It's well known that the first Europeans to claim Alaska were the Russians. Later on, it was sold to the growing United States and today it is thoroughly American. So what is left of Alaska's old Russian legacy? There are some notable places in Alaska where one can visit and see the Russian story.
If one is interested in history, then one should add these to one's ultimate bucket list of things to see and do in Alaska. When the first Russian explorers arrived in 1741, they were in a race to claim territory in the Americas before the English, French, and Spanish could beat them to it. Russia's interests in Alaska were mostly sea otters, fur seals, and fox furs.
The History of Russian Alaska
According to the National Park Service, the Russian settlers would go to the Aleutians and kidnap Unangax (Aleut) women and children. That would force the men to mass harvest these names and hand their pellets over if they wanted to ever see their families again.
- First Russian Explorers: Arrived 1741
The first permanent Russian post here was established in 1784 on Kodiak Island. This period saw the Russian colonizers alternating between fighting with the native peoples and relying on them heavily for food.
- First Permanent Russian Settlement: Established in 1784
By 1799 all of the Russian interest in Alaska was controlled by Russian-American Co. and there were as many as 23 Russian trading posts around the region. In 1794 the first of the Russian Orthodox missionaries began to arrive in the region.
- St. Paul Island & Sitka: Were Booming Russian Towns of The Period
The first Russian church (the Holy Resurrection Church on Kodiak) was built in 1795. Today many in Alaska continue to follow Russian Orthodoxy.
After the Crimean War between the United Kingdom with France against Russia, Russia sought to sell its Alaskan territory. It had had it for many years but few Russians had ever settled there, and if its rival, Great Britain, chose to take it, it would have been difficult to defend.
So they looked around for a buyer, Britain wasn't so interested as it already had access to the Pacific Ocean through Vancouver and Russia didn't really want to deal with them anyway. So that left the United States. The treaty was ratified in 1867 and the United States Purchased it for $7.2 million dollars.
- Purchase: $7.2 Million Dollars
- Date: 1867
After the sale, most of the Russian settlers left and there were very few people there until the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896.
- Statehood: It Became a State in 1959
Old Sitka National Historic Landmark
Old Sitka was established in 1799 and named Fort St. Michael. It was a permanent Russian fur trade settlement and marked the southernmost expansion of the Russians in Alaska. But it was only short-lived. The native Tlingit armed themselves with guns and ammunition from American and British trading ships. They then attacked and burned the Russian fortified post in 1802.
Two years later the Russians returned and scored a decisive victory over the Tlingitbut they never rebuilt Old Sitka.
Church of the Holy Ascension
The Church of the Holy Ascension is one of the most widely known landmarks of Russian settlement. It is associated with Father Ioann Veniaminov, who served in the Aleutians and Sitka for 15 years and was later canonized as Saint Innocent of Alaska. He also developed a Cyrillic alphabet for Unangan (an Aleut dialect) so that he could translate the Gospel and other texts into their language.
The present church was built between 1894 and 1896 on the site of the original church of 1826. To see the most stunning of Russian Orthodox Cathedral architecture, visit the St. Basil's Cathedral in the Red Square in Moscow.
- Bell Tower: Three Stories High
- Built: Between 1894 and 1896
Other Historic Sites Of Russian Alaska
The following sites are all listed as National Historic Landmarks by the National Park Service. Today some of the best places to see the history of Alaska are:
- American Flag Raising Site: Where The Russian Flag Was Lowered and The American One Raised On Castle Hill, October 18, 1867
- New Russia Site: Learn About The Friction Between The Yakutat Tlingit and The Russian Colonialist At The New Russia Settlement
- Russian Bishop's House: Tour The Historic Russian Bishop's House
- Fort Durham: This Fort Symbolizes The Struggle For This Part of the Americas Between England, the Growing United States, and the Russian Empire
- Bering Expedition Landing Site: See Where The Russians First Landed In Alaska Opening Up Understanding Of The Land To Westerners
- Church Of The Holy Ascension: See An Iconic Russian Orthodox Church
- St. Michael's Russian Cathedral: Built Between 1844 and 1848 It Was The Main Representative of Russian Cultural Influence of The Area