Category Archives: History

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s Flight into Space

On this day in April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to go into space. This event was one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century and is still remembered fifty years on.

Soon becoming a celebrity to the people of the Soviet Union and the rest of eastern Europe, Yuri Gagarin was then one of the great figures representing the Soviet Union at it’s height. In honor of the 50th anniversary of this momentous achievement, below is a postcard collection dating from 1969 showing photographs from various parts of the cosmonaut’s life.

The writing on the inside of the cover reads:

“We knew him in his modest daily form as a military pilot. He turned out to be worthy of his huge fame. Everywhere and anywhere he remained himself: friendly and fun-loving, with a charming smile, an eloquent testimony of the broadness and richness of his soul, and at the same time ready to instantly prepare and focus for the task ahead. These are exactly the qualities to possess for a hero who first opened the path to space for humanity.”

For a man who has attained such a groundbreaking achievement, the life and legacy of Yuri Gagarin will hopefully continue to be remembered for another fifty years. Furthermore, below are several articles of interest in relation to the 50th anniversary of the launch of Vostok 1.

See What Yuri Gagarin Saw in Stunning High-Definition Film

Vostok 3KA: Tribute To The Craft That Carried Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin’s Brave, Brilliant Leap Into the Dark

In Space, Nice Guys Finish First


The Slav Epic

Those who are familiar with Czech artist Alphonse Mucha know of the vivid works he created during his time abroad, but few know of what he considered his greatest work of all, the Slav Epic (or Slovanska Epopej).

Through the course of sixteen years, Mucha had created twenty large paintings displaying various moments in history of the Slavic people. Unfortunately this great collection of works had hardly been brought to the attention of the rest of the world as a number of unfortunate circumstances prevented Mucha from seeing his life’s greatest work receive the praise it deserved.

The Slav Epic had an ill-fated history. The series began in 1910 when Mucha had returned from Paris so that he may embark on the creation of what he saw would be his defining work. Before he began his work, Mucha had traveled across Russia, the Balkans, Poland, and the Orthodox  monasteries on Mount Athos, consulting historians along the way to ensure accurate depictions of events in his works. Two years later, he received funding from Charles Richard Crane, a wealthy businessman who had held an interest in Eastern Europe and Slavic nationalism in particular. Over the course of seven years, Mucha had completed eleven works, which he presented in Prague, receiving much interest public from the public. Unfortunately, critics were quick to label the work as an expression of an outdated, nationalistic style. His full work had later been displayed in America and Czechoslovakia, although it received similar reactions.

In 1935, the Slav Epic had it’s final exhibition before the death of Mucha, after he had gifted the works to the city of Prague. Because the city was not able to provide a permanent place to display the works, the paintings were rolled up and placed in storage, although some say this was done in order to prevent confiscation from invading German forces. Four years later, Mucha was captured by German troops during the beginning of World War II and interrogated. Shortly after being released, the artist succumbed to a lung infection and died, disappointed that his greatest work had seen such an unfortunate fate. Up until 1950, the government refused to put the works on display again, in fact it would only be until 1967 when the full set of paintings would be displayed again after being brought to the city of Moravsky Krumlov by a group of patriots.

Currently the works are on display in the village of Moravsky Krumlov. The Slav Epic itself is deeply symbolic. With the Slav Epic, Mucha had sought to promote Slav unity and nationalism, expressing this through religion and hardships and at the same time, he saw it as a celebration of the Slavs and their shared history and culture. But what some say is the underlying theme of this work is Mucha’s views on how a group of people must develop, displaying this through the idea of Slavic Unity. Perhaps this is better explained in the artist’s own words:

“I am convinced that the development of every nation may proceed with success only if it grows organically and continuously from the nation’s own roots and that for the preservation of this continuity, knowledge of it’s historical past is indispensable.”

Indeed this may be something some governments should take heed to today. Nevertheless, this work remains a great achievement (and a tribute to an even greater culture), which is sadly, devoid of much praise. But today, I hope to bring the readership of this site all twenty of these tremendous works so that a different audience will be able to see these works and possibly appreciate them more than the previous had. Currently, the Czech government hopes to accomplish the same by moving the works to the city of Prague so that it may be seen by a wider range of people, notably tourists.



The Decembrist Uprising

On December 26th, 1825 some 3000 members of military staged an uprising against the newly-appointed Tsar Nicholas I, in opposition to his conservative views. The results of this revolt would soon grow into something much larger and would lead to the beginning of revolutionary sentiment among the people of Imperial Russia.

The Decembrist revolution has it’s beginnings during the coming crowning of Constantine Pavlovich, who was next in line to take the throne as Tsar, he was popular among some for his liberal views and his general openness towards enlightenment ideas and the prospect of a free Russian state. Desiring a constitutional monarchy, these people believed this would come to reality.

Unfortunately, after the death of Alexander I, it was discovered that three years earlier, Constantine had been removed from the order of succession for his marriage of Joanna Grudzinska in 1822, a Polish woman who lacked royal blood. Feeling that Constantine had been cheated out of his rightful place as Tsar, the rebels began to organize.

The organization of these people had it’s origins during Alexander I’s reign in 1816 when several members of the Russian Imperial Guard founded the Union of Salvation, or known to some as the Union of Faithful and True Sons of the Motherland. Pavel Pestel, one of the group’s more influential members, had joined soon after the union’s creation.

The elements that inspired the Union and it’s structure are something of interest. The leaders and followers of the Union were highly influenced by the romanticist and enlightenment movements of the west, most visibly shown by the style of dress in their portraits. The 30-some group of people were unified in the interest of bringing change to Russia, much in the same way it was brought to Britain and France, and like other liberal revolutionary groups of the time, the Decembrists were said to have been heavily influenced by the political works of Rousseau, Voltaire, and Montesquieu.

But what really made the Union of Salvation noteworthy was it’s connections to Freemasonry. It’s a well-known fact among researchers of this Union that several of the high members were freemasons themselves, belonging to the lodge of Three Virtues which would explain why the Union adopted from them a system of several rituals and vows for the induction and promotion of low-ranking members. The group was also very secretive about it’s purpose and only the two upper categories of membership, the boyare (boyars) and the muzhi (men) knew the true aims of the society, while the third category, the bratya (brothers) were only instructed to follow the orders of those above them. It is thought the integration of Freemasonry was the Union’s first official leader, Sergei Trubetskoy’s doing.

Trubetskoy was a man of interesting backgrounds. Trubetskoy was born in 1790 to a noble family, with his mother being the daughter of a Georgian prince. Unlike most nobles, Trubetskoy received home education and only began obtaining a formal education in 1806 when he began attending lectures at the Moscow University. Two years later, he entered the Leib Guard’s Semyonovsky regiment, where he would then participate in several battles during the French invasion of Russia.

In 1816, he became a member of the Lodge of Three Virtues, a Masonic organization. He later was known to be one of the founders of the Union of Salvation and later the Union of Prosperity. Like the other members of the Union, he worked towards the abolition of serfdom, the creation of a constitution, and the removal of class privileges.

In 1817, the Union made it’s first major step as an official charter was drafted by Pavel Pestel, it stated the goals of the Decembrists including the need to help the overall population, prevent social evils, and denounce the abuse of soldiers, disrespect for human dignity, rule by foreigners, unfair trial, common ignorance, and extortion. Several other documents would be created later in the Union’s existence. Unbeknownst to most at the time, the Union had wanted to establish a representative government rather than simply enact social change.

The Napoleonic Wars were one of the reasons the Decembrists had come to o ppose the monarchy. Seeing the conditions the peasant soldiers were forced to endure, the Decembrists believed that changes must be made. In 1818, their wish had almost come to fruition as liberalization was slowly taking hold in some aspects of Russian society, at one point the Tsar had even contemplated writing an official constitution, although he later feared this caused tension among the country which led him to repress the growing liberal mindset, agitating the Union.

In protest, the Union had taken inspiration from the French Revolution and would copy the wearing of cavalry swords and uniforms at balls, implying their refusal to dance as the revolutionaries did in France. Their rejection of the court traditions had begun to show their interest in reformative movements from other nations and their desire to embrace the peasant population, which they felt was being abused by a monarchy with too much power. Part of the Union’s ideas regarding the serfdom were outlined by Pavel Pestel:

“The desirability of granting freedom to the serfs was considered from the very beginning; for that purpose a majority of the nobility was to be invited in order to petition the Emperor about it. This was later thought of on many occasions, but we soon came to realize that the nobility could not be persuaded. And as time went on we became even more convinced, when the Ukrainian nobility absolutely rejected a similar project of their military governor.”

