Fort Ross – When Russians Colonized North America

Fort Ross – When Russians Colonized North America

Fort Ross was a Russian-American Company settlement in California which was built during the 19th century. This settlement represents the southernmost extent of the Russian colonisation of North America. The Russians, however, didn’t remain at Fort Ross for long, as they sold it away after occupying it for about 30 years. Subsequently, the settlement skilled the hands of several private individuals, before becoming a property of the Californian state. Fort Ross today may be a State Historic Park.

Fort Ross is found in Sonoma County, within the western US state of California. The fort was established by the Russian-American Company, a trading monopoly that established colonies in North America during the 19th century. the corporate was founded in 1799, and initially established colonies in Alaska.

The Russians, however, soon ventured south, thanks to the problem of supplying provisions to the colonists, harsh environmental conditions, and therefore the declining Enhydra lutris catch (for the fur trade) in Alaskan waters. Several expeditions were sent to California to locate potential sites that might be ideal for a settlement, and negotiations were administered with the Spanish, who were on top of things of the world .

Eventually, the Russians decided that a cove and promontory up the Sonoma Coast from Bodega Bay would be the simplest place to determine their colony. Therefore, in March 1812, the primary Russian settlers received the chosen site to create a settlement. These settlers consisted of 25 Russians, most of whom were craftsmen, and 80 Aleuts. The expedition was led by Ivan Kuskov, who had selected the location .

Fort Ross – When Russians Colonized North America

The Fort is made

The settlers built a stockade, blockhouses, and log buildings, consistent with traditional models from Siberia and Sitka (a Russian colony in Alaska). The new settlement became referred to as ‘Ross’, supposedly “to highlight poetically its reference to Imperial Russia (Rossiia)”. Although the settlement is now referred to as Fort Ross, it only acquired this name later, during the center of the 19th century. Fort Ross is understood also as ‘Ross Colony’, ‘Ross Settlement’, ‘Ross Fortress’, and ‘Ross Office’, the last of which was employed by Company officials.
The buildings inside the stockades included the house of the manager, the residences of other officials, barracks for Company employees, storehouses, and a chapel. This area was defended by cannons, also as sentries stationed within the blockhouses. Additionally, there was a well to provide water within the event of an emergency.

The structures outside the stockade included mills, threshing floors, bathhouses, and farm buildings. A cemetery was also established outside the stockades, as were vegetable gardens, and an orchard. After 1820, many of the Russian settlers chose to measure outside the stockades. The population during this area also included the Aleuts, also because the local Kashaya natives.

Fort Ross was established as a billboard settlement, and therefore the company hoped to use it to take advantage of the fur trade. This, however, wasn’t meant to be. Although there have been many sea otters within the area, their population began to dwindle as early as 1816. By the 1820s, the ocean otters had been hunted almost to extinction.

The Company also hoped that Fort Ross might be wont to supply provisions to their colony in Alaska, but this too proved to be a disappointment. It took some years for agriculture at Fort Ross to develop. Even at its peak within the early 1830s, however, the quantity of produce still fell far in need of Company expectations.

The Settlement may be a Success
The settlers at Fort Ross were more successful at other commercial ventures. Stock raising, as an example , was one among them, though it had been never became a serious enterprise by the corporate . Other successful enterprises at For Ross included tanning, milling, brickmaking, and blacksmithing.

In 1814, the primary known wind-powered mill in California was built by the settlers of Fort Ross. A second windmill was built shortly after. This windmill is reported to possess been ready to grind quite 30 bushels of grain each day a 3rd mill, powered by hand and animal, was subsequently built.

Interestingly, Fort Ross also became a base of operations for variety of Russian scholars. These included men who whose expeditions were funded by the Russian government, or by private means, also as Company employees who had an interest scholarly pursuit. These men dabbled in various fields of data , including “geography, botany, zoology, entomology, geology, meteorology, and ethnology”, thereby providing much information about the region. The works of those scholars are still useful even today.

Later Abandonment
By 1839, the corporate decided that Fort Ross wasn’t as profitable as that they had hoped, and decided to abandon it. The growing number of Mexican and American settlers, which the Russians were unable to compete with, was another factor contributing towards the abandonment of Fort Ross.

After liquidating the settlement, the corporate offered all of its Californian holdings purchasable . However attempts to sell Fort Ross to British , French, and Mexicans all led to failure. within the end, the settlement was sold to a personal individual, John Sutter, in late 1841. On the first of January 1842, the flag of the Russian-American Company was lowered at Fort Ross, and its last remaining colonists left to return to Sitka.

In the subsequent decades, Fort Ross became a working ranch , and altered ownership several times. In 1906, it became the property of the Californian state, and was designated as a State Historic Park. In 2009, Fort Ross was one among California’s state parks marked for closure, thanks to a financial crisis that forced the state to chop costs. It was, however, rescued by Renova, a Russian private company.

Today, Fort Ross may be a tourist attraction hospitable the general public , and charges a “regular day use fee”. aside from the historical monuments at the location , visitors also can enjoy the natural scenery, also as participate in various events organised throughout the year.


Top image: The reconstructed Russian chapel at Fort Ross today.            Source: Frank Schulenburg / CC BY-SA 4.0