The Eastern Arctic Seas Encyclopedia

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

Russian Discoverers of America of the Eighteenth Century

Reference work entry

Russian Discoverers of America of the Eighteenth Century – the discovery of the territories of North American continent by Russian sailors began during the First Kamchatka Expedition of Vitus Bering (1725) undertaken on behalf of Peter I, which resulted in the discovery of a strait separating Asia from America later named after Bering. In 1732, the Siberian explorer Mikhail Gvozdev on board of the ship “St. Gabriel” left to conquer the Chukchi who populated the east coast of Siberia, reached the “Great Land” (Alaska) in the area of the modern Gulf of Norton Sound, and landed with his team in one of the islands of St. Diomede (previously discovered by V. Bering), which were called since then the Gvozdev Islands, but nowadays are known as the Island of Ratmanov and the Island of Krusenstern. As a result of Gvozdev’s research, the coast of the Bering Strait was shown in the map for the first time. In 1733, at the initiative of the Russian government and the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, the ambitious second Kamchatka Expedition of V. Bering and A. Chirikov began, which resulted in the discovery of a new fur-rich territory in Alaska. Yemelyan Basov, a fur hunter and sailor from Nizhnekamchatsk, makes sure about the prospects of rich fur trade in the lands discovered by Bering and Chirikov, undertaken in 1743–1747 together with Moscow merchant A. Serebrennikov and Irkutsk merchant N. Trapeznikov on several expeditions on board of the ship “Kapitan,” and later on the ship “St. Peter,” reaching the islands of the Aleutian Chain, where he got a huge amount of fur. His name and the name of his ship were given to two bays on the Island of Mednyi – the Gulf of Basov and the Bay of Peter. Other Russian traders and sailors followed the example of Basov, who had gathered impressive wealth and reached the coast of Alaska and America, namely, Andreyan Tolstykh, who discovered the islands named in his honor Andreyanof (c. 1743); Mikhail Nevodchikov, a Bering Expedition member, who discovered the Near Islands, so named because of their proximity to the coast of Siberia (1745); Andrei Serebrennikov, who organized the expedition which discovered the group of Rat Islands (1753); and Stepan Glotov, who sailed in 1759 on his ship from Okhotsk to the Island of Kodiak, i.e., approx. 2,500 miles and discovered the Fox Islands, so called because of the abundance of foxes living on the islands; G. Pushkarev soon after S. Glotov landed on the Alaska Peninsula. In 1762, an expedition of several ships under the command of S. Glotov, I. Korovin, A. Druzhinin, and D. Medvedev left for the Fox Islands, but only one of them had a chance to return to Kamchatka. The others were killed in clashes with the Aleuts together with their teams. In 1764, by the orders of Empress Catherine II in order to investigate Alaska, an expedition under the command of Lieutenant I.B. Sindh was undertaken which lasted for 4 years. They landed on the territory of the Seward Peninsula near today’s city of Nome. The same year, according to a secret order by Catherine II, two ships were equipped under the command of P.K. Krenitsyn and M.D. Levashov in order to explore the Islands of the Aleutian Chain. In 1772, by order of the Siberian governor-general, the management of the Aleutian Islands was transferred under the jurisdiction of the commander of the Russian garrison of Bolsheretsk (Kamchatka). In 1781–1783, G.I. Shelikhov “with his fellow companions” made several trips in order to establish the fur trade with the local tribes on the Aleutian Islands and Alaska. As a result of one of these campaigns (1783), the first permanent Russian settlement was founded near the present city of Kodiak with a Russian school opened in 1785.

In the same year, by a secret order of Catherine II, the expedition of I.I. Billings and G.A. Sarychev was organized. Its purpose was to study the northern part of the Arctic Ocean. As a result of studies conducted by expeditions of Krenitsyn–Levashov (1764–1771) and Billings–Sarychev (1785–1795), a professional survey and inventory of all the Aleutian Islands was completed; more than 60 maps and plans of Kamchatka, Aleutian Islands, Chukotka, and North American coast were prepared that fixed Russia’s priority to the discovered islands and lands and guaranteed safe navigation of the Russians to the coast of Russian America. In 1788, G. Pribylov discovered the Islands of St. Paul and St. George named later on after him the Pribilof Islands. In 1794, a mission of the Russian Orthodox Church in the United States was opened on the Island of Kodiak, and Christianity began to actively spread in North America. In 1799, by order of Emperor Pavel I, the Russian–American Company, which received a monopoly on trade in Russian America, was established.

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