In 1818, a new union, the Union of Prosperity was formed. By this time, formal membership had numbered to about 200. The Union of Prosperity sought to give the youth of the nation a further Christian upbringing and the elimination of serfdom.

In 1821, the Union of Prosperity had split in two, following a mutiny in one of it’s regiments and ceasing activities the year before. The southern society, based in Tulchin and Kiev was led by Pavel Pestel, who sought to abolish the monarchy entirely through radical means and establish a republic, so that land may be properly divided among the state and peasant population. The Northern society, led by Guard officers Nikita Muravyov, Sergei Trubetskoy, and Evgeniy Obolensky, wished to create a constitutional monarchy, basing their ideology on the British government. It was this group of people that would start the uprising.

When it was learned that the officers of the military would swear allegiance to Tsar Nicholas I at the Senate Square in St. Petersburg, the members of the union acted to meet with leaders of the regiments in order to convince them to revolt during the ceremony, this resulted mostly in success and would allow for a sizable amount of people to participate in the uprising.

On the 26th December, the Union put their plan into motion. On this day, members of the military were to swear allegiance to the new Tsar at Senate Square outside the Winter Palace. Refusing to accept Nicholas I as their new leader, some 3,000 men at the command of their officers began to revolt. Not wanting to begin his reign by massacring his subjects, the Tsar sought to find a peaceful resolution.

A standoff between the rebels and the 9,000 loyal troops ensued for several hours, the silence only being broken by the occasional discharge of firearms and shouts praising the Constantine and the Constitution from the rebel side. A squad of grenadiers, led by Nikolai Panov had also attempted to take the Winter palace although his attempts were futile and he eventually retreated. all the while, the loyal members of the military continued the standoff.

Finally, Nicholas sent famous war general Mikhail Miloradovich to reason with the rebels. Unfortunately while giving a speech to the rows of troops, he was shot by Pyotr Kakhovsky and fatally stabbed by Evgeniy Obolensky. Realizing there would be no peaceful to this uprising, Nicholas I sent a cavalry squad to quell it, but this failed after the cavalry’s initial charge failed due to icy ground. Finally, several cannons were brought in and fired on the rebels.

Lacking proper leadership, the rebels retreated and later attempted to regroup on the surface of the Neva River, which was frozen at the time. This too, ended in disaster as the ice was broken by artillery fire, casting the remaining rebels into the frozen depths of the river, subsequently ending the revolution. This uprising claimed the lives of 1,271 people, several of those being onlooking civilians.

The failure of this uprising was due to a number of reasons. Firstly, the Northern Society’s appointed Dictator, Sergei Trubetskoy and his second-in-command, decided not to attend what would be the uprising, perhaps because they had already known what the outcome of such an act of rebellion would be. Because of this, the plan of action for the rebels was not completely known and would result in chaos and disorder. Secondly, the revolutionaries had assumed that they would be joined by the rest of the military at the ceremony, of course their assumption was wrong and it resulted in the Decembrists being largely outnumbered. Although the amount of rebels at the square were only a third of the loyalists, most of the blame can be placed to the Decemberists’ lack of proper leadership or organization, something which would have allowed them to properly react to the artillery fire by Nicholas I’s troops.

A day prior, Pavel Pestel was arrested on charges of treason, it would be only ten days later until the members of the Southern Society learn of the failed revolution in St. Petersburg. Fortunately, the Southern Society had formed an alliance with the Society of United Slavs, a nationalistic group who wished to create a federation of democratic Slavic republics, abolishing serfdom and the monarchy in the process. The United Slavs came to the Decemberists’ aid by forcibly releasing Muravyov-Apostol from captivity in Trylesy. This had convinced to the two parties to unite and stage a second revolt, led by freed Decembrist Sergei Muravyov-Apostol. This would be known as the Chernigov Regiment revolt.

Muravyov-Apostol had taken control of Kuzmin’s fifth company, and later the second. With all of the regiment’s forces combined, it numbered up to a force of about 1000 men. On January 12, the army had left Vasylkiv for Brusylkiv. As night approached, the regiment made a stop at Motovylivka to rest and plan ahead. After hearing that one of Muravyov-Apostol’s lieutenants had influence over the 17th Jager’s regiment the village of Bila Tserkva, he rerouted the march there. The following day however, the 17th Jager Regiment was found to have already moved to Skvila, which would mean the Chernigov regiment would have to march another, all the while morale and discipline among the troops was failing.

Finally, on the last day of the rebellion, the regiment had decided to march back to Trylisy. Although on the way there, the rebels met up with government forces led by Friedrich Caspar von Geismar, with a force of 400 men, four squadrons of Hussars and two field cannons. A skirmish ensued. Shortly after, 869 rebel soldiers surrendered without resistance while 75 others had been killed. The loyalist side however, suffered no casualties.

After this second failure, Pavel Pestel and Sergei Muravyov-Apostol were sent to St. Petersburg to be tried with the leaders of the northern uprising. Convicted, these five were sentenced to execution by hanging (in what would be the last public execution in the Russian empire) while the rest were exile to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and the Far East. Interestingly enough, because of an inexperienced executioner, the ropes that were used to hang the Decembrist leaders broke, saving their lives. One of the rebels, breaking his leg from the fall, remarked “they can’t even hang a man properly in Russia.”. An old tradition in the country dictated that any prisoner who survives an execution is to be set free, unfortunately Nicholas I ignored this and hanged the rebels once more, this time killing them.

Since then, these five men had become the most recognizable symbol of the Decembrist revolution, since the events, their profiles have been commonly used on a number of stamps and memorials to the Union of Salvation. But these revolutionaries weren’t just figureheads, most had prestigious backgrounds with the military and strangely, Freemasonry.

The first rebel, Pavel Ivanovich Pestel, was born in St. Petersburg on July 5, 1793 and was of German ancestry, he would become the ideological voice of the Decembrists. At the age of 12, Pestel was sent to Dresden until he was 16. In 1810, he became a student at the Page Corps, a well-known school which prepared aristocratic children for service in the military.

After graduating, he was sent to the Lithuanian regiment of the Leib Guard and would later participate in the defense of Russia during the French invasion of 1812 where he was awarded a golden sword or his efforts at the Battle of Borodino and several other campaigns during 1813-1814. Two years later he joined the Union of Salvation, beginning his activity with the Decembrists, although he did not formally announce it. Like other members of the Union, he was a Freemason, and joined in 1816, probably at the same time he became a Decembrist.

In 1821, he was given the title of commander over the Vyatka Infantry Regiment in Tulchin where he met Pavel Kiselyov. Later that year, he engaged in a socio-economic reform project titled Russkaya Pravda (Russian Truth) which advocated such things as the emancipation of the serfs, limits to land ownership, elimination of class privileges, and other democratic policies. Several years later, after the failure of the St. Petersburg uprising and his own rebellion in Ukraine, he was sent to court and tried as a criminal.

The youngest of the Decembrists was Mikhail Pavlovich Bestuzhev-Ryumin, who was born in the village of Kudryoshky on June 4, 1801 and was the son of mayor of the town of Gorbatov. Bestuzhev-Ryumin began his first military training at the Horse-Guard Regiment and later continued on to the Semenovsky Regiment, where he would remain until his transfer to the Poltava Infantry Regiment.

Joining the Union in 1823, Bestuzhev-Ryumin was known for a number of things. Unlike the other members, he dressed in lower-class clothes and frequently spoke of the need to kill the royal family and to violently abolish the monarchy. In 1825, he became an assistant to Sergei Muravyov-Apostol, and participating in the Chernigov Regiment Uprising before his capture and subsequent execution.

Sergei Ivanovich Muravyov-Apostol was a leading Decembrist as well. Muravyov-Apostol was born on October 9, 1796 and spent the majority of his childhood in Paris and Hamburg. He later graduated from the St. Petersburg institute of Road Engineers. He later served in the Russian Army, taking part in many battles during the Patriotic War with France in 1812, most notably the Battle of Paris, where he was awarded the Order of St. Anna.

After leading the Semenovsky and Poltva Regiments, he was transferred to the Chernigov Regiment which would play a large part in the Decembrist revolution. Between the years of 1817 and 1818, he was a Freemason and a ritual-keeper for the Lodge of Three Virtues. During his time in the Union, Muravyov-Apostol maintained relations with the Society of United Slavs and wrote the catechesis of the Decembrists. He was also responsible for the Chernigov Regiment Uprising, in which he was critically wounded by a cannon shot on the last day of the rebellion. After the rebellion was quelled, he was captured and eventually sent to the Petropavlovsk Fortress where he and the four other revolutionaries were executed.

