Clerks were critical to the success of Colony Ross. Fort Ross was not a fort in the military sense. Instead, its primary role was to supply provisions for the Russian American Company (RAC) outposts in Alaska and to manage the California sea otter harvest and trade. As a commercial outpost Fort Ross relied on clerks. One of the most famous Fort Ross residents, Kirill Khlebnikov, performed many duties of a clerk.
To do their jobs, clerks needed a variety of skills. They had to know accounting and chemistry, and they needed to be able to read, write, and do math. Clerks had to be familiar with foreign taxes, languages, currencies, and weights and measures. They also had to be strong enough to pack fur bales, the standard weight of which was ninety pounds. Clerks also had to be able to make tools of their trade such as ink and quill pens. Few, if any, clerks possessed all of these skills. Instead, they often specialized in certain areas.
In the past, Clerks tasks included but were not limited to –
- Preparing lists of goods and provisions needed for the fort
- Helping to write and keeping copies of official correspondence
- Conducting an annual inventory
- Checking incoming goods against the requisitions and invoices that accompanied them when the trade ships arrived
- Sorting goods and preparing them for travel
- Weighing, sorting and checking furs for quality
- Determining the value of the furs and other goods
- Keeping journals that recorded the daily activities at the fort
- Distributing pay and rations
During the Russian period, Clerks staffed the magazins. Clerks were required to keep detailed logs and record daily transactions, employee’s credits and debts, lists of supplies, and inventories of each building. The ELP Clerks role group reflects these tasks and provides students with a more accurate understanding of the commercial role of Fort Ross during the Russian period.
Clerks generally began their careers as apprentices. Most were already educated, having at least good penmanship and spelling, as well as the ability to do bookkeeping. As the people responsible for accounting and handling the trade goods, clerks had to be trustworthy. The RAC employed both Russians and creoles as clerks. After a few years, if an apprentice proved competent, he would be promoted to clerk. Over working for several decades with the RAC, clerks might become shareholders in the company.
As Fort Ross was a commercial, not a military, outpost, Clerks were essential for its day-to-day functioning. As with the RAC clerks who were here 200 years ago, they have specific tasks that they must accomplish in careful and precise ways. Clerks are responsible for keeping records, maintaining inventory, preparing pay packets and running the trade store.
Clerks Classroom Preparation –
- Research items traded at the Fort, origination, and discuss why it would be at the Colony
- Working with the fort manager (your teacher) develop a class ledger in which you will keep records of payments for the employees
- Learn about the geography of the Forts trading partners and create a map of the trade routes
- Prepare company script for use in the trade store or simply use the ledger as your record of employees’ pay
- Make or gather items for the trade store. Suggested ideas are noted above
- Make an abacus and learn how to use it. Study the history of this tool
Clerks Classroom Preparation and Onsite Activities –
General Information, Rules and Expectations – Please read through this carefully
Clerks Role Play Characters – Use this list to select your role play characters
Clerks Onsite Task List – An essential list of your tasks and responsibilities
Clerks Creating a Trade Store – How to set up the Trade Store, one of the most important tasks for Clerks!
Clerks Abacus Activity – Background on the Abacus and instructions on how to make one (optional)
Night Watch – Night Watch is mandatory, read all about it!
Items to Bring – A list of items to bring…Check it twice!
Russian American Company Travel Permits – Don’t forget your papers, to gain entrance to the Fort
Clerks Additional Information –
Brief History and Walking Tour – Learn about the history, buildings and grounds of Fort Ross
Clerks Magazin & Layout – Read about the Magazin, the building that houses the Trade Store, and where the Clerks perform many of their duties
Clerks Trade Items known to have been at Fort Ross – A historic list of RAC trade items
Clerks Historical Background on Currency – Information on historic RAC currency
Historic Work Wages – Historic examples of Russian American Company work and wages
Creole Privileges – “Creoles” were those with mixed European and Native ancestry, e.g., having one Russian parent, and one Native Californian parent. Read this to learn about historic Russian American Company’s regulations and privileges regarding Creoles