Vitus Bering and Russian Alaska, 1700-1867

The exploration of Siberia, even the conquest of the Khanate of Sibir, had been undertaken on private initiative. However, the Russian Empire soon got involved. The Czars promoted further exploration even beyond the Pacific, but Russia, traditionally a landlocked country the few coasts of which were frozen for several months every winter, lacked seafaring experience. Here, the country's traditional alliance with Denmark (since 1595) helped out. Dane VITUS BERING undertook two expeditions along Siberia's easternmost coast and across the Bering Strait into ALASKA (1728, 1741), which he claimed for Russia.
The Russians, again, were mainly interested in more territory to collect fur from. However, 18th century expeditions were accompanied by scientists; the scientific part of the expedition being prepared by Russia's ACADEMY OF SCIENCES in St. Petersburg. Thanks to their activity numerous books on the ethnology, flora, fauna etc. of Siberia and Alaska have been published. Later expeditions did not lead to the acquisition of additional territories, but to intensified exploration.

Russian presence in Alaska was, over much of the 18th century, temporary. The Spanish regarded the appearance of Russians as a threat and undertook expeditions to destroy any Russian ship and fortification they could find. The first permanent settlements along Alaska's southern coast was established in 1784, the first Russian Orthodox Church in 1795. A fort they held in Northern California, little known, was later given up. Russia sold the territory to the young USA in 1867, a deal which was then much criticized as a waste of money.

Alaskan Timeline, from Alaska State Library
Nordic Explorers : Vitus Bering, from Project Heureka, Finland
REFERENCE Russian Expansion and Fur Trade in : John Channon and Robert Hudson, The Penguin Historical Atlas of Russia, London : Penguin 1995, pp.38-39, 42-43

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on January 11th 2002, last revised on November 4th 2004

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