Kondraty Fydorovich Ryleyev was arguably the most interesting of the group. Born on September 29, 1795 in the village of Batovo, Ryleyev was the son of  an impoverished nobleman who lacked much property or reputation. Although despite this, he was eventually able to enter the Page Corps. Graduating, he participated in several campaigns during 1814 and 1815. Leaving the military, he became a tutor for the children of Tevyashev, a wealthy landowner. Following this, he married Tevyashev’s daughter, Natalya and fathered two children.

In 1820, he gained fame for a poem he wrote criticizing an unpopular official. Later, he joined the Lodge of the Three Virtues where he met several members of what would be the Union of Salvation. A year later he joined the Free Society of Russian Literature Lovers to continue his interest in literature. He later worked with Alexander Bestuzhev on a literary periodical titled The Polar Star. After Ryleyev’s death, he and the other four Decembrists were featured on the cover of one of it’s editions. In his time, he was quite a popular poet.

But his work as a poet could not support his family which was why between the years of 1821 and 1824 he worked as an assessor in the St. Petersburg criminal court. During this time, he met a well-educated Ukrainian serf named Aleksandr Nikitenko, who was struggling to achieve freedom. Since then, Ryleyev worked to obtain freedom for Nikitenko by contacting various officials and friends. Finally on October 11, 1824, Count Sheremetev freed Nikitenko. After Nikitenko’s emancipation, Ryleyev left the court and found new work as the head manager of the St. Petersburg office of the Russian American Company.

In 1823, Ryleyev was brought into the Northern Society of the Union. Although he personally didn’t believe the Decembrist revolution would succeed, he felt that if he and his comrades died in the process, it would awaken Russia, and in a way he was correct. One of his poems, Nalevaiko’s Confession, he vaguely described his willingness to die for the cause.

“Say not, thou holy man, again
That this is sin, thy words are vain,
Be it fearful mortal sin
Worse than all crimes that ever have been,
I care not – for could I but see
My native land at liberty,
Could I but see my race restored
To freedom from the foreign horde
All sins would I upon me take
Try not with threats my mind to shake,
Persuasive words no change can make
I know full well the dire fate
Which must upon the patriot wait
Who first dare rise against the foe
And at the tyrant aim the blow.
This is my destined fate – but say
When, when has freedom won her way
Without the blood of martyrs shed,
When none for liberty have bled?
My coming doom I feel and know
And bless the stroke which lays me low
And, father, now with joy I meet
My death, to me such end is sweet.”

Finally, during his last days as member of the Decembrists, he was witness to the rebellion at the Senate Square, finally confirming his belief that the revolution would ultimately fail, which he reflected in a remark during the standoff saying “What we foresaw will happen. Our last moments are near, but they are the moments of our liberty. We have lived them and now I willingly forfeit my life.”

After he and the other four were brought to court, he volunteered to be the only one to be executed among the Decembrists, one quote of his states “If an execution is needed for the good of Russia, I am the only one who deserves it. I have long prayed that it will stop at me, and that the others will be returned by God’s mercy to their families, their fatherland, and their noble Tsar.”. It is said that Ryleyev was executed holding a book of the poetry of Lord Byron’s poetry.

Finally, Pyotr Grigoryevich Kakhovsky is the fifth and final high member of the Decembrists. Born in the Smolensk Governate to an impoverished noble family. Beginning his education in the Moscow University Boarding School, he began his first service in the military as a junker (military student) at the Leib Guard in 1816 but was later demoted to Private because of “rude behavior in the house of Mrs Vangersgeim, not paying his debt to a candy shop, and laziness in military service.”

For the next few years until 1821, he worked his way up to the rank of a poruchik while serving in the 7th Ranger Regiment, later leaving because of an illness. After searching for medical treatment in western Europe, he returned in 1823, he joined the North Society of the Decembrists and became an assistant to Kondrady Ryleyev. During the Decembrist uprising at the Senate Square, he was the most violent of the five main members, killing war general Mikhail Miloradovich, colonel Sturler and wounded officer Gastfer. Suffering the same fate as the other five, he was sentenced to hanging at the Petropavlovsk fortress.

The rest of the rebels, as in the ones who were exiled, had a much brighter conclusion. Most notably, the rebels who were sent to live in Irkutsk were able to be accompanied by their wives and live a life of non-conformity, in that they were able to be amongst peasants, dress like them, and wear untrimmed beards, contrary to what noble fashions dictated. Although conditions were often times brutal, the exiled rebels contributed much to cities they were sent to live and even chose to spend the rest of their lives there, even after their sentence had expired.

The most famous example of the Decembrist wives was Maria Volkonskaya, wife of exiled noble Sergei Volkonsky. Upon learning of her husband’s exile into Siberia she wrote to him saying “I can assure you, whatever your fate, I shall share it.” before embarking to her husband’s whereabouts. As further example of her dedication to Sergei, she willfully signed a document renouncing her rights, titles, and possessions, among these things was her son, who was forbidden to be brought to Siberia. She now had nothing except the life she would build with her husband.

As her life in the city of Irkutsk began, she and the wives of other Decembrists were only allowed to see their husbands twice a week at first. At these times, they attempted to reason with the guards to allow for less brutal conditions and worked with the families of the other rebels so that they may support each other in times of need.

As her influence spread, she would later be responsible for the creation of a new concert hall and theater in the city as well as he reformation of a local hospital. Although Sergei had practically given up on life during the later years of his life in exile and the romance between him and Maria soon faded. Despite this, they stayed married until the end of their lives.

But she was not the only one with such a story, others such as Ekaterina Trubetskaya and Pauline Gueble had similar experiences. Because of this, there exists a term in Russia, that being Decembrist’s wife, which is used to describe a wife of a man who will go to great lengths for him.

Another group of Decembrists were exiled to the southeastern city of Chita, which gave it the name ‘City of Exiles’. Unlike in other places, life for the exiles was illustrated by several Decembrists, most of these displayed the Petrovsky factory, which the exiles were forced to work in and spend most of their day in.

But because the Decembrists were middle-class intellectuals, they were able to help the town and the surrounding area for the better. Besides educating them, they convinced the locals of the town to take up trade. This would later lead to Chita becoming a major trade center in Siberia due to it’s abundance of resources including gold, uranium, and lumber. For these few, their fates were not as painful as those of others.

Others, however, were not so fortunate, as some were sent to labor in Siberia. One of the Decembrists’ closest friends, Aleksandr Pushkin, was upset to hear of this and continually remained in contact with them throughout his life and even write several poems to them to raise their spirits in a time of oppression, In the Depths of the Siberian Mines was one such poem:

In the depths of the Siberian Mines, let naught
Subdue your proud and patient spirit.
Your crushing toil and lofty thought
Shall not be wasted – do not fear it.

Misfortune’s sister, hope sublime,
From sombre dungeon pain will banish;
Joy will awake and sorrow vanish…
Twill come the promised, longed-for time;

The heavy locks will burst – rejoice! –
And love and friendship ‘thout delusion
Will reach you in your grim seclusion
As does my freedom-loving voice.

The prison walls will collapse… freedom!
At the entrance it will gladly wait to meet you;
Your brothers, hastening to greet you,
To you the sword will gladly give.

The Decembrist revolution led to further discontent with the monarchy and began Tsar Nicholas’ lifelong fear of liberal revolutions. These two things would lead him to control more aspects of public life. To enforce stricter censorship and restrictions, the Tsar founded the Third Section of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Chancellery or simply the Third Section, a network of agents and spies who were tasked with eliminating any threats to the government, much in the form of a secret police. For a time, these officers were more effective in stopping crimes than the police itself.

In review, one might argue the Decembrists contributed more to the people of Russia spiritually than politically. Although many didn’t agree with the views of the Union of Salvation, partly due to their connections with freemasonry, many had written of their work, Leo Tolstoy had even began writing a book which centered around a Decembrist who returned from exile in Siberia and his life, although it was never completed.

Unlike the storming of Bastille in France which began a long and bloody revolution, the two rebellions by the Union of Salvation failed in instilling liberalism and actually led to very opposite. In fact, it would only be until the 1900’s when a major liberal movement would be created and gain some sort of influence among the people.

Links to further information can be found below:

The Tale of Ivan Turchaninov

Prior to the Bolshevik revolution, there were hardly any Russians who emigrated to the United States for non-religious reasons, Ivan Turchaninov is one of those few.

Ivan Turchaninov, or John Basil Turchin as he called himself in America, was the only the Russian-American general in the United States Civil War. Born into a Don Cossack family on December 24, 1821 in Russia, Ivan had possessed a bright military career as early as the age of 11 when he was sent to learn at Novocherkassk, the capital of the Don Cossack region. Three years later he entered the Mikhailovskiy Artillery School in St. Petersburg, which trained Turchaninov for five years on aspects of math and engineering. Upon graduating in 1841, Turchaninov was assigned to an artillery unit in Poland. Finally, at the age of 30, he enrolled in the Imperial Military School in St. Petersburg, later becoming chief of staff among the Russian Guards and fighting in the Crimean War and Hungary.

