Why the Russian Colonization of the Americas Failed - DOCUMENTARY

Why the Russian Colonization of the Americas Failed - DOCUMENTARY

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In 1721 Peter the Great proclaimed Russia  an empire. Russia was already a huge country   stretching from Europe to the Pacific Ocean.  But unlike England, Spain, Netherlands, France,   and other European imperial powers, Russia did  not have overseas possessions and colonies,   and all of its massive territory  was linked to each other.   The New World was a place with immense riches and  resources, and Russia wanted a piece of the pie,   despite being almost 3 centuries late  to the colonization of the Americas.   Much has been told about colonization  by the Western European empires,   but Russia’s attempts to colonize the Western  coast of the Pacific Ocean has not been discussed   as much. In this episode, we are going to  describe the Russian colonization of the Americas. The good news is that you can visit Alaska right  now and for a more fun activity than colonization:   the sponsor of this video Fishing clash is a  fishing simulator that is eager to provide that   opportunity in the comfort of your home! Catching  fish was on your brain but you can’t go to your  
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established European states and any meaningful  territorial gain there would cause a lot of blood   and casualties. Possible southward expansion  was problematic too, since the Ottoman Empire   and Safavid Iran were still formidable foes. To  the North, there was ice and cold. To the East   was Siberia, a tough and an extremely cold land,  albeit rich for such valuable commodities as fur   and since it was sparsely populated, there would  be less resistance to the Russian advance in that   direction. By the 1640s explorers, settlers, and  trappers reached the Pacific Ocean in their quest   to push as far East as they could through Siberia.  It is even said some members of the expedition   of the Russian explorer Semyon Dezhnyov to  the further East point of Asia, which is now   named after him, at some point settled in Alaska  after the shipwreck threw them on its shores and   lived in the places called Kyngovey and Russkoe  Ustye. There are numerous indications of existence  
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of such settlements in Alaska from letters by  travellers and stories of indigineous people,   but no hard archeological or other evidence  has been found about its existence.  The first hard historic evidence about the  Russian expedition discovering Alaska is linked   to the voyage of Afanasiy Shestakov and Dmitry  Pavlutskiy, who saw the shore of Alaska and mapped   it, onboard their ship Saint Gavriil. In 1741, the  Danish cartographer Vitus Bering at the service of   the Russian Tsar Peter the Great sailed to Alaska  through what is now called the Bering Strait, once   and for all proving that there was no land link  between Eurasia and Americas and landing on Kayak,   Shumagin and other islands on the Alaskan shore. As early as 1743, a group of Russian merchants   sailed to the Bering Island to get fur, a step  which would be replicated by other groups of   merchants, trappers and adventurers. One of the  earliest Russian pioneers in the Alaskan fur trade  
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was The Shelikhov-Golikov Company, which  established the first permanent colony in Alaska   on the island of Kodiak 90 kilometers away from  the shore of Alaska, which would be called Pavel’s   Harbor in 1784. Russian fur traders tried to  dissuade one of the owners of the company,   a merchant from Irkutsk Grigoriy Shelikhov from  establishing a permanent settlement there, since   earlier a group of Russian hunters were killed  by the indigenous people. Shelikhov repeated   the strategy of earlier European colonizers of  America by forcing the indigenous people into   submission through massacre. On 17 August 1784 the  Awa’uq Massacre by Shelikhov’s expedition claimed   the lives of 2000-3000 Inuits, while another  thousand were taken prisoners. In the late 1790s,   Imperial bureaucrat Nikolay Rezanov was sent to  inspect Shelikhov’s company in Irkutsk and ended   up marrying his daughter. Following Shelikhov’s  death, Rezanov effectively inherited Shelikhov’s  
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enterprise in Russian America and was able to  interest Emperor Pavel in expanding in Alaska.  In 1799 the Russian American Company was  established on the basis of Shelikhov’s   possessions in Alaska with Alexander  Baranov becoming the first governor of   Russian America. It was similar to other  colonial companies of other empires,   for example, the East Indian Company, where  all of the affairs of colonies, from military   to trade, was governed by the company, which in  principle acted as a representative of the state.   In 1801 the company’s headquarters were moved from  Irkutsk to Saint Petersburg, which was followed   with Emperor Alexander I and other members of the  Russian royal family becoming stakeholders in the   company. These developments increased the prestige  of the Russian American Company and boosted   the Russian effort to colonize Alaska. Nikolay  Petrovic Rezanov was appointed the director of the   company, which received a 20-year long monopoly  over all territories and possessions North of 55  
