Russian America

The exhibition Russian America on board the research vessel Vityaz invites! It is integrated with the permanent exhibition Russia Explores the Ocean.  The exhibition was created with the financial support of LUKOIL-Kaliningradmorneft.

There is a reason this topic has been chosen: it is the largest chapter in Russia’s history concerning exploration of the World Ocean. For a long time, it remained unrevealed due to many reasons but first of all because of lack of exhibits which are the most important at the museum! Thanks to charitable support of the oil-producing enterprise the museum managed to find and purchase authentic artifacts of the 19th century telling about life of pioneer navigators and inhabitants of northern Russian towns – those which let Russia possess the lands of North America, consolidate its international position and start the era of circumnavigations.

Beginning of the era
In the 18th century, Russian explorers opened the door to the World Ocean by making two Kamchatka expeditions under the leadership of Vitus Bering. The first vessel to reach Alaska was the boat St. Gabriel under the command of Mikhail Gvozdev. On 21 August 1732, they anchored at the westernmost point of North America – Cape Prince of Wales. Gvozdev explored the area and mapped about 300 km of the coastline.

Russian-American Company
In summer 1799, Pavel I ordered to establish the Russian-American Company (RAC) which dealt with fur trade. Basically, the company became an instrument to colonize the New World and successfully fulfilled economical, political and missionary tasks.

Irkutsk industrialist Grigorii Shelokhov and his son-in-law Nikolai Rezanov (well-known diplomat) were at the origins of the company. The latter made his mark in history rather with romantic love to Concepción Argüello, daughter of the Spanish governor of Alta California, than with his services. But he was one of the leaders of the first Russian circumnavigation, the first official ambassador to Japan and an author of one of the first Russian-Japanese dictionaries – he was among the outstanding people of the time!

In 1802, Alexander Baranov was appointed the first governor of settlements in Alaska. He was a distinguished merchant from the northern city of Kargopol and made numerous heroic deeds and advanced solutions: he founded Novo-Arkhangelsk fort on Sitka, moved the administrative centre of Russian America from Irkutsk to Alaska and successfully repulsed Native Americans’ attacks as well as ordered to found a trading station Fort Ross in California on Nikolai Rezanov’s proposal: up to this day goods were delivered from Russia and Alaska settlers literally starved.

The commandant of Fort Ross and actual executive of A. Baranov’s order was the Russian merchant from Totma – Ivan Kuskov. He organized vegetable gardens, developed cattle husbandry and founded a harbor in the colony. Kuskov’s great credit was absence of armed conflicts with the Native Americans that made Russians different from other colonists in California. Moreover, the commandant established good relations with the Spanish who claimed for the lands.  

Orthodox mission
The first wooden church and school on Kodiak Island appeared in 1796. Herman of Alaska devoted his life to local public education. He lived on the island till his death and later became the first American saint in the Orthodox Calendar.

In 1824, a Russian Orthodox missionary priest arrived to the Aleutian Islands - Saint Innocent of Alaska. He learnt local language and translated the Gospel According to St. Matthew, the liturgy and the catechism for the indigenous islanders. He also opened a school and erected a temple there. The latter has survived till the present days.

There is an amazing story about Aleutian named Cungagnaq who adopted Orthodoxy and a Russian name Peter. When he was hunting a sea otter nearby Fort Ross Spanish took him prisoner and tortured to death for his refusal to adopt Catholicism. The Russian Orthodox Church canonized him as Saint Peter the Aleut.

The new exhibition is almost finished, it tells about all these people, their everyday life, amazing stories as well as about courage, deeds and defeats. The museum is looking forward to welcoming you again! 

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