The history of Russian colonization in Alaska

The history of Russian colonization in Alaska

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When did Russia discover Alaska?

Did you know that it took the Russians a lot longer to discover American than it took Columbus? Vitus Bering, a famous navigator and captain, sighted America only in 1741. This was a fortunate discovery for the Russians, as by this time they have already decimated the populations of fur animals in Siberia and needed a new place to hunt animals for fur. Within only two years from the discovery of Alaska by the Russians, they began trading fur with the native population, and shortly after they established their own colony on Kodiak Island. Even though Russian colonies in America were much smaller than those of the British Empire, they were plagued by the same issues with the natives. But the natives were not the only ones unhappy about the new settlers, California and Canada, which was controlled by the British Empire, felt threatened by the new power.

Why did Russia sell Alaska to America?

The Russians had managed to decimate the population of fur animals in Siberia in only 200 years, so you can imagine that it took them even less time to do the same in America, where the British Hudson’s Bay Company was also making money on fur. By the mid-1800s the population of fur animals was severely depleted and the American colony was no longer profitable. This turned out to be the perfect time for the Alaska Purchase, and Alaska was sold to the US for a mere 2 cents per acre. To many people on the American side this seemed like a bad deal, as gold and oil in the new territory would be discovered much later. As you can imagine, the native population of Alaska was not happy about this trade either, as they claimed that the land never belonged to Russia to begin with, so it had no right to sell it. 

What happened to the Russian settlers of Alaska after the sale?

Once the Alaska sale went through on October 18, 1867, most Russians who lived in Alaska moved back to their homes on the mainland via a ship that was provided by the Russian-American Company. However, some people have decided to stay, and there’s a small population of Russians who speak their own Russian dialect in Alaska today. Alaska Day is celebrated every year on October 18 as a small state holiday to commemorate the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the US.

The history of Russian colonization in Alaska
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