Thursday, October 19, 2017

Russian Presence in California.

 Most people know the Russians established a presence in Alaska long before gold was discovered.  They came to this state to obtain furs which resulted in Russia building numerous posts for the fur trade.

Unfortunately, the Alaskan climate was not good for growing enough food to support its colonists and the animals trapped for the fur trade began declining.

So in the early 1800's, Russia established a post in California to grow grains for its northern populations in Alaska and to establish a fur trade.  After a search, the Russians selected Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco for its amenities and protection from the Spanish to start their colony.  In 1812, 25 Russians and 80 Aleuts arrived to build the settlement.  The Aleuts brought their skin covered kayaks with them to fish in the sea and to help build a settlement similar to the one found in Sitka.

On August 30, 1812, a special religious service to commemorate the completion of the stockade. They used redwood for constructing the stockade and other buildings. Although between 20 and 40 cannons were installed, the stockade was still considered a commercial not a military venture.  It was named Ross Fortress.  In the following years, the Russians added a chapel, store houses, etc to make it more of a town.

In addition, a windmill, cattle yard, bakery, thrashing floor, cemetery, farm buildings were built while an orchard and vegetable garden were added.  Everyone in the area worked for the Russian American Company.  Although, they were able to hunt animals on an island about 30 miles away, the wild life population dropped during the same time period.

Unfortunately, the amount of grain the Russians hoped to raise for its Alaskan colonies never meet their expectations.  Between the infertile soil, the fog, gophers and mice, they were unable to raise large wheat crops. Fun fact: The amount of barley and wheat in private plots out produced those run by the company.

This caused the Russians to establish two more colonies in the area in the hopes that growing conditions were better but wheat crops never met expectations.  On the other hand raising stock was much more successful so they could send shipments of wool, tallow, hides, salt beef, and butter were sent to Alaska and other destinations.

By 1839, the Russian American company decided to abandon Fort Ross because the sea otter population had declined significantly, the agricultural side could not meet the expectations of the headquarters. Even the shipbuilding industry was not profitable enough for the company.

Alexander Rotchev was charged with selling Fort Ross.  He approached the British, the Spanish, the French, the Mexicans before finding a buy in Captain Sutter, a Mexican Citizen. He purchased the fort but not the land it sat on because the land still belonged to Mexico.  It appears he is the same man who built the mill where gold was discovered a few years later that started a massive influx of people to California.

Have a good day.  I hope you enjoyed this brief history of the Russian influx into California.  Let me know what you think.

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