In May of 1856, he married the daughter of his commanding officer, Nadezhda Lovov, and immigrated to the United States. Anglicizing their names to John and Nadine Turchin, the couple settled on a farm on Long Island, New York. Losing the farm a year later due to an economic downturn, the couple moved to Philadelphia where John attended engineering school.

While the exact reason for the Turchin’s immigration to America is never quite known, it might have been the fact John’s political views, which would be considered liberal by Russian standards, were not encouraged, as evidenced by the failure of the Decembrist uprising. But despite moving to the land of the free, the couple’s first years in America were none too pleasant as they had experienced a number of failed ventures, in one letter John writes:

“I thank America for one thing, it helped me get rid of my aristocratic prejudices, and it reduced me to the rank of a mere mortal. I have been reborn. I fear no work; no sphere of business scares me away, and no social position will put me down; it makes no difference whether I plow and cart manure or sit in a richly decorated room and discuss astronomy with the great scholars of the New World. I want to earn the right to call myself a citizen of the United States of America”

After finishing Engineering school, John and Nadine moved a second time to Chicago, Illinois where Nadine would work in medicine and John would work for the Illinois Central Railroad as an assistant to the company’s vice president and chief engineer George McClellan (who Turchin had met during his service in the Crimean War) until 1861, where his skills with the Russian Imperial Army found him a place as a colonel among the ranks of the Union army.

On June 17, 1861, the 19th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry marched into the south, with John Turchin in command. Soon after, the regiment was under command of the Army of the Ohio. Impressed by Turchin’s skills as a leader, Don Carlo Buell (who was leader of the Army of the Ohio at the time), gave a promotion and command of a brigade from the army’s Third Division, originally only under the command of Ormsby M. Mitchel.

With orders to hold Nashville, Turchin convinced Mitchel to head south, which would eventually lead to the taking of Huntsville, Alabama and severed the rail communications of the Confederacy from east to west. But this victory did not last long and troops were attacked by Confederate troops, eventually leading to a temporary retreat by the Union. One of the most notable instances of this was in nearby Athens, a small town of a population made up of roughly 900 people, where several of Turchin’s regiments had become so agitated they began to harbor antagonism against the people of the city. Turchin, after learning that the civilians of Huntsville had prevented several blacks from rescuing a Union soldier from being roasted alive between the engine and coal-car of a destroyed train, had become enraged himself, this is when he allowed his troops to pillage the town after reinforcements had arrived, this would become known as the Rape of Athens.

Despite Buell’s wish to protect the property and rights of the southerners, after receiving confirmation the Confederate presence in the area was indeed eliminated and that there would be threat of enemy retaliation, Turchin gathered the regiment and told them “I close my eyes for two hours. I see nothing”, just before leaving the town for a meadow where he would stay for the rest of the day. The regiment went on a rampage, ransacking businesses and stealing or destroying merchandise, one report mentions a stock of books, with bibles and testaments among them, were ripped apart and kicked about the floor while another mentions a jewelry store was broken into, with soldiers stuffing their pockets with as much valuables as they could steal. Soon, homes and living areas were also raided, one pregnant woman was so terrified she suffered a miscarriage and later died herself.

The townspeople estimated the damages of the rioting to be at least $55,000. Facing court martial, Turchin was on trial before Brigadier General James A. Garfield, who would later become a president of the United States. At the trial, Turchin argued that his superiors had been treating the rebels too softly, arguing that “the more lenient we become to secessionists the bolder they become”. While this did win Garfield and many others to his side, Turchin was still found guilty “of conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline.”

Turchin’s wife, Nadine Turchin met with President Lincoln to plead her case, stating that John’s nomination for promotion to brigadier general should waive his punishment, which after a vote in the Senate of twenty to eighteen, did just that, much to the dismay of Don Carlo Buell, who sought punishment for Turchin. Following this, Turchin returned to service as a general officer.

Returning to Chicago, John Turchin received a hero’s welcome and now had more supporters behind him than ever, some even saying the aggressive policies with Athens should be applied to the war as a whole and others calling for the demotion of Buell. In fact, the Chicago Tribune praised Turchin, stating that he “has had, from the beginning, the wisest and clearest ideas of any man in the field about the way in which the war should be conducted.” and that he is one “who comprehends the malignant character of the rebellion and who is ready and willing to use all means at his command to put it down.” after sponsoring his promotion to General at Chicago’s Bryan Hall.

Following this, Turchin continued his military command at the battles of Chickamauga, Chattanooga and Atlanta (Interesting fact, another Russian, Aleksei Smirnov, was in Turchin’s regiment during the battle of Chickamauga, dying in battle). During this time, Nadine Turchin, or Madame Turchin as she was known to many, followed John Turchin’s campaigns and witnessing the battles her husband had taken part in, writing her experiences in a diary, the manuscript of which is now in the hands of the Illinois Historical Society. Remarkably, Nadine Turchin was the only Union woman to have written a diary on her experiences during those battles.

Shortly after the end of the Atlanta Campaign in September of 1864, Turchin suffered heatstroke and as a result resigned from service. For the remainder of his life, John Turchin worked a number of jobs including patent solicitor, civil engineer and eventually real estate, where he would help find land for immigrants like him in southern Illinois. He could hardly make ends meet, seeing this, his old comrades-in-arms appealed to congress to grant Turchin a payment of fifty dollars per month as pension, despite this, John and his wife were still quite poor.

Turchin died on June 18, 1901 at the age of 79, in an institute as a result of his heatstroke-attributed dementia. Although Ivan Turchaninov’s role in the Civil War was small, because of his actions at Athens, he garnered nationwide attention and brought up the question of military conduct in a civilian area among the American people.

Known as “The Mad Cossack” and “The Russian Lightning Bolt”, Many remembered him for the way he would shout orders in a thick accent, quickly becoming popular for this among the Union soldiers, a song was even written parodying the Confederate song “Here’s Your Mule”, titled “Turchin’s got your mule”, recounting how his regiment seized Southern property and livestock at Alabama. The the lyrics of the song are as follows:

“A planter came to camp one day,
His niggers for to find,
His Mules had also gone astray,
And stock of every kind.
The planter tried to get them back,
And thus was made a fool,
For every one he met in camp
Cried “Mister here’s your Mule.”
Chorus — Go back, go back, go back, old scamp,
And don’t be made a fool,
Your niggers they are all in camp
And Turchin’s got your Mule.
His corn and horses all were gone
Within a day or two,
Again he went to Col. Long,
To see what he could do.
I cannot change what I have done,
I wont be made a fool,
Was all the answer he could get,
The owner of the mule.
And thus from place to place we go,
The song is e’er the same,
T’is not as once it used to be,
For Morgan’s lost his name.
He went up North and there he stays,
With stricken face, the fool ;
In Cincinnati now he cries,
“My Kingdom for a Mule.”

And so ends the tale of Ivan Turchaninov, the man who began a legacy of Russian life in America and the man who defined the Russian-American view of the United States as stated by one of his comrades-in-arms, “He was one of the best-educated and knowledgeable soldiers of the United States. He loved this country more than many American-born citizens did”.

Read more on Turchaninov at these links:,_Alabama–beside-her-husband-john–in-the-civil-war-a257025

Old Russia in Color – The Photographs of Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky

While numerous other blogs and media have already taken the opportunity to bring this man’s work to light, I feel that I should do the same here for those who have yet to see this tremendous achievement in photography.

For those who don’t know yet, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky was a photographer who’s experience in chemistry created one of the earliest techniques of color photography, which he used to document the scope of the Russian empire prior to the revolution, giving us a glimpse into the lives and cultures of the time.

Through the years of 1904 to 1916, Prokudin-Gorsky was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II to document pre-revolutionary Russia and was granted access to the whole of the Russian empire. It is said that Prokudin-Gorsky had created some 3,500 negatives in his journeys across the Russian empire, although only about 1,902 have been recovered.

The technique in itself would take three different images, each through a certain filter. When put through a certain light, the photos would recreate the original scene in full color. It would only be until nearly a century later when Prokudin-Gorsky’s original negatives, purchased by the Library of Congress in 1948, would be fully put together, the photographer unfortunately, did not live to see his life’s work realized.

Thanks to the efforts of the Library of Congress, we are able to experience the wonder of the Russian empire in a way traditional black-and-white photography of the time would not be able to convey. I’ve selected several of what I believe to be the best examples of this man’s work, but I encourage the readership of this blog to view the full collection at the Library of Congress’ site.


