Fort Ross Chronology

Fort Ross Chronology

Precontact – Kashia Pomo, also called Winahmahbahkayyahchmah, which means People from Top of Land,  lived in this area for thousands of years, a place they called Metini. Kashia were said to be good gamblers, which is what the name Kashia refers to.


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 explored the waters of eastern Russia (Siberia) to find a north passage. The trip was unsuccessful.


1741 – Vitus Bering set out again in the North Pacific waters, discovered the Aleutian Islands. Shipwrecks on what is now called the Commander Islands. Bering died of exposure, but some of his crew survive 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.


1750’s – First known sale of sea otter 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.


1769 – Gaspar de Portola discovered 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 on March 29, selected the site for the Mission San Francisco de Asus (Delores). In this same year Lieutenant Juan Manuel 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 explored the coastline to 58′.


1776 – In March and April, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza traveled up the Delta and saw elk, bear, wildcats, wolves, panthers, wild sheep, and buffalo. He traded with local native peoples.  In March, Captain James Cook sailed 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 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 place names remain today. On June 29, Mission San Francisco de Asus (Delores) was founded and on October 3 was dedicated.


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 Grigory Shelikhov expressed 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 received 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, joined 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 moved 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 Concepcion, the daughter of the manager of Presidio San Francisco. The trip was a success despite Spain’s prohibition of trade with foreigners.  Grain is now available for the starving employees in Alaska, while the Spanish Californians will receive trade goods they so badly need. Rezanov developed 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 Krasnoyarsk, enroute to St. Petersburg to deliver plans of California and to ask permission to marry Dona Concepcion.


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 Farallon 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 established with the labor of 20 to 40 Russians, and 80 or so Alaska Natives. Construction of fort begins in April and is formally dedicated September 10th, the name day of Tsar Alexander I.  Kuskov was manager of Ross until 1821. Kuskov was a gardener, explorer, and a true company man.


1812 – Officer Moraga, a Spanish officer, visited 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 gunpowder and cannon supplies. This same year Napoleon Bonaparte attacked 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. Johann 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 Johann, and is known as the Californica Eshscholtzia – The California Poppy.


1817 – The official treaty with Kashia 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 retired from the Ross settlement. Karl J. Von Schmidt, a German,  replaced 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 declared Independence from Spain. Hereafter trade relations with the new Mexican government is competitive and costly for the company. The Mexican government was unsupportive of the RAC because of the RAC’s support for Spain in keeping control over the new Mexican territories”.


1823 – Mission San Francisco Solano at Sonoma was 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 arrived 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 replaced Paul Shelikhov as manager of Ross.  Reports of smallpox 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 – Khlebnikov Ranch established near what is now the town of Bodega.


1836 – Father Ioann Veniaminov visited 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 established a ranch inland called the Chernykh Ranch in the area that is called Freestone and Occidental today. Chernykh, the Creole child of a Russian priest and Kamchatal woman, was educated at the Moscow Agricultural Institute and then sent to assist the Company in production of grain and other crops. He built a threshing machine, possibly of Scottish design. This same year Alexander G. Rotchev replaced Kostromitinov as manager of Ross. He is accompanied by his wife, Elena Pavlovna Rotcheva, formerly known as Princess Elena Gagarina. They 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 visited Ross on his voyage around the world.


1840 – The sale of Fort Ross and the surrounding territories became 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 Ilya Voznesenskii, a Russian scientist from St. Petersburg, came 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 Kashia people. Also this 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 are Henry David Thoreau Walden from 1854, and Mark Twain’s  Life on the Mississippi from 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 outbuildings 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 became 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 replaced Ridley as caretaker. William Benitz replaced Smith as caretaker and eventually signed 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. The Richardson family are still landowners 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 Sloat. 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 officially named part of 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 on 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.


1873 – George Washington Call purchased the fort and surrounding property of more than 7,000 acres. The Call family lived 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.


1874 – The first Weather station was set up by G.W. Call.


1877 – The Fort Ross post office was established with G.W. Call as postmaster. Black Bart held up a stage 2 1/2 miles south of Fort Ross on Meyers Grade Road.  The Fort Ross Road was sold to the county for $1.


1878 – The Fort Ross Hotel opened.


1885 – The Fort Ross School opened.


1890 – The first photograph of the Call Family was taken. The Call family grew with 14 children being born between 1869 and 1900.


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


1902 – A Western Union telegraph station opens, but soon closes.


1903 – The California Historical Landmarks Committee acquired Fort Ross and surrounding 2 1/2 acres.


1906 – The Fort is deeded to the State of California.  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.   


1978 – Another 345 acres is acquired by the State.  Throughout the years several buildings have been restored.  At this time the Call Family moves out of their 100 year old home. In 1978 the Parks and Recreation Dept. purchased another 143.5 acres of land. In the same year Mercedes Call sold 1118.27 acres to the State for further acquisition by the Parks.


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


1985 – The Fort Ross Visitor Center was completed and dedicated.


1990 – The Save The Redwoods League purchased 2,000 acres plus from a neighboring lumbering company and donated it to the California State Parks. Fort Ross State Historic Park was over 2400 acres.


2010 – Rotchev House Museum furnishings and restoration completed.


2012 – Fur Warehouse construction and exhibit completed.


2012 – Commemoration of the Fort Ross Bicentennial.


2012 – Windmill recreation completed and dedicated.