Today In History: Russians Settle Kodiak Island
Today in history, a Russian trader named Grigory Shelikhov founded the first permanent Russian settlement in Alaska – Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island. Alaska was becoming increasingly trafficked by Russian settlers and traders, much to the detriment of the native population of Aleut peoples.
Shelikov lived at Three Saints Bay for two years with a coterie of 200 subordinates, and his wife. Kodiak was a staging area for mainland explorations. Other settlements were soon established.
Shelikov went back to Russia in 1786. In 1790, he sent Aleksandr Baranov to manage the colony in his stead. Nine years later, Baranov founded the Russian American Company, that was awarded a complete trade monopoly over Alaska. Baranov’s influence spread down North America’s west coast. He founded a settlement near Bodega Bay in Northern California in 1812. Russian control of California would be short-lived.
Russia’s trade monopoly was splintered by American and British commercial interests. The Russians eventually retired back to Alaska, and then, after the Crimean War, was ready to extricate themselves from the continent entirely.
The Buchanan administration was in the initial stages of acquiring the territory from the Russians when the Civil War broke out. William H. Seward, Secretary of State after the War ended, re-opened negotiations. He signed a treaty with Russia in 1867, purchasing the territory for $7.2 million. It was considered a waste of money at the time, dubbed “Seward’s folly.”
Alaskan gold was discovered in 1898, precipitating a settlement rush. Alaska remains a source of natural resources for the country, hosting high dollar fishing, logging and fuel industries.