At least one scene in my novel, Small Acts of Kindness, a tale of the first Russian revolution, takes place in the offices of the Russian American Company. One of the principle characters, the radical Kondraty Ryleev, was office manager at the company in the months before the Decembrist uprising in 1825. The large building, situated on the banks of the Moika River, can still be seen today.
Looking though old photographs on my computer over Christmas I recalled that a few years ago we had visited Fort Ross, a remnant of what were once quite extensive interests owned by Russia on the Pacific coast of America.
It was Peter the Great who, attracted by the plentiful supplies of furs and skins, asked the explorer Vitus Bering to look at the potential for Russian settlement. However this was towards the very end of his reign, and Bering’s initial voyage was frustrated by snow and fog. It was only under Catherine 2nd (the Great) that a settlement was finally established in Alaska. The Russian American company was founded during the short reign of her son, Paul 1st, to manage Russian interests. Later Russian settlements spread south into North California, where Fort Ross was founded in 1812.
Russia’s activities in North America were by no means trouble free, with opposition coming not just from Native Americans, but also competitors such as the Hudson’s Bay Company. Problems were exacerbated by the inability to resist over exploitation of the once copious supplies of animals hunted for their skins and fur. Fort Ross was sold to a local landowner in 1842, and the sale of Alaska by Alexander 2nd in 1867 marked the end of the Russian presence in North America.
Today Fort Ross, which lies not far to the north of San Francisco, has become the Fort Ross Historic State Park, and it is a fascinating place to visit when travelling up the beautiful North Californian coast. Just a look at the website shows what a lovely spot it is.