California History Center/Russian Connection

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From Tom Izu at the California History Center (CHC) located on the DeAnza campus...

Interestingly enough there is a big connection with CA and Russia. I am not as familiar with post WWII Russian relations with CA, but in the 1800s there was Fort Ross - a Russian outpost established in N. CA. CHC did a lot of work on this a long time ago (I believe part of an exhibit made by CHC and some students on the history of the Fort is still on display at the Fort Ross Museum - part of the state park up there). She might already know about this - but it was quite significant. This out post was established by the Russians in order to help produce (either by farming or trade) food and goods to ship to their very lucrative bases in the Alaska area (fur/pelt from otter, seals). It is clear that the Russian presence spurred the Spanish to step up their mission/military base building operations to N.CA because they were afraid of an Russian take over. The fort was later sold to Sutter (of Sutter's fort fame).

If she is interested in starting some basic research on Russians and CA, she could start with Fort Ross (lots on this no internet I assume - look up the state park to begin with) and then add more information regarding later relations - was there an influx of immigrants post USSR - or other events that happened that linked Russia with CA? I would be glad to work with her on this.

Fort Ross Chronology

Precontact - Kashaya Pomo, also called Winahmahbahkayyahchmah, which means People from Top of Land, live in this area for thousands of years. A place called Metini. Kashaya were noted a s good gamblers, which is what the name refers too.

1510 The name "California" appears in print in Europe by this time.

1542    Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed throughout the northern California coast. It has been noted he discovered San Diego on September 28 1542. On this expedition they did not land on shore.  He discovered and named  Cape Mendocino. 

1549 Precuiado is said to have named the land that is now called "California".

1579    Sir Francis Drake sailed on the ‘Golden Hind” following the coast south from what is now Oregon ‘42 latitude. They land on June 17 at Point Reyes staying for 36 days, now called Drake’s Bay. He names the coast ‘New Albion” and lays English claim to west coast of America.
1602    Sebastian Vizcaino-Aguilar explores the west coast and names the Rio de Sebastian (Russian River), Farallon Islands, and Point Reyes,  He was in search of good harbors along Alta (upper) California coast and goes as far north as Cape Mendocino.

1728 Vitus Bering in his first voyage explores the waters of eastern Russia (Siberia) to find a north passage. The trip was unsuccessful.