Here are the links where one may find more of Prokudin-Gorsky’s photographs:

The Russian American Company

During the 1800’s, what is now the United States of America was being explored and colonized by various European powers for it’s land and resources. Among these nations was Russia, which played an important role in exploring America’s northwest frontiers. In the course of over 140 years, the nation sent over 225 ships into the North Pacific to create and trade with it’s colonies.

Although it’s presence in America was not as large as that of the British or Spanish, the Russian American Company was the Russian monarchy’s foremost example in it’s claim to the new world. Read on to know more about what was once the Russian American Company and it’s many colonies across western America. Seeing the large amount of potential resources to claim, the Russian government, under the rule of Paul I, had decided to send an expedition to America. This is when the Russian American Company was founded in Irkutsk (although the company would later move it’s main building to St. Petersburg in order to allow further cooperation with monarchy) on July 8, 1799 to explore America’s pacific coast and it’s outlying islands and regulate fur trade within those areas.

But the origins of the company began much earlier in 1725 when Peter the Great, sensing his imminent death at 53, began an endeavor to explore the North Pacific and make contact with the peoples. On July 15, 1741, Aleksei Chirikov, during an expedition launched by the government, spotted the Alaskan coast, making him and the crew of the St. Paul the first Europeans to make landfall on Alaska. Roughly a day later, a second ship, the St. Peter, commanded by Vitus Bering, sighted Mt. Saint Elias. Soon after the discoveries, both ships set a course back to Kamchatka to tell the government of their findings.

On the way, the St. Peter made stops at several islands along the way (including the Shumagin islands, which they named for a crew member who died on board), they yet again met several natives who invited the crew to the island. After trading several goods, the ten Russians sent to trade with the natives began to return to the ship, but the natives had held one back. Wrestling free, he swam to the safety of the boat while the crew began to fire muskets into the air to ward off the Aleuts. The next day, before departing, the crew of the St. Peter traded once with the natives. Through this ordeal, the Russians had made first contact with the native people of Alaska, an omen of what is to be.

Soon after, the St. Peter had come to face disaster. Much of the crew began to have illnesses (mostly scurvy) and there were not enough healthy men to man the sails. On the 4th of November the crew landed on Bering Island (named in the captain’s honor), thinking it was Russia. The ship ran aground in shallow water and was later lost in a storm. Soon after, Bering, along with several other crew members, died of scurvy leaving the survivors of the wreck without a captain.

Stranded for almost an entire year, the crew used the remnants of the ship to create a boat of which to sail back to Russia. In 1742, the crew returned and brought with them several sea otter pelts, proof of an awaiting opportunity and the dangers that follow. Through the perilous journey, it is said only forty-five of the original crew of seventy-six survived. Because of the potential for resources and economic growth, wealthy Russian merchants began to hire Siberian traders to go to the Aleutian islands and collect pelts, which would late be sold to the Chinese, turning a large profit. In the coming years, more companies began to send hunters to the new world and each time in greater number. It is said throughout the 1740’s and 1799, over forty companies and merchants sent expeditions to Alaska and the surrounding islands, exporting an average 62,000 pelts a year (worth roughly 350,000 rubles) per company.

Since then, the first major explorations began when Grigory Shelikhov, a  Rylsk-born seafarer and merchant organized trips by merchant ships to Kuril and Aleutian Islands. Soon after, expeditions to Alaska took place in 1783 to 1786 were organized with Ivan Larionovich Golikov under the Shelikhov-Golikov Fur Company, which would organize the earliest permanent Russian settlements on Alaska. The results of these expeditions were the predecessor to the Russian American Company.

The expedition’s first landing began in 1784 when Grigory Ivanovich Shelikhov arrived on Three Saints Bay of Kodiak Island on two ships, the Three Saints and the St. Simon. The indigenous Koniaga were the first to make contact with the Russian settlers, although they would later become a nuisance to Shelikhov, convincing him to kill several hundred of the natives to set an example for the rest and to achieve dominancy over the land (he would later attempt to reconcile with the native by offering gifts and establishing trade deals). Following this, the first permanent Russian settlement would later be built on the land.

From the settlement, hunters were sent into Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound in order to trade with the locals, although these visits did not always end in a friendly manner. At the time, Shelikhov’s company was not the only one in Alaska. Pavel Lebedev-Lastochkin had also claimed parts of Cook Inlet (mostly near the mouths of several rivers) by building several outposts, creating competition for Shelikhov. Although after time, the outposts were absorbed into The SGC.

With that done, Shelikhov’s son-in-law, Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov, acquired a monopoly on the Russian fur trade with the approval of Tsar Paul I on July 8, 1799 under a 20-year contract and an initial donation of 724,000 rubles from the royal family’s personal assets. So began the Russian American Company. Following the monopoly, Rezanov promised the Tsar new expansions in the Russian fur trade which included expansion further down America and the creation of new settlements in Alaska.

One of the company’s ventures took place in modern day Alaska from 1799 to 1861, this was generally known as Russian America until 1867 when it was sold to the United States government. What is today  Sitka was chosen to be the location of one of the Russian American Company’s first outposts. Redoubt Saint Michael had become an early trade center with the company’s resources until 1802 when most of it’s inhabitants were slaughtered and the outpost itself was destroyed by the native Tlingit people. The Russian American Company was later forced to pay 10,000 rubles to the Tlingit for the safe return of the survivors.

But this attack did not mean the end of Russia’s exploration in Alaska, in 1804 Baranov sent the warship Neva to launch a counterattack on a fort built by the Tlingit in an attempt to reclaim the land, this was known as the Battle of Sitka. The four-day attack may have ended in a loss for Baranov had the Tlingit not lost their gunpowder stocks earlier.

Accepting defeat, the remaining Tlingit were forced to retreat and the Russian American Company was able to explore and settle in the area once more. A new outpost was built, named Novoarkhangelsk or New Archangel, a reference to the birthplace of Baranov. Despite further Tlingit conflict in the area (They later established a fort on the Chatham Strait to enforce a trade embargo with the Russians.), progress continued and in 1808, Baranov was selected as governor of Russian America.

Baranov himself had already built a life for himself. At the age of fifteen, Alexander Andreyevich Baranov ran away from home and later became a successful merchant in Irkutsk, he would maintain the position for ten years and was at one point elected as a member of the Free Economic Society in 1787. At the end of the 18th century, he met Nikolai Rezanov and gained a successful place in the Russian American Company as it’s chief manager of the company’s Alaskan fur enterprise, this is when he later moved to northeastern part of Kodiak island where he would live for most of his later years. In 1808, Baranov moved the company’s capital to Sitka where sea otters were abundant. It is also interesting to note that in the time since the Russian-American Company’s official founding, fur prices rose from 1000 rubles to 3727 in just one year (The precise date of this is uncertain as some claim it to have occurred in 1800 and others in 1808).

During Baranov’s time as governor, he suggested the use of a special currency for hunters in America. This is why in the years of 1816-1832, the RAC board of directors, with the permission of the government, provided it’s hunters with specially-printed banknotes in lieu of rubles in order to “facilitate settling accounts with the hunters”. The tokens, which were made of either parchment or walrus skin, were used to pay workers of the company, these tokens could later be used to purchase anything from supplies to alcohol in the company’s settlements. Although the exact range of use for these tokens is not known, it may be possible they were used in other colonies as well as several were found in California’s Settlement Ross.

While he was given much power, he would often mention of the Russian government’s failure to provide additional support (this would later lead to the company’s downfall), reflecting on the challenges faced by many Russian traders in America like himself. Overcoming this, he was able to convince Native Americans to expand their hunting regions for the good of the Company’s prosperity, in return he built several schools for their support.

In 1795, Baranov, who was concerned with the rise in trade with the local natives, established a city six miles east of present-day Sitka from land purchased by the Tlingits, this town would later be called Mikhailovsk. But just seven years after it’s founding, the local native population attacked and burned the city, further widening the gap between the native and Russian trading populations. Soon after the attack, Baranov would return the attack by destroying the nearby Tlingit village with a warship.

Although soon after his work in Russian Alaska, he was replaced in 1818 by Leontii Hagemeister of the Russian navy after rumors Baranov secretly sent funds from the company to American banks (this was most likely done deliberately in order to allow the Russian navy to coordinate the company’s actions). After this was disproven, Baranov’s son-in-law, Semyon Ianovsky was given the title of Chief manager and governor, followed by eleven others. Overall, Baranov’s retirement and demotion presented more troubles to the RAC that the new governor was not able to change.