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degree latitude. The headquarters of the company  in Alaska was established in New Archangel,   Novo-Arkhangelsk in Russian, a new settlement  built in the unfrozen gulf of Sitka in 1799.  The contact between the Russian colonizers and  the local indigenous people ranged from aspects   like trade to indigineous people working for the  Russian American Company as hunters and trappers,   while Russian settlers tried to bring some  agricultural innovations to the indigenous   population. We already mentioned the episode  of the massacre by Shelikhov’s expedition,   as Russians treated the indigenous population as  uncivilized savages and acted as conquerors.The   Tlingit people were not happy with the Russian  presence and this soon led to conflict as the   Tlingit people attacked New Archangel with a unit  of 600 people commanded by its chief Katlian.   The attack on Fort Mikhail and a small unit led  by Vasiliy Kochesov practically massacred many   Russians and Aleutians working for the Russian  American Company and burnt the Russian settlement.  
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2 years later Baranov returned to Sitka with more  men and forced them to flee after overpowering   them in October 1804. Rebuilt Novo-Arkhangelsk  would become the capital of Russian Alaska.   The occasional confrontation between the  Russian American Company and the indigenous   population continued until the 1850s, a few years  before Alaska was sold to the United States.  Along with such obstacles for  the Russian expansion in Alaska   like the animosity of the indigenous population  and harsh weather conditions, one of the major   problems for the Russian expansion was difficulty  to get the supplies necessary for sustenance of   the colonies due to the Bering Strait and waterway  between Chukotka and Alaska being frozen most of   the year. This proved to be a factor boosting  further Russian expansion in the Pacific coast   of America. Nikolay Rezanov visited New Archangel  with an inspection in 1805. He was horrified with   the situation. The capital of Russian America  was devastated by the war and at the point of  
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starvation due to problems with supplies. This was  when Rezanov decided to purchase one ship from the   British and build another one himself, and take  it to California, owned by Spain at the time.   These two ships would be called Juno and Avos’,  leading to a rock opera called the Juno and   Avos being staged in 1979 in the Soviet Union  romanticizing the story of love between Rezanov   and the daughter of the commander of the Spanish  Garrison in San Francisco, Conchita Argüello.   Rezanov’s plan was to establish relations with  the Spanish in California and trade food supplies   for fur. Rezanov secured this deal and ended up  developing romantic feelings or acting on the need   to ensure regular supplies for Russian Alaska from  California, thus deciding to engage with Conchita.   Rezanov was Orthodox, Conchita was Catholic,  therefore Rezanov left, promising to return   in a couple of years after securing the Pope's  blessing of this marriage. Rezanov returned to New   Archangel with promised supplies and instructed  Baranov to explore starting a new colony in  
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California, which would secure food supplies  for Russian America stopping the dependence on   supplies from Russia. He died in 1807 failing  to fulfill his promise to return to Conchita.  As a result, in 1812 Baranov’s deputy  Ivan Kuskov sailed into Bodega Bay and   founded a settlement to be called Fort Ross,  80 kilometers to the North of San Francisco.   25 Russians and 90 Aleutians settled in Fort  Ross, the territory, which at first Spain   and then Mexico claimed. But neither these two  states, nor the indigenous population used force   to assert their right over it, thus the Russians  embarked on turning Fort Ross into perhaps a   starting point of the Russian expansion in the  American territories with milder climate or,   at least, making it a supplier to Russian Alaska. The life at Fort Ross was pretty unremarkable.   After a short period of time, the  population of sea otters hunted   for their furs was eradicated in the  area following centuries of hunting.  
