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Russian Colonization of the Americas


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After the discovery of northern Alaska by Ivan Fedorov in 1732, and the Aleutian Islands, southern Alaska, and north-western shores of North America in 1741 during the Russian exploration conducted by Vitus Bering and Aleksei Chirikov, it took fifty years until the founding of the first Russian colony in Alaska in 1784 by Grigory Shelikhov. The Russian-American Company was formed in 1799 for the purpose of hunting sea otters for their fur.

Subsequently, Russian explorers and settlers continued to establish trading posts in Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and as far south as Fort Ross in northern California. Fort Ross, some 50 miles north of San Francisco was founded in 1812 and closed in 1841.

The peak population of the Russian colonies was about 40,000, although most of these were aboriginals.

The colony was never very profitable, because of the costs of transportation. At the instigation of Secretary of State William Seward, the U.S. Senate approved the purchase of Alaska from Russia for $7,200,000 on April 9, 1867.

In 1818, Dr. Schaeffer, a Russian entrepreneur, occupied Kauai and negotiated a treaty of protection with Queen Kaumualii of Hawaii, but the Russian Tsar refused to ratify the treaty.

In Russia and even in its predecessor, the Soviet Union, there has been speculation in the mass media that Alaska was not, in fact, sold, but was instead leased to the U.S. for 99 or 150 years and has to be returned to Russia. It may be explained in part by the notion that soon after the 1917 revolution in Russia all the secret tsarist international agreements were officially denounced and declared void by the new government.

The Orthodox Church in America can trace its activities back to early Russian missionaries. The witness of Herman of Alaska, Saint Innocent of Alaska, and Peter the Aleut has contributed to the continuing strong Orthodox community in Alaska.

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