Hagemeister and Baranov later set sail for Russia, stopping only at several Dutch settlements on the way. Unfortunately, Baranov fell ill during this time, later dying enroute to Russia.

Following Baranov’s death, the company’s operations in Alaska and the Aleutian island continued to flourish. This was also a time when many fur traders (half of which were of European descent) from Siberia began arriving in groups to the Aleutian Islands. The company’s activities also expanded northward up the Yukon River to the village of Nulato, the Bering Coast was explored as well. Amazingly, despite all of the expansions of the company, there were only 833 Russians in Alaska during the course of the company’s existence. By the end of the 18th century, permanent trading posts were established and much progress was being made.

Meanwhile, as the RAC’s business in Alaska grew, the Tlingit (whom the company had chased off the land earlier, returned in the hopes of creating an agreement with the company. After negotiations, the company allowed the Tlingit to return in exchange for food provisions such as deer meat and potatoes (the Russians eventually taught the natives how to plant potatoes). The deal came of great benefit to the Russians as shipments from Russia were took many days to arrive and were often very expensive and food supplies were at many times scarce.

Although the progress of the company came with a price, because of lack of manpower necessary to hunt the native wildlife, the local Aleuts were forced to work for the Russian hunters. As competition between various sub-companies increased, the Aleuts were pushed to work harder. Despite Catherine the Great’s requests to approach the natives with good will, many of the Aleuts who refused to work were sent out of their villages or taken hostage.

The plight of Aleuts continued to worsen, well after the population of the marine animals began to decline, the natives were forced to go to greater lengths to find new otter populations to hunt in order to keep up with the growing trade economy created by the company all while suffering from the diseases brought over by the Russians. Many of the Aleutians were angered by this, causing several revolts across the islands. Although there were several several victories, this incited the company’s wrath and retaliation soon followed, in which they returned with further violence and destroyed much of the Aleut’s boats and hunting tools.

The company’s rapid development was due in part to several important figures. None more perhaps, than Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov, one of the company’s most famous explorers. Born in St. Petersburg on March 28, 1764, the man was already famous for being part of the first Russian circumnavigation of the planet as well as possibly being one of the first Russian ambassadors to Japan, he was a large supporter of Russian colonization into America. Rezanov fast became involved in the Russian expeditions to America after meeting his father-in-law, Grigory Shelikhov and learning of his goal to gain full control of the fur trade in Western America. Until Shelikhov’s death in 1795, he worked as a small-time partner of the company, after which he became the front of the company’s actions.

Following Shelikhov’s death, Rezanov purchased a boat which he used to set sail to California’s Spanish settlements in the hope of striking a trade deal for the sale of American and Russian wares and to create a treaty in which the Russian colonies of America may be supplied by the Spaniards. Rezanov landed in April of 1806 in San Francisco after a perilous voyage across the Pacific. The success of this deal would mean a great deal to the company in Alaska, as soil in the land was poor and offered little to no support to farmers seeking a steady food supply.

After learning of Spain’s law forbidding trade with foreign colonies, Rezanov was on the verge of failure had it not been for his love interest (and later engagement) with Doña Concepción Argüello, the daughter of the comandante of San Francisco, Don José Darío Argüello. This, combined with his personal skill as a diplomat, was able to suade the Spanish to create the treaty.

Six weeks later, Rezanov had set sail with Spanish supplies and to return to the Russian empire in the hopes of receiving consent from the throne to marry Concepción Argüello. With high hopes, he made several stops in New Archangel and Kamchatka and continued on his way to St. Petersburg.

Unfortunately, disaster struck and Nikolai Rezanov died of cold and tiredness (one story states he fell off his horse and later died of his injuries) en route to St. Petersburg on March 1807, never to see Concepción Argüello again. Despite his death, the agreement with the Spanish colonies ensured the furthering of Russia’s ventures in America. Concepción however is said to have never learned of Rezanov’s death, and waited 35 years for his return after which she took on the name of Maria Dominga and became a nun in Monterey, California.

Since then, the story of Concepción and Nikolai has become comparable to that of Romeo & Juliet,  especially in Russia where the story was adapted into the rock-opera and movie Juno & Avos (The two being the names of the ships used by Rezanov and Argüello)

Following the meeting of Rezanov and Comandante Concepción and fulfilling the promise to Tsar Paul I to expand south, the RAC began to establish it’s operations in California. In 1809, three years after Rezanov’s visit to the Spanish, Port Rumyantsev was created in Bodega Bay. While Spanish law forbade trade with foreign ships, Port Rumyantsev was willing to trade with any ship, making it the first port allowing foreign trade in California as well as the first to build ships on the western coast of North America, eventually producing a total of four ships. This port would later help pave the way for the company’s most well-known establishment, Fort Ross, which still stands today.

The fort’s beginnings are something of interest, the land which the company had chosen for the settlement had been visited several times and little progress was made in the founding of the fort. One of the first visits to the area was during a joint sea venture with American sailor Joseph O’Cain following a shortage of Otter in Alaska. As Baranov predicted, the California bay was found to have substantial otter populations, although permanent settlement was not made. This changed when settler Ivan Kuskov arrived on the land in March of 1812 with 20-25 Russians and 80 or more native Alaskans. Soon after negotiations with the Kashya Pomo people of the area were made, construction of the fort began, modeling on previous forts and stockades built in Siberia and Alaska.

At first, the Spanish, already under threat from other nations colonizing in America, protested the settlement’s creation, claiming it was built illicitly on land claimed by the Spaniards. This opposition did not convince the Russians to change their mind, as the Spanish had lacked the military power necessary to evict them from the coast. In time, the settlement impressed the Spanish, the fort had a full-time blacksmith (The Spanish were so amazed by his skill, they employed him in several of their missions), imported glass (They were the first to do this in California), and even several surrounding ranches with vineyards (They were also the first to do this north of San Francisco), one even reaching 2000 vines.

The Settlement Ross (Short for ‘Rossiya’), over time, was subject to much expansion. The Rotchev house, which still stands today (and is said to be the oldest building between Alaska and San Francisco), was the fort’s main storehouse. A chapel was also constructed sometime between 1823-1826. In it’s time, the surrounding areas were said to be populated by employees of the company, many of these Aleut workers from Alaska. This would later be expanded with the addition of a windmill, cemetery, bath houses, a bakery, and innumerous other buildings, this showed the company’s foothold on the land, even though many of these things disappeared since the sale of the fort. An anonymous Bostonian described the fort during his visit to it in 1832, writing this in his report:

“The Presidio is formed by the houses fronting inwards, making a large square, surrounded by a high fence. The governor’s house stands at the head, and the remainder of the square is formed by the chapel, magazin, and dwelling houses. The buildings are from 15 to 20 feet high built of large timbers, and have a weather-beaten appearance.”

Interestingly enough, the Fort was armed with several rifles and cannons in the case of attack, although in it’s 29-year existence, there was not one instance of attack from outside threats.

The RAC was not just famous in California for the fort by itself, as several of it’s inhabitants made notable contributions to California themselves. For example, one of the first weather reports in Northern California came from the fort’s agronomist, Yegor Chernykh, who recorded sky cover, air presure, precipitation and wind conditions between 1837 and 1840. The California Poppy, the state’s official wildflower was discovered by naturalists Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz and Ludovick de Chamissio during their visit to the settlement. Throughout the time of the fort’s existence, it served as a base of operations for various artists, scientists, and explorers from Russia sent for a number of reasons, researching in various fields.

One such scientific initiative was Russian Navy Captain Vasily Nikolaevich Golovnin’s visit to northern California. While the captain described his observations of the local Miwok culture and traditions, his main goal was to create a map of the Bodega Bay area, marking water depths and topographical elevations as he went along. Adding to Golovnin’s contributions, two crew members, Dmitry Irinarkhovich Zavalishin and Mikhail Tikhonovich Tikhanov also provided insight into Miwok and Spanish population in California, greatly contributing to the Russian knowledge of the area.

Another important scientific project undertaken by the RAC happened during the early 1830’s when Baron Ferdinand Petrovich von Wrangell, manager-in-chief of the fort at the time encouraged an investigation of the land inland of Bodega Bay in the interest of expanding the company’s hold on the land. In 1833, a detailed anthropological account of the native populations in the Russian River area and the Santa Rosa plain was written by manager Peter Kostromitinov in cooperation with the Imperial Academy of Sciences. This report later paved the way for the construction of ranches further inland.