1741    Vitus Bering sets out again in the North Pacific waters. Discovers the Aleutian Islands. Shipwrecks on what is now called the Commander Islands. Bering dies of exposure, but some of his crew survives by using sea mammals’ (including the sea otter) meat for food and fur for warmth.  Crew members return to Russia with 900 sea otter fur pelts. The fur rush to these waters is on. 
1769    Gaspar de Portola discovers San Francisco Bay during an overland exploration from the south.  He was a missionary for Spain. In this same year on July 16 Mission San Diego de Alcala was founded, the first mission in Alta California. 
1775     On March 28, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza selected the site for the Presidio of San Francisco and March 29 selected the site for the Mission San Francisco de Asus (Delores). In this same year Lieutenant Juan Manual de Ayala became the first to sail into San Francisco Bay naming Angel Island, Marin, Point Blanco, and Alcatraz Island.  On September 17 The Presidio of San Francisco was dedicated by Lieutenant Jose Juaquin Moraga. On October 3, Ensign Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Cuarra entered and named Bodega Bay and Tomales Bay. He explores the coastline to 58’.
1776-   In March and April, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza traveled up the Delta seeing elk, bear, wildcats, wolves, panthers, wild sheep, and buffalo. The traded with local native peoples.  In March, Captain James Cook sails on his 3rd Pacific Voyage along ‘New Albion’ coast from Cape 1780 Blanco (Oregon) north to Alaska. They obtain sea otter pelts at Nootka Sound at Vancouver Island and soon sell them for fabulous profits in Canton, China. Russians become leery of Cook and his naming of landmarks along the North Pacific coastline. Most of these name places remain today. On June 29 Mission San Francisco de Asus (Delores) was founded and on October 3 was dedicated.
1750’s- First known sale of sea otter fur pelts in Canton with incredible profits. Major fur companies scramble to take hold of Pacific territories for further involvement in the sea otter fur trade.
1784    First permanent Russian base established in Alaska on Kodiak Island by merchant Grigory Shelikhov.  This place becomes the headquarters of Russian business until 1804.
1785   The sea otter fur trade becomes a constant in China with the Russian, American, and English groups trading with each other.
1790   Merchant and Business owner Gregory Shelikhov speaks of interest in occupying California. An outrageous thought for those back in St. Petersburg. Englishman James Colnett and his crew are first to anchor in Bodega Bay during a storm. Here they gathered wood, and fresh water. 
1799    The Russian American Company receives their first charter with the Russian Government. They were granted imperial approval under Tzar Paul the 1st for a 20 year period. The Russian American Company (RAC)  gets monopoly on hunting and trading rights in all Alaska. Other small Russian companies are forced to join the RAC. Alexander Baranov appointed as Governor of Alaska, who founded Sitka in this year, the eventual headquarters for the RAC. 
1803    The Russian American Company and an American captain, Captain O'Cain, join forces under a contract in an effort to catch sea otter along California coast. The RAC supplied the labor of Alaskan hunters, while O’Cain supplied the ship. Profits were to be split. This practice is known to have gone on for 20 years.
1804    The Russian American Company moves headquarters from Kodiak to Sitka. 
1806    The RAC with Count Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov as representative establishes trade relations with Spanish California in San Francisco. They arrived on the ship Juno. Diplomacy engagement to Dona Conception, the daughter of the manager of Presidio San Francisco. The trip was a success despite Spain’s prohibition of trade with foreigner’s.  Grain is now available for the starving employees in Alaska, while the Spanish Californians will receive trade goods they so badly need.  Rezanov develops plans of Russian establishment in New Albion to encourage permanent trade relations, to hunt the sea otter, and to establish an agricultural base. 
1807     Rezanov dies near Irkutsk, enroute to St. Petersburg to deliver plans of California and for permission to marry Dona Conception.
1808    A marker of Russian presence and claim was placed at Trinidad Bay. 
1809    In August of that year, a marker was placed alongside the Little Bodega Bay by Ivan Kuskov, a company manager. Friendly contacts with local Coast Miwok people were noted.
1811    A marker is placed on northwest shore of San Pablo Bay. March 4th of this year Kuskov reaches Bodega Bay in the ship ‘Chirikov’ to establish a settlement. Kuskov names the area Port Rumianstev in honor of a Russian Foreign Minister. Kuskov also establishes a hunting base on the Farallone Islands. Late March he chooses the site for the Ross Settlement. The timber, soil, water, and open space, as well as the protective hillside in the back are noted as reasons for the location of the site.
1812    Kuskov sets up port facilities in Bodega Bay. Begins to establish living quarters at Russian Gulch area. Explores the Russian River, which he called the Slavianka River. Ross Settlement begins to get establish with the labor of 20 to 40 Russians, and 80 or so Native Alaskans. Construction of fort begins in April  and  is formally dedicated September 10th, the name day of Tsar Alexander I.  Kuskov remains manager of Ross until 1821. Kuskov was a gardener, explorer,  and a true company man. 

1812 Officer Moraga, a Spanish officer, visits the Ross Settlement. A revolution in the Americas against the Spanish prevent the Spanish authorities from actively removing the Russians, not to mention the lack of gun powder and cannon supplies. This same year Napoleon Bonaparte attacks Moscow and lost that ensuing war.

1813 Officer Moraga arrives at Ross with interest of trade relations. He brought horses and cattle with him as gifts and as items of trade. The following year, the message from Mexico City to the RAC at Colony Ross is to leave the occupied site. However the trade relations between RAC and Spanish California were constant until 1822 when California came under Mexican rule.

1814 Treaty of Ghent: This treaty between Great Britain and America ended the war of 1812.

1816 Work begins on the first ship, Rumiantsev, to be built at Ross. This will also be noted and recorded in history as the first ship built in California. It was completed in 1818. Three other ships are built after this date. The Buldakov in 1820, the Volga in 1822, and the Kiakhta in 1824.

1816 A visit to Ross by two well known scientists took place. Johan Friedrich Eschscholtz and Adelbert Chamisso came to Ross on the ship Riurik. The naming of our now state Wildflower came from these two gentlemen. Chamisso named it after friend Johan, and is known as the Californica Eshscholtzia - The California Poppy.

1817 The official treaty with Kashaya releasing land to the RAC took place. The local Indian leaders Chuguan, Amattan, and Gemlele are noted names. This is known to be the only treaty in California history that was ever upheld. The RAC was expelled from the Hawaiian island of Kauai. This same year Mission San Rafael was founded. This is in response to the Russian presence in the area.

