DIVIN, Vasili




Author Tags: 1700-1800

Vasili Divin wrote the biography of explorer Aleksei Chirikov, the Russian mariner who came closest to British Columbia territory in the 18th century.

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—thus determining the maritime border between Alaska and British Columbia.

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 had sent a search party of four men in the remaining longboat but they, too, had 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 Tsarina Catherine the Great, the fur trader Gregory Shelikov began the Russian American Company and established a Russian colony in North America in 1784. Shelikov built the first permanent Russian settlement in North America at Kodiak in 1783. 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 but Russian attempts to create a monopoly in the North Pacific fur trade were unsuccessful. 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. There are many books about Russian expansion from Siberia to Alaska, a three-century story in which Shelikov is arguably the most influential character.

BOOKS:

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

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2004] "1700-1800" "Russian"