Although no substantial accounts of life at Fort Ross were ever found, we are able to piece together certain things based off official records from the fort. Since there was little to do, most forms of entertainment came during a holiday celebrated in Russia, when the inhabitants of the fort would come together and celebrate, this usually entailed gun and rifle demonstrations followed by a feast from local wildlife (mostly local salmon, sea bass, or even beef from a local ranch). But when there wasn’t a holiday, most workers may have passed the time by fishing by the bay or tending to a garden as Kuskov, the first manager of the fort did. During his visit to the fort in 1818, Captain Golovnin describes Ivan Kuskov’s vegetable as such:

“Here the land produces many crops in abundance: cabbage, lettuce, pumpkins, horseradishes, carrots, turnips, beets, onions, and potatoes now grow in Kuskov’s gardens; watermelons, musk melons, and grapes which he has recently cultivated, even ripen in the open air. The garden vegetables are very pleasant in taste and sometimes reach extraordinary size, for example, one horseradish weighed 48 pounds, and 36-pounders are often obtained; here pumpkins are 54 pounds and one turnip weighed 12 pounds.”

Unlike in Alaska, life in the fort was calm, due in part to the fair weather the area had, in fact, the fort’s last manager, Alexander Rotchev, recalled his stay at Fort Ross as one of the best times of his life. Another aspect of Fort Ross life was religion, by the 1820’s, inhabitants of the fort expressed their desire to have a chapel built in the fort dedicated to St. Nicholas. Eventually the chapel was built, and several icons were sent from Russia. A reconstruction of this chapel still stands today, in it’s original place, with regular services during special events.

Occupation-wise, it is said that there were 25 to 100 Russian workers in Fort Ross at any given time, most of these people were brought to the fort from various parts of the Russian empire and beyond usually due to a skill they possessed in a certain craft, be it carpentry, blacksmithing, hunting, or whatever else was of use to the company.

The original Fort:
1. Front entrance
2. Southeast Blockhouse
3. East gate
4. Well
5. Chapel
6. House of Ivan Kuskov
7. Northwest Blockhouse
8. The Western Gate
9. Office
10. Rotchev House
No longer standing:
A) The Trading House
B) Flag Mast
C) Barracks
D) Storehouse

Originally, these workers would be compensated for their labor with a share of what the fort earned from trading, meaning that wages could be either very large at one time and very small at another. Only until 1820 did workers start receiving salaries, although they must first oblige to a seven-year contract stating they shall not trade with natives for personal gain and avoid unproductive behavior, such as drunkenness. It is said there were 72 salaried employees at Fort Ross, each receiving about 360 rubles each.

The Aleut workers however, were paid very differently. Rather than being placed on a contract salary, they would be compensated on the amount of otters they caught. As part of a trade deal, they would given clothes and baidarkas (Aleutian kayaks).

The Aleuts, being the hunting division of the fort, operated very differently. Rather than spending most of their time by the fort, they would work in hunting groups or artels (a Russian term, meaning a cooperative between a group of workers). These groups would be supervised under a Russian foreman and make trips to hunting bases located as far as the Farallon islands where they would remain for days at a time, living under crude huts while going out to sea to hunt for various wildlife. The products gained from the hunt (bird eggs, seal lion meat, etc.) would be processed at the base and eventually shipped to the fort.

Remarkably, relations with the natives at Fort Ross were very peaceful, as the natives were compensated for their work with flour, meat, and clothes and were offered lodging. Unlike the Tlingits at Alaska, the locals were very open to the prospect of working with the Russians, in fact, they considered them more worthwhile associates than the Spanish to the south. So open were the natives to the company that they eventually signed an agreement promising the neighboring land to the company in return from defense from outside threats.

At it’s height, the RAC established trade relations with several countries including Chile, the United States, and China. Besides the company’s animal products like whalebone, pelt, and walrus tooth, it’s main exports included food products, most importantly bread, which rose in demand during the California gold rush. Hundreds of natives were employed to till the land for farming and tend to livestock while the fort’s shops produced a wide variety of products, everything from furniture to clothes to farm equipment. Settlement Ross is argueably one of the company’s most successful ventures.

But the settlement’s progress did not come without hardship and misfortune. Due to the damp, foggy weather common on the North American coast, much of the surrounding crops began to fail and the local Spaniard population, already discontent with the establishment of Fort Ross, began to create several missions around Bodega Bay in the hopes of impeding any future plans of expansion in the land. This is when agronomist Yegor Leontievich Chernykh was brought to the fort in the hope of introducing scientific farming and mechanization to the settlement, unfortunately due to the ineptitude the inhabitants possessed with most farming techniques, he was not able to accomplish this.

Shortly after, the workers tried their hand at growing fruit trees. Amazingly, their attempt was quite successful, the first peach tree being planted in 1814. Later on, Captain Hagemeister introduced grape from Peru and more peach trees from Monterey. The area where these fruits were grown, known as the Fort Ross orchard, still stands today and includes several types of fruit from trees planted over a century ago.

Finally in 1831, the company once again attempted to establish an agricultural profit, this time by building several ranches farther into the land in the hope this would further strengthen the company’s hold on the area whilst increasing the company’s productivity. For about eight years, the company maintained three such ranches, the most farthest one being owned by agronomist Yegor Chernykh where he several structures including a barracks. The other ranches were overseen by Vasily Khlebnikov and Peter Kostromitinov, a manager from the fort. Ranch Kostromitinov was arguably the largest of the ranches, it was known for growing wheat, corn, beans, and tobacco. Most interestingly it was chosen to host the birthday of Yelena Pavlovna Rotcheva, the wife of fort’s manager, Alexander Rotchev, it was said the celebration of dancing and music continued for almost two days and included guests from Fort Ross, Sonoma and several foreign visitors.
Rather than growing crops, the workers at the ranch began to focus on stock raising, which in retrospect, was more profitable to the company. Thanks to the ranches, the company had found a new form of profit, in the form of cattle, horses, mules, swine, fowl and sheep. The livestock would later be used for a variety of household and clothing goods, a number of which was sent to the company’s outposts in Alaska. Beef was also a major export, with 10,000 to 14,000 pounds sold on average each year. Many were impressed with the successful growth experienced, it is said the ranches had at one point held 1,700 head of cattle, 900 sheep, and 940 horses. In fact, French observer Eugene Duflot de Mofras described them as being “in prime condition and unquestionably the finest in California.”

Meanwhile, the company had also found another profitable resource – timber. In 1828 Auguste Bernard Duhaut-Cilly described the company’s lumber industry as part of his observation of the fort:

“We went with M. Shelikhov to see his felling of wood. Independent of the needs of the establishment, he cuts a great quality of boards, beams, thick planks, etc, which he sells in California, the Sandwich Islands and elsewhere. He has even entire houses built which may then be transported and taken apart”

The forests surrounding the settlement proved to be very useful to the workers as the diversity of tree types allowed for a wide range of products to be made, from barrels to navigational equipment. But what interested the company most was the prospect of shipbuilding.

The development of shipbuilding at Fort Ross would mean the improvement of trans-pacific communication and trade. This interested Baranov, who in 1817 sent Vasily Grudinin to look over the project. In the next few years, the cove by the fort was home to the creation of three brigs and a schooner, costing 20,000 to 60,000 rubles each. Unfortunately, the company later discovered the oak was not fit for large voyages, as such, the boats built at Fort Ross were only used for short trips to Alaska or Monterey or at the most, Hawaii or Okhotsk.

Fort Ross was also home to several smaller productions, one such being brickmaking which began when several amounts of clay were found nearby. Other commercial ventures included tanning, milling and the production of several blacksmithing products, although they were not major forms of profit to the fort.

Problems arose in 1821 after Mexico gained it’s independence from the Spanish, thereby allowing greater foreign trade with other powers. This meant that the company would now have to compete with American and British traders, forcing them to lower the cost of many of their goods. But despite this, the Russian control of Bodega bay worked in their favor, as Mexican ports now forced traders to pay a new anchorage fee and the RAC did not, which attracted several foreign ships to it’s port. Regardless of this, the settlement’s failure at growing crops (which it’s founders had hoped would be it’s main export) led to an economic downturn for the company.

After over a decade of turbulent years, the fort was sold to Swiss-American entrepreneur John A. Sutter in 1841, after attempts at selling it to the Mexicans (who had hoped they would leave on their own without having to be compensated), the Hudson Bay Company and the French military stationed in Mexico. This subsequently ceased the bulk of the company’s activities in California. Several weeks later, the flag was lowered on the fort and almost a hundred colonists set sail on a return voyage to Sitka, bringing with them an omen of the company’s future with them. Shortly before leaving, Alexander Rotchev recalled his stay in California in his memoirs:

“…What an enchanting land California is! …the vegetation is in full bloom and everything is so fragrant. The iridescent hummingbird flutters, vibrates and shimmers like a precious stone on the branch or over a flower. The virgin soil of California yields marvelous fruits…I spent the best years of my life there, and affectionately carry the memories of these days in my soul…”

Even without a settlement, elements of the company returned during times of economic promise. During the California gold rush of 1851, Alexander Rotchev, the last manager of Fort Ross obtained a patent for California’s first gold washing machine. In addition, Peter Kostromitinov, another manager, arrived to San Francisco around the same time to work as an agent for the company. The RAC was also known for being a supplier of ice to San Francisco during that time as well.