1820 June 30 the RAC ship the Il'mena coming from Sitka to Fort Ross was shipwrecked at Point Arena. No one was hurt, and most of the supplies for the colony were salvaged.

1821 Kuskov retires from the Ross settlement. Karl J. Von Schmidt, a German, replaces him as manager until 1824.

1821 The Transcontinental Treaty was negotiated in Washington in 1819 by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and Luis de Onis, the Spanish minister to the United States, determined the boundary between the United States and Spain’s North American possessions. It thereby gave the United States a firm claim to the region between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific ocean. As part of the treaty, Spain sold Florida to the United states for $5 million.

1822 Mexico declares Independence from Spain. Hereafter trade relations with the new Mexican government is competitive and costly for the company. The Mexican government has distaste for the RAC because of their support for Spain in keeping control over the new Mexican territories".

1823 Mission San Francisco Solano at Sonoma is established under Mexican rule. On December 2, the Monroe Doctrine was formed by President James Monroe. This declaration was directly related to the RAC presence along the North Pacific Coast.

1824 Paul I. Shelikhov arrives as replacement to Karl Von Schmidt, who had been assigned other duties in Sitka in 1824.

1825 Around this time the Fort Ross chapel was built by Vasilii Grudinin, the shipwright for the construction of the four ships built at Ross.

1829 Peter S. Kostromitinov replaces Paul Shelikhov as manager of Ross. Reports of small pox vaccinations at Ross by James Ohio Patti given to approximately to 1500 Indians.

1832 Visits by the Hudson’s Bay Company hunting brigade led by Michael La Framboise and John Work in the area of Ross. Several visits recorded for the current year and the last year.

1833 Kostromitinov Ranch established near the area where the bridge today crosses the Russian River. Baron Ferdinand von Wrangell visits Russian California.

1834   Khelbnikov Ranch established near what is now the town of Bodega.

1836 Father Ioann Veniaminov visits Ross and several missions in Mexico California for a period of three months. This is the longest noted visit by Russian clergy to the Colony Ross. Igor Chernykh visits Ross and surrounding territories. He establishes a ranch inland called the Chernykh Ranch in the area what is called Freestone and Occidental today. This gentleman was an agronomist from St. Petersburg sent to assist the Company in production of grain and other crops. He builds a threshing machine, possibly of Scottish design. The same year Ilya Voznesenskii, a Russian scientist from St. Petersburg, comes to Ross to do scientific studies of plants and animals, also ethnographic studies of the local native people. Today, his work is in the St. Petersburg Ethnographic Institute with the largest collection of prehistoric basketry from Kashaya people. This same year Alexander G. Rotchev replaces Kostromitinov as manager of Ross. He is accompanied by his wife, Elena Pavlovna Rotcheva, formerly known as Princess Elena Gagarina. the had three children with them.

1837 - The first formal, extensive, and detailed weather records in California were recorded at Fort Ross by the agronomist Igor Chernykh. He recorded these records until 1840.

1839 Cyrille-Pierre-Theodore LaPlace visits Ross on his voyage around the world.

1840 The sell of Fort Ross and the surrounding territories is now an official plan of the Company. Alexander Rotchev and Kostromitinov are actively looking for buyers. General Vallejo, Mexico California, and John Sutter are all possible buyers. General Vallejo could not come up with the money, the Mexican officers in California reminded the RAC that this was already their land, and John Sutter agreed to purchase the improvements on credit.

            This same year Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast, was published. Dana, whose love affair with the sea began in boyhood, left Harvard after his sophomore year in 1834 to sail “round the horn” to California on the brig Pilgrim. The book is based on his journal. Two thousand British sailors were said to have purchased it in a single day.  Other notable authors of the time is Henry David Thoreau Walden 1854, Mark Twain Life on the Mississippi 1883

1841 Mt. St. Helena is climbed by Scientist Voznesenskii and Agronomist Chernykh on their way to Sutter’s Fort. John Sutter agrees to buy the fort and all out buildings for a price of $30,000 to be paid in installments. Also with the sale went the cannons, the ship yard, livestock, and all grain in the ground. It does not include the actual land. The Russian American Company leaves Fort Ross December 1841.

1841 Robert Ridley becomes the first caretaker for Sutter at Ross. Robert Livermore led a drive of 2,000 head of cattle from Fort Ross and the ranches to the Sutter farm in Marysville.

