Russians in Alaska —- The Battle of Sitka, 1802.
A part of history that is forgotten by both Russians and Americans is the Russian colonization of Alaska. Discovered by Russian explorers in the mid 1700’s, the country was controled by the Russian American Trading Company, a joint stock venture run indirectly by the Czar.
In the late 1700’s, under the command of Gov. Alexander Baronov, the Russians had established a large trading post and port at Sitka in Southern Alaska. The purpose of their enterprise was to harvest the rich furs of the area, which sold for good prices in Europe and China. However, they weren’t the only ones who were competing for resources in the area.
The Tlingit had resided and hunted the area for thousands of years. They grew to resent the interlopers invasion of their lands, their exploitation of their resouces, and especially their taking of native wives. The Russians also demanded their allegiance to the Czar and conversion to Russian Orthodox Christianity. In 1802 Tlingit warriors, dressed in ceremonial painted masks, and armed with muskets sold to them by the British, French, Spanish, and Americans, surrounded and slaughtered the inhabitants of the Sitka settlement.
A few settlers were able to escape and send news to Gov. Baranov, who was located in the Alaskan capital of Kodiak. He responded immediatly by gathering together a force of 150 Russians and 500 Aleut Natives. He also called on the services of Lt. Com. Yuri Feodorovich Lisyansky, who was in command of three Imperial Navy warships.
When the force arrived at Sitka, they found that the Tlingit had built a large palisade fortress on the site, and intended to hunker down and fight. At first the Russian/Aleut force tried to storm the fortress, only to be beaten back by musket fire and raining arrows and spears. Gov. Baranov was badly wounded in the attack and Lt. Commander Lisyansky took command. Lisyansky was smart enough not to mount an attack, instead opting for a slow siege and bombardment. On the second day of battle bombardment of the Tlinget fort began, but the forts green wood was so strong and thick the bombardment proved useless.
While it seemed like the Tlinget had the upper hand, little did the Russians know that the Tlinget were running out of gunpowder. After four days of bombardment the Tilinget could no longer hold out for reinforcements, which were expected with new supplies. Under the cover of darkness, the Tlinget abandoned the fort. The next day the Russians entered the fort, finding absolutley nothing. They razed the fort and sent out hunting parties to find the Tlinget, but none were found.
In order to prevent further attacks the Russians constructed a huge fortress of their own, complete with large palides and guard towers that held over 30 cannon. The Tlinget continued their war with small raids and guerilla tactics, but they could not hold off the onslaught of Russian and other European colonists and they were especially vulnerable to European disease. Most settled the Sitka area, converting to Orthodox Christianity and learning to become trappers and farmers. However, Russian cannons were still constantly aimed at the natives, just in case. The last major Tlinget uprising occured in 1855.
Russian control of Alaska became more expensive with British and American competition, depleted trapping zones, and its great distance from Russia. In 1867 Russia sold Alaska to the United States for $7.2million (2 cents an acre). The Russians had the option to become American citizens, but most chose to leave, heading back to Russia or moving to California to prospect for gold. Others would be compelled to leave due to the roudiness of American soldiers who were posted in Alaska.
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