Several years prior to the RAC’s venture into establishing a settlement in California, a number of explorers on the ships Nadezhda and Neva, under the command of Lieutenant Ivan Fedorovich Krusenstern, were tasked with finding potential business partners and land for new outposts happened upon Hawaii in 1804. As King Kamehameha was busy invading Oahu at the time of their visit, the explorers instead spoke to King Kaumualii of Kauai. Although Kaumualii was not interested in trade, he asked the Russians to defend his people from the armies of Kamehameha, although Krusenstern refused as he could not afford to lose any men and his crew lacked the necessary firepower to lend any assistance.

Two years later, King Kamehameha, hearing of the company’s interests in trading with the Hawaiian people, sent a ship towards Sitka to acquire food products and sea otter pelts, this was the first in a series of planned expeditions to trade with the company. In 1808, a second ship was sent by Kamehameha in the interests of trade, relations with the company and the natives were warm, in comparison to the company’s history of conflicts with the Alaska natives.

Although sometime between October 1814 and January 1815, the Russian trading ship Bering was wrecked on Waimea Bay because of a gale and it’s cargo was seized by King Kaumuaii. Upon learning of this, Baranov sent Lieutenant I. A. Podushkin and surgeon George Anton Schäffer to recover the cargo using any means necessary.

The negotiations with the king went better than anyone could have expected. In addition to not only returning the cargo, Schäffer gained the company a land grant on the island of Kauai, fishing rights, and even livestock. Later Kaumuaii expressed his desire to ally with Russia in the hopes of taking back the island, and if possible, all of Hawaii. Later, an agreement was created in 1816 promising Russian military protection in exchange for exclusive trading rights with the land and the ability to build a trading post on the land.

Schäffer’s work in Hawaii allowed him to acquire the port and valley of Hanalei. There, he began the construction of Fort Elizabeth and several other small settlements on the coast, Hanalei would later be renamed Schäfferthal, by now, the Russian influence on the land was once again becoming evident.

As the company’s previous ventures have shown, disaster would no doubt follow. Shortly after the construction of the Fort, the local natives revolted and Schäffer was told to return to Sitka by Baranov. A year later, Schäffer was forced off Waimea by a group of natives and Americans aboard his ship and sent off. In a final attempt to claim Kauai for Russia, Schäffer later sailed for Hanalei and Honolulu, hoping to gain support and reinforcements from either the locals or Baranov. Failing in gaining any support, Schäffer eventually left for Europe through an American port, decisively ending the RAC’s involvement in Hawaii.

In later years following the establishment of The RAC’s operations in California and Hawaii, the company’s monopoly of the Alaskan fur trade began to recess. After a failure to block the creation of non-Russian trading posts in 1833, the Hudson Bay Company began operating on the southern edge of Russian America. This, combined with the actions of the British-Canadian firm began to present a challenge to the RAC.

Another looming issue to the company was it’s dependency on the American suppliers as they were able to sell furs to several markets unavailable to the Russians and were faster to arrive than Russian ships. All the while, this encouraged the Americans to hunt on Russian-claimed territory, this is when in 1824, the Russo-American treaty was declared. The treaty stated that all land above Latitude 54°, 40′ North belonged to the Russian enterprise. Similarly, a treaty with the British, disallowing them from hunting on Russian American land was made in 1825.

But the company’s trouble with the English and Americans didn’t end there. Earlier on in 1821, the company’s charter was renewed and in the charter it was stated the company needed to avoid contact with foreign businesses. This worked against the company as they had become dependent on the supplies provided by the Americans, furthering it’s economic troubles.

All the while, throughout the company’s ventures and actions in America, it was tied very closely to one organization, the Russian Orthodox Church. While there were smaller religions present on the company’s settlements (those being Lutherans and Protestants, practiced by the Swedes and Finns who worked at the company), none was more influential on the company than the Orthodox church, which existed in Alaska as early as 1784. Throughout the company’s existance several figures of Orthodoxy were very important to the religion’s development in Alaska, specifically the likes of Bishop Innokentii.

Born as Ivan Evseyevich Popov in 1797, Saint Innokentii entered the Irkutsk Theological Seminary where he was renamed as Ioann Veniaminov and later became a deacon at the Church of the Annunciation in Irkutsk. Prior to 1823, Ioann lived a pious life until he was asked by Bishop Michael to go to the Aleutian islands of Alaska. A year later, he and several members of his family arrived on the island of Unalaska, beginning the first major step in the spread of Orthodox Christianity in Alaska.

Following the construction of a church, Veniaminov began to give services to the local native population, which was converted prior to his arrival while traveling to other islands in a canoe (usually against violent storms) in order to preach to other populations of the native people. In doing so, he would become acquainted with the local dialects, specifically Unagan, which he translated several religious texts into.

In 1834, the priest was sent to the Novoarkhangelsk settlement where he would later built a permanent home/school and dedicate himself to the study of the local customs and languages of the Tlingit. In the summer of 1836 he visited the settlement at California, where he held weddings, funerals, baptisms, and sermons, among other things. In his memoirs, he noted that about 39 of the fort’s 260-person population were baptized natives of the Orthodox faith. In addition to his work in Fort Ross, he made several trips to the Spanish missions of the San Francisco Bay Area where he attempted to establish relations with the local Catholic population. For the several years following his return to Alaska, he would help educate the local people until his trip to Russia in 1838 and his subsequent vow as a monk, although this was not the end of his work in Alaska.

In 1841, St. Innokentii, who was now archimandrite, returned to Alaska and continued to translate religious texts into other native dialects. At this time, the Church and the company were in a feud over the treatment of the natives. While the company was known to exploit the Tlingit people, the church was outwardly opposed to this, leading them to secretly help the natives. Innokentii died in 1879, well after the end of the Russian-American Company although his contributions to the religion of the native people did not go in vain. It is said that there are 40-90 Orthodox churches with some 20,000 or 50,000 members in Alaska today.

The Orthodox Church was undoubtbly an important aspect of the company, especially in it’s ventures in California where the clashing cultures and traditions of the Native Californians, Russians, and Native Alaskans were able to cooperate due in part to the values of Christianity, which most of them followed.

But it would seem religion was not so successful in bring together people in Alaska. Despite the assistance offered by the church, the remaining native population during the mid 1850’s, primarily the Aleuts and Tlingits (who became more of a force after becoming the RAC’s main supplier of food products) held contempt for the company’s actions and later began to wage war on the Russian traders, despite attempts by the RAC and the Orthodox church to establish schools, employment and hospitals for them. This time brought much change, primarily the economic value of otter pelts, which continued to drop. As such, the company began searching for possible ways to generate more profits from the land, much of the area’s wildlife and minerals were examined finding a substantial population of whales and trace amounts of gold and coal. For a brief moment, the company pursued these opportunities, but they failed to provide any substantial use to the company’s traders, due in part to their unfamiliarity with the land and the fact many of these materials were readily available elsewhere at a lower cost. Interestingly enough, the large deposits of gold the company had once searched for would later be found in 1897, beginning the Klondike gold rush.

By the 1860’s the fur trade began to decline further, which is when Alexander II held a meeting on the future of Russian America. It was decided, at this point, that Alaska had become more of an inconvenience to the nation rather than what it was originally predicted to be. Choosing to focus more on prospects in Asia such as the Amur Basin in China, the tsar sold Alaska to the United States for 7 million dollars or 14 million rubles (about two cents an acre), this was known as the Alaska purchase, which took place in Sitka on October 1867 and was signed by American Secretary of State William H. Seward and Russian envoy Eduard de Stoeckl, one account of the event  mentions the lowering of the Russian flag to be replaced with an American one, symbolizing a new future for Alaska.

While Russia was not entirely successful with their Alaska venture, they left a sizable influence on the land which they settled. Perhaps without the help of the Russian explorers and mapmakers of the company’s original outpost, much of the Alaskan wilderness would not be known to the Americans. The company also brought much influence to the land, this is especially evident in California, specifically the Russian River, Moscow Road, and the Russian Gulch in addition to all of the advances brought upon by Fort Ross (it is said the Russians were the first to introduce the Gravenstein apple to America, which is famous in Sonoma County, especially Sebastopol)

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