Russian colonization of the Americas

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The Russian colonization of the Americas covers the period, from 1732 to 1867, when the Tsarist Imperial Russian Empire laid claim to northern Pacific Coast territories in the Americas. The Russians sponsored expeditions and maintained colonial enterprises in North America to export natural resources from the sea and land for Russia and trading purposes, with supporting settlements and defensive outposts. The colonies were primarily established in present day Alaska, with some reaching to Hawaii and Northern California. In 1867, accepting the Tsar's offer to sell, the United States purchased Russian America for $7,200,000, which is known as the Alaska Purchase. This ended the Imperial Russian colonial presence in North America.



Europeans first sighted the Alaskan coast line in 1732. It was made by the Russian maritime explorer and navigator Ivan Fedorov from sea near present day Cape Prince of Wales on the eastern boundary of the Bering Strait opposite Russian Cape Dezhnev. He did not land. The first European landfall took place in southern Alaska in 1741 during the Russian exploration by Vitus Bering and Aleksei Chirikov. Between 1774 and 1800 Spain also led several expeditions to Alaska in order to assert its claim over the Pacific Northwest. These claims were later abandoned at the turn of the 19th century. Count Rumiantsev funded Russia's first naval circumnavigation under the joint command of Ivan Kruzenstern and Nikolai Rezanov in 1803-1806, and was instrumenal in the outfitting of the voyage of the Riurik's circumnavigation of 1814-1816, which provided substantial scientific information on Alaska's and California's flora and fauna, and important ethnographic information on Alaskan and Californian (among others) natives.

Trading company

Imperial Russia was the rare European Empire that had no State sponsorship of foreign expeditions or territorial (conquest) settlement. The first State protected trading company for sponsoring such activities in the Americas was the Shelikhov-Golikov Company of Grigory Shelikhov and Ivan Larionovich Golikov. A number of other companies were operating in Russian America during the 1780s. Shelikhov petitioned the government for exclusive control, but in 1788 Catherine II decided to grant his company a monopoly only over the area it had already occupied. Other traders were free to compete elsewhere. Catherine's decision was issued as the imperial ukase (proclamation) of September 28, 1788.[1]

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