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Hunting, fishing, cultivation and herding were the  regular pastime for the population of Fort Ross.   Construction work was carried out to have  lodgings for settlers, along with having dedicated   buildings. By 1814 the settlers started a fruit  garden and started making their own wine. Three   ranchos were started around Fort Ross to produce  food both for the colony and for Russian Alaska.   The Russian American Company even started building  ships in local harbours to sell to the Spaniards.   By the 1820s the population of Fort  Ross rose to 250 people. But despite   all the efforts Fort Ross failed to become a cheap  supply point for Russia’s American endeavour.   Soon the administration of the Russian American  Company decided that it was way cheaper for   it to buy supplies from the Hudson Bay Company  rather than attempting to become self-sufficient.   Moreover, the Russian government was exceedingly  understanding that it would not be possible to   protect Fort Ross from a potential takeover.  Mexico was still claiming the land and actively  
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encouraged new settlers to live in the  area. More and more Americans were settled   in the area too. Neither the Russian Imperial  government would be able to protect Fort Ross,   which was thousands of miles away from the Russian  military might, nor the Russian American Company,   which was struggling to turn Russian Americas into  a profitable business. One of the latest efforts   to save Fort Ross was made by Baron von Wrangell  who traveled from Sitka to Mexico City in 1836   seeking Mexican recognition for the legality of  Russia’s claim to Fort Ross. The Mexicans were   ready to compromise on this in exchange for  Russia’s diplomatic recognition of Mexico’s   sovereignty. A staunch absolutist and hater of  everything revolutionary Tsar Nikolay I rejected   this proposition. This eventually led to the  abandonment of the idea to expand in California.   In 1841 Fort Ross and all the possessions  of the Russian American Company in the area  
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were sold to the American Captain John  Sutter for 42857 rubles in money and produce.   On 1 January 1842, about 100 colonists sailed  from Bodega Bay to Russian Alaska, putting an   end to Russian colonial aspirations in California. Hawaii was another potential place for expansion   of the Russian American Company, which just  like in the case of Northern California,   at first, arose from the need to supply  Alaska. Russians first visited Hawaii in 1804   in connection with their First Circumnavigation of  the Globe commanded by Krusenstern and Lysianskyi.   Over the next decade, the Russians established  trade relations with the local leaders and bought   food in exchange for fur. In 1815 one of the  Russian ships wrecked near the shore of Hawaii.   There are different accounts of what happened  next, as some claim that the Russians salvaged   the fur and other supplies with the help of  the Hawaiians in exchange for the ship itself,  
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while others claim that King Kaumualii of  Kaua’i Island confiscated everything. The   ship captain Bennett reported the latter to the  Russian governor Baranov. Whatever happened,   Baranov sent doctor Georg Anton Schaffer with a  mission to lure the Hawaiian king Kamehameha into   giving the monopoly of the trade of sandalwood as  compensation for the losses due to the shipwreck.   After initial distrust, Doctor Schaffer was  able to establish a positive relationship   with King Kamehameha and his wife through his  medical services. As a token of appreciation   Kamehameha granted Schaffer some land in Honolulu.  Schaffer and his expedition embarked on building   a fort on this land and started flying the  flag of the Russian-American Company there.   After that, Schaffer traveled to Kaua’i to  parley with Kaumualii regarding the lost   cargo and profits. Kauai’ was the only island  still not conquered by Kamehameha, who ordered   the Russians to stop any construction and remove  their flag. The Russians understood the futility   of resistance and followed Schaffer to Kaua’i. The king of Kaua’i, Kaumualii was in desperate  
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need of allies in his struggle against  Kamehameha and agreed with the Russians to   pay the compensation for profits lost from the  shipwreck in sandalwood. Kaumaulii also signed   a secret treaty with Schaffer, pledging  his allegiance to Russia in exchange for   Russians supporting his war effort against  Kamahemaha with 500 men and weapons in 1816.   Soon Schaffer completed the construction of Fort  Elisabeth. Kaumualii also granted RAC the entire   district of Hanalei, where Schaffer began building  another two forts called Alexander and Barclay.  Kamehameha was growing restless about the  expansion of Russian presence on the islands.   Around that time the Russian military brig Rurik  under the command of Lieutenant von Kotzebue   arrived in Hawaii in the middle of his global  voyage in late 1816 and immediately encountered   400 men loyal to Kamehameha, who was concerned  that the Russians had arrived for the conquest   of Hawaii. Rurik immediately left without even  visiting Schaffer or other members of the Russian  
