The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

by Daniel Russ on February 9, 2014



North America was the last real goldmine in the world for rising civilizations. It’s vastness, it’s geographic diversity and its abundance of natural resources, minerals, metals, oil and animals lured those seeking riches and glory from every corner of the world. There were Europeans, and Russians all over this continent looking to exploit it.  The Russian America story is hardly ever told. But they came looking for all the things that America could bring. They even brought allies along, Poles, Finns,  Ukrainians and Estonians came in modest numbers to help Russia profit from the land.

Few Americans consider that when the West was being invaded by the Spaniards, and friars were setting up missionaries to relieve the Indians of their ruinous heathen religions, that the Russians in fact were also settling the west. Beginning in the mid-16th century Russian explorers began looking for land to purloin for the Tsar. Peter the Great sent Vitus Bering to find territories on the Western Coast of the North American continent, partly to expand his own glory and largely driven by an attempt to out perform earlier Russian monarchs.

After centuries of overhunting Siberia, they were looking for fur. Bears, seals, otters, in fact any fur bearing mammal was like gold in the arctic tundra of Eastern Russia. In 1741, Commander Vitus Bering found the North American continent, and soon there after Russia was laying claim to portions of the Pacific Northwest. The Tsars started sending traders that eventually rubbed up against the Aleuts in the late 18th century. Armed combat resulted in a treaty that lasted for the short duration of Russian America. The Russians opened the Russian American Company or RAC. Think of it as the Russian Dutch East India Company. The fur trade was quite lucrative and so the Russian at the behest of Catherine the Great opened Three Saints Bay in 1784. Predictably, in 1794 Eastern Orthodox Christian evangelicals arrived and converted thousands of Indians. Today, their Indian ancestors still practice this religion. Russians continued to build garrisons and outposts, like the Redoubt Saint Michael and New Russia and eventually Fort Ross on what it now the west coast of the United States. By 1809  the Russian River, that runs through Sonoma was renamed the Slav by Count Nikolai Petrovich Rumyantzev.  The Russians even made exclusivity deal with the Tlinglits.

The actual colonization lasted until after the American Civil War. We have discussed here many times that it is not the bullet that destroys empires. It is the bill.  The Russians learned a similar lesson that the European settlers learned. It wouldn’t take long before the Indians revolted. That meant long distant insurrection suppression that rarely worked to calm anything. The Crimean War in 1854 did much to empty the treasury of the tsar, and the Russians ended up selling their assets and writing off the new world. In fact, Alexander II sold Alaska to us.



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