won the right to organize expeditions, occupy the newly discovered lands, and trade with neighboring countries. In the territory of the Russian possessions in America, there were several settlements with the center of Novoarkhangelsk (the island of Sitka in the southeast Alaska), shipyards, workshops, and so on. With the support of the Russian government, in 1804–1840, the company organized 25 expeditions, including 15 circumnavigations (by I.F. Kruzenshtern, Y. Lisyanskiy, and others). In 1806, by a special decree of Emperor Alexander I, the company was given the right to have its own flag. After the death of Shelikhov, who played a prominent role in preparing the conditions for the establishment of the RAC, senior positions in the administration were taken by his heirs and relatives. In 1859, under the auspices of the RAC, a school was opened on the island of Unalaska, where the local children of both sexes studied under the direction of Father Innokenty (Veniaminov). The most capable of them were sent to Novoarkhangelsk to learn ship navigation. All male students who were educated at the expense of the RAC were pledged to work for the colonial administration in the next 10–15 years. Those who had a long period of service in the RAC were paid pensions on behalf of the company. The company paid travel expenses to its former employees who wished to move and settle in Russia. By the beginning of 1820s, the interest in the Russian presence in America began to fall, and the contradictions between the Imperial Government and the RAC, including the influence of future Decembrists (some of them served in the St. Petersburg office of the RAC), escalated. In addition, in 1820 the financial position of the company worsened significantly.

For many years, starting from 1821, the company did not pay dividends. The Russian–American Convention on Commerce, Navigation, and Fishing, signed in April 1824, granted the US freedom of trade and fishing in the Russian possessions for 10 years and sparked a protest by the RAC, claiming that the agreement with the United States, concluded in 1824–1825, violates the privileges of the company and jeopardizes its existence. Continued calls by American ships at the possession of the RAC despite the termination of the convention and attempts to trade with the Indians caused serious complications in the US–Russian relations in the 1830s–1840s. The RAC-adopted measures to protect their interests resulted, however, in a significant reduction of the food supply and other supplies to Russian America, which previously were primarily made by US ships (the Boston mariners). Formally, the RAC continued to exist until 1881, and even paid off dividends until 1888, but its power in Russian America ended after raising the flag of the United States in Novoarkhangelsk in October 1867. However, under the treaty, the Orthodox Church, which by 1867 owned nine churches, including 1 cathedral in Novoarkhangelsk and 35 chapels in America, retained the right to pursue activities in Alaska after its acquisition by the United States, as well as the right to own its lands, buildings, and property.

The chief managers of the RAC were A.A. Baranov (from 1799 to January 11, 1818), L.A. Hagemeister (from January 11, 1818 to October 24, 1818), S.I. Yanovsky (October 24, 1818 to September 15, 1820), M.I. Muravyev (September 15, 1820 to October 14, 1825), P.I. Chistyakov (October 14, 1825 to June 1, 1830), Baron F.P. von Wrangel (June 1, 1830 to October 29, 1835), I.A. Kupriyanov (October 29, 1835 to May 25, 1840), A.K. Etholén (May 25, 1840 to July 9, 1845), M.D. Tebenkov (July 9, 1845 to October 14, 1850), N.Y. Rosenberg (October 14, 1850 to March 31, 1853), A.I. Rudakov (March 31, 1853 to April 22, 1854), S.V. Voevodsky (April 22, 1854 to June 22, 1859), I.V. Furugelm (June 22, 1859 to December 2, 1863), and Prince D.P. Maksutov (December 2, 1863 to October 18, 1867).

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