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American Company. Kaumualii interpreted this  incident as lack of the Russian interest in Hawaii   and expelled the Russian American Company from  Kaua’i deeming them useless for his cause. RAC   would make occasional voyages to Hawaii  to trade and purchase supplies for Alaska,   but overall the Russian adventure in Hawaii  was over before it even started. Schaffer’s   adventurism cost the Company a lot of money. With failures in California and Hawaii,   Alaska was all that was left for the Russians in  the Americas. New Archangel remained the capital   of the Russian American Company and by 1811 had  more than 200 Russians and almost 1000 indigineous   people living there. Throughout the existence  of the Russian American Company, a school,   a church, an arsenal, mills, different workshops  and up to hundred houses for lodging. Russian   naval officer Lavrenty Zagoskin, who visited New  Archangel in the 1840s described a wooden town  
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with around hundred wooden constructions without  squares or any other types of common spaces.   Fur remained the main commodity of export from  Alaska, as nothing was yet known about gold or   especially oil there. Missionary expeditions  to convert the indigenuous people to Orthodox   Christianity were not particularly successful  either due to small population Alaska and weak   presence in California, among many other reasons.  Towards the end of its presence in the Americas,   the Russian Orthodox Church claimed to have 12000  followers there. We do not know if that figure   was an exaggeration, but even if it was, it was a  meager figure for more than 1 century of effort.  Towards the-mid 19th century, it was becoming  increasingly clear for the Russian leadership   that the American adventure failed to  bring the benefits everyone hoped for.   Cost of maintenance of Russian Alaska outweighed  whatever profits were made from fur trade,   a situation exacerbated by a  dwindling animal population.  
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Maintaining the Alaskan colonies just did  not make sense for the Russians anymore.   The Russian population in the American colonies  decreased and the creole and indigenous population   stagnated with dropping profits, which was usually  a demonstration that the colony was failing.   Moreover, Alaska’s remoteness posed a challenge  for its protection from a possible foreign threat.   Development of the railroad infrastructure in  North America resigned the Russian leadership   in the belief that sooner or later the United  States would start paying more attention to Alaska   and settling it. Britain was considered a  threat too. These sentiments rose with the   Russian defeat in the Crimean War. As Alaska was  bordering with the British colonies in the South,   the Russians thought that any threat arising  from there would make the fall of Alaska   inevitable. Thus, Russia decided to sell its  possessions in Alaska to the United States.   On 30 March 1867 Russia and the United States  signed an agreement. According to this agreement,  
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Russia sold all its possessions in  the Americas to the United States   for 7.2 million dollars. A few decades later  gold was discovered in Alaska. A century later   oil was discovered. Russia was going to lose  out on all of these profitable enterprises.  Russia’s adventure in the Americas is a curious  event. Russia wanted its own overseas empire and   the political and geographical logic pushed them  eastwards towards Alaska. But harsh conditions,   along with the presence of rivals like England  and Spain, who had already established themselves   in the continent, and later the United States,  posed significant obstacles for Russian expansion   in the area. Maintenance of colonies was a burden  on the finances of the Empire, the perspectives in   the area looked increasingly gloomy, and it  seemed unprotected from any outside attack.   That is why Russian colonialism  in the Americas ultimately failed.   There are still indicators of past  Russian presence in the Americas   through mostly geographical names and interest by  history buffs and some nationalist politicians in  
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the subject: “What if Russia did not  sell Alaska to the United States?”. Once again, thanks to Fishing Clash for  sponsoring this video! Don't forget to   download the game using our link  in the description and get your 20$   welcome pack. Downloading and playing  the game would support our channel! More videos on Russian history and the  age of colonization are on the way,   so make sure you are subscribed and have  pressed the bell button to see it. Please,   consider liking, commenting, and sharing - it  helps immensely. Our videos would be impossible   without our kind patrons and youtube channel  members, whose ranks you can join via the links   in the description to know our schedule, get  early access to our videos, access our discord,   and much more. This is the Kings and Generals  channel, and we will catch you on the next one.

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