"19th Century Russian Claim on California Coastline" Fort Ross State Historic Park by atufft

Spanish, British, American, and Russian Claims

Spanish territorial claims worldwide peaked during the 16th and 17th centuries, while the British and Russian expansions didn't occur until the 17th and 18th centuries. So, by the time the farthest reaches of the planet were explored, in particular along the remote California coastline, all three empires began to rub elbows as it were. The Spanish map survey and colonial presence came north from Mexico not only as far as the San Francisco Bay region during the late 18th century, but also all the way to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which now divides Washington state from Canada. Altercations between Spanish and British expeditions and settlements increased during the late 18th century, until the Nootka Convention of the 1790's resolved damage claims by the British on the Vancouver Island, and the Spanish mostly retreated to established claims further south. Late starting American land exploration by Lewis and Clark, and Yankee fur trade by Astor, resulted in the establishment of American claims in Oregon and Washington state areas, which were acknowledged formally at the time Spain had sold Florida to the USA in 1819. Meanwhile, to the far north, beginning in the 18th century, Alaskan fur trading and whaling enterprises permited by the Russian Tsars sought for commercial purposes to settle into unoccupied areas between Spanish controlled San Francisco Bay and American occupied Oregon. Just as the Russians had traded in Hawaii for food supplies to feed established settlements in Alaska and on Kodiak Island, California has a longer growing season than Alaska, so it provided a more efficient way to supply northern outposts. The California fortified settlement at Fort Ross was thus a spotty claim to territory in along a disputed coastline, primarily for the purpose of growing crops, milling grains, and processing meats in preparation for the long winter in Alaska. While Russian sovereignty was late in its claim for territory, the wooden stockade and blockhouse of canons at Fort Ross were considered defensible enough to discourage Spanish, British, or American assault.

Fort Ross is Part of California Cultural Heritage

In the end, given the rugged remoteness of California, European nations more often than not shared European or Asian derived supplies and gifts than they did haggle over the sparsely settled territory. Russian scientists cataloged flora and fauna, Russian soldiers married Spanish-American brides, and Russian fur traders contributed Russian made bells and candles to the last Spanish Mission at Sonoma in 1823. In 1841, after the decline of the fur trade along the California coast, and after failing to sell it to the Mexicans, Fort Ross was sold somewhat illegally to John Sutter. Sutter's men dismantled and removed must of what was left by the Russians. Sutter subordinates used the Fort Ross property for ranching, until George Call added the property to his 15,000 acre ranch in 1873. In 1906, the State of California received the fort and about 3 acres for the purposes of preservation. More acreage was added, so that by 1992, the Fort Ross State Historic Park was more than 3,200 acres in size.

  • Intro Updated Jun 24, 2011
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Reviews (18)

Comments (4)

  • Ewingjr98's Profile Photo
    Nov 5, 2011 at 9:07 PM

    Hi, Alan. Thanks for the birthday greetings. This is a nice page on a California spot we drove by, but never visited. I kind of miss the west coast!

  • travelgourmet's Profile Photo
    Jul 6, 2011 at 1:27 AM

    Alan, as usual, very informative tips with great photos. If it wasn't for the near extinction of the sea otter by 1820, Russia may have kept their hold on California shores instead of leaving. :-)

  • Kuznetsov_Sergey's Profile Photo
    Jun 25, 2011 at 7:38 AM

    Thank you Alan for a page about this part of Russian America! Yes, those were times when Russia owned Alaska and part of California... We know about Fort Ross and its Russian residents.

  • kris-t's Profile Photo
    Jun 15, 2011 at 6:15 PM

    Excelent tips and photos. Great info too. Honestly, I had no idea... Thank you!


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