QUEBEC-RESEARCH-L ArchivesArchiver > QUEBEC-RESEARCH > 2005-06 > 1118494336
Subject: RE : June 11, 1788
Date: Sat, 11 Jun 2005 08:52:16 EDT
1788 Russian explorer Izmailov arrives at Yakutat Bay, Alaska
Searching for sea otter pelts and other furs, the Russian explorer Gerrasim
Grigoriev Izmailov reaches the Alaskan coast, setting his ship in at Yakutat
Although most Americans think of the exploration of the Far West as an
affair that began in the East and proceeded westward, the opposite was true for
Russians. In the far northern Pacific, Russia was separated from the North
American continent only by the relatively manageable expanse of the Bering Sea.
Czar Peter the Great and his successors commissioned journeys east to the
coast of Alaska, including the 1741 voyage of Vitus Bering, whose name was given
to the narrow strait that separates northern Alaska and Russia.
Bering also brought back to Russia reports that sea otter pelts were
abundant in the land they called Alaska, a Russian corruption of an Aleut word
meaning "peninsula" or "mainland." Russian fur trading companies were formed, and
they soon became the semi-official exploratory representatives of the czars.
By the late 19th century, British, Spanish, and American vessels were also
sailing the waters off the coast of Alaska, and Russia became increasingly
concerned about protecting its claims to the region.
Gerrasim Grigoriev Izmailov joined the Russian effort to explore and claim
Alaska in 1776, making a highly successful fur trading and trapping journey
that netted a cargo worth some $86,000. Thereafter, he made numerous
fur-gathering voyages to Alaska, sailing out of the port of Okhotsk on the Russian East
By the late 1780s, Izmailov had become one of a small number of Russian
captains with extensive experience sailing the Alaskan Coast. Eager to advance
the Russian claim to Prince William Sound and the Alaskan coast, Izmailov's
backers sent him on an exploratory and diplomatic voyage into the region.
Izmailov initially reached several islands off the coast where he erected large
wooden crosses proclaiming the territory to be the property of Russia. He then
proceeded eastward down the Alaskan coastline, finally putting into shore at
Yakutat Bay on this day in 1788.
At Yakutat Bay, Izmailov immediately began a peaceful and successful program
of fur trading with the Tlingit Indians. He presented the Tlingit Chief
Ilkhak with a portrait of Czar Paul, presumably suggesting that the far-off
monarch should be viewed as the Tlingit's new ruler. In a rather ineffective
attempt to further solidify the Russian claim, Izmailov had two large copper
plates marking "the extent of Russia's domain" buried nearby. More a symbolic
gesture than an actual assertion of ownership, they were designed to prove Russia
had been the first western nation to arrive in the area. True Russian
control over the region was not established until fur trading posts and settlements
were constructed over the next few decades.
After further exploring the Alaskan coast, Izmailov eventually returned to
his homeport of Okhotsk, where he is thought to have died in around 1796.
Although the Russians continued to consolidate their hold on Alaska during the
first half of the 19th century, the claim had become tenuous and expensive to
maintain by the 1860s. In 1867, Russia sold the region of Alaska to the United
States for $7 million.