1843 Samuel Smith replaces Ridley as caretaker. William Benitz replaces Smith as caretaker and eventually signs a lease for Fort Ross and property. He and his growing family stayed at Ross until 1873. Manuel Torres was granted the Muniz Rancho by Governor Pio Pico. Benitz ran the rancho.

1844 - August - Captain Stephen Smith was granted the 35,487 acre Bodega Rancho who was married to fifteen year old Manuela Torres of Peru, sister of Manuel Torres

1844 - The Elisha Stevens-Martin Murphy - Townsend party of 150 people became the first wagon train to successfully cross the Sierra Nevada, arriving at Sutter's Fort on December 13.

1845 Benitz signed a lease for the Fort Ross holdings from Sutter.

1845 - the Kohlmer family arrived in California by wagon train with the Grigsby/Brown Ide Party.

1845 - Manuel Torres (mentioned above) was granted the 17,760.75 acre Muniz Rancho by Governor Pio Pico. this property extended from the Russian river to north of timber cove and inland to the mountain range. He was just 19 years old and married the daughter of William A. Richardson. Richardson family are till land owned in the area today. Benitz and Rufus stayed on the property and ran the rancho.

1846 Bear Flag revolt and flag raising at Sonoma Plaza occurred on June 14th. California became a Territory of the United States of America by the raising the USA flag over the Custom House in Monterey by Commodore John Drake Slat. A second flag was raised at Yoruba Buena (San Francisco), a third flag was raised in Sonoma and a fourth flag was raised in Bodega.

1847 - Yerba Buena was official named San Francisco.

1847 - William Otto Benitz and Josephine Kohlmer were married on February 23. They had 6 children over the next 20 years. He developed a coal mine here, a brewery, and orchards. His partner, Rufus, began tanning hides at Russian tannery. In 1867 James W. Dixon purchased Ross and surroundings 6,000 acres from Benitz. A wooden chute is built for his lumbering operations. The same year Charles Fairfax purchased 7,000 acres from Benitz. The Benitz family moved to Oakland and later to Argentina. Today in Argentina, this family owns several large ranchos. Mrs. Josephine Benitz came for a visit to Ross in 1898.

1848 - Gold was discovered at Coloma by James Wilson Marshall.

1848 - The Mexican government ceded Alta California to the United States of America by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

1849 The Gold Rush is on. RAC involves itself in California commerce by importing ice from Alaska.

1850 California becomes a part of the United States September 9.

1867 Alaska was sold to the U.S. for 7.2 million dollars. The $200,000 went to the Russian American Company. They liquidated all assets and returned to Irkutsk, Russia.

In 1873 George Washington Call purchases the fort and surrounding property of more than 7,000 acres. The Call family lives in the Rotchev house until 1876 until their large white two story home is completed. This house stands today and has been fully restored for visitation. 1878 the Fort Ross Hotel opened. In 1885 the Fort Ross School opened. The first photograph of the Call Family was taken in 1890. The Call family grew with 14 children being born between 1869 and 1900.

The first Weather station was set up by G.W. Call in 1874. The Fort Ross post office was established with G.W. Call as postmaster in 1877. A Western Union telegraph station opens, but closes in 1902.

Black Bart held up a stage 2 1/2 miles south of Fort Ross on Meyers Grade Road in 1877.

The Fort Ross Road is sold to the county for $1.

In 1900 Luther Burbank visited Fort Ross and the Call family.

The California Historical Landmarks Committee acquires Fort Ross and surrounding 2 1/2 acres in 1903. The Fort is than deeded to the State of California in 1906. A few months later a major earthquake hits and destroys several remaining buildings. The Rotchev House was standing and today is the only remaining original structure of Fort Ross. The Rotchev House is a National Historical Landmark. It is also said to be the oldest standing structure between San Francisco and Alaska. Throughout the years several buildings have been restored. Another 345 acres is acquired by the State in 1978 At this time the Call Family moves out of their 100 year old home. In 1978 the Parks and Recreation Dept. purchases another 143.5 acres of land. In the same year Mercedes Call sells 1118.27 acres to the State for further acquisition by the Parks. In 1990 The Save The Redwood League purchases 2,000 acres plus from a neighboring lumbering company and donates it to the Dept. of Parks. Fort Ross State Historic Park is now over 2400 acres.

The first annual Russian Orthodox services begin July 4th, 1925. Today these services still take place on the same day every year.

In 1985 the Fort Ross Visitor Center was completed and dedicated.