CHIRIKOV, Alexei




Author Tags: 1700-1800

See also Sven Waxell entry.

Aleksei Chirikov’s first North American landfall north of Dixon Entrance was made approximately 40 nautical miles northwest of Forrester Island, the northernmost land sighted by Spaniard Juan Pérez in 1774—a determining factor in the later negotiations of the maritime border between Alaska and B.C.

Under ominous circumstances, Chirikov also became the first European to encounter indigenous people in the Pacific Northwest on July 24, 1741. The Russian naval commander had sent an eleven-member reconnaissance party ashore in a longboat on July 18 near Lisianki Strait, but they had failed to return. Five days later Chirikov sent a search party of four men in the remaining longboat but they, too, disappeared. Two boats approached the St. Paul, one larger than the other, so Chirikov at first hoped these could be his missing men, but their occupants were paddling, not rowing. The smaller canoe, with four men who were likely Tlingit, came closest to the Russian ship. Hoping to coax them alongside, Chirikov’s men waved white kerchiefs, but to no avail. Chirikov recalled, “They stood up and shouted twice, ‘Agai, Agai’, waved their hands, and turned back to shore.’ Chirikov crossed the Gulf of Alaska and sighted more than a half-dozen Aleutian Islands, once trading knives for desperately needed food with Aleutian Islanders in kayaks. Of the original 76 men on board, 54 survived.

With encouragement from Empress Catherine the Great, the fur trader Gregory Shelikov began the Russian American Company and established a Russian colony in North America. Shelikov built the first permanent Russian settlement in North America at Kodiak in 1784. There his wife began a school to teach Indians how to speak Russian and to learn the basics of Christianity. Shelikov instructed one of his men to erect a series of trading posts “in a southerly direction to California, establishing everywhere marks of Russian possession.” The Russian Orthodox Church founded its first mission in Alaska in 1794. A major settlement was attempted at Sitka in 1799, but the Tlingit burned it and killed all but two Russians in 1802. The Russians took their revenge in 1805, establishing their military dominance under the Governor or Russian America, Alexander Baranof.

Russian attempts to create a monopoly in the North Pacific fur trade were ultimately unsuccessful, even though they did briefly establish a trading fort north of San Francisco.

Fearful that Great Britain would overrun its possessions in North America, Russia decided to sell Alaska to the United States for 7.2 million dollars in 1867, as negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward.

Alaska became the 49th sovereign state in the United States of America in 1959.

BOOKS:

Divin, Vasili A. The Great Russian Navigator, A.I. Chirikov. Translated by Raymond H. Fisher. (University of Alaska Press, 1993)

[BCBW 2014] "Russian"