Although the Russian American Company was the second European power (after Spain) to establish a permanent settlement in California, the company was responsible for many things that were done for the first time. Listed below are many of the interesting firsts for which the company was responsible.
Every history must have a love story. The love story between Court Chamberlain N.P. Rezanov and Dona Conception Arquello took place before the Russians had established Fort Ross. The year was 1806 when the Company first came into California to open trade relations with the Spanish Californians. The company badly needed the food for their settlements in Alaska, which the Spanish were growing in California. The Spanish colonists needed the manufactured goods which the Russian American Company could offer in trade. Company envoy Rezanov sailed south to seek trade relations with the Spanish. He ported in San Francisco and became friends with the family of the commandante of Presidio San Francisco. He soon became such good friends, that after a wonderful three month stay, asked for the hand of one of the commandante’s daughters, Dona Conception. Unfortunately, the marriage could not take place right away: Rezanov needed permission of the Czar, and Dona Conception needed the permission of the Pope. Sadly, Count Rezanov died on his way to St. Petersburg while crossing Siberia. Dona Conception found out of his death four years later, as the Company returned to Alta California. Conception died as the first nun of California. Today there is a Rock Opera performed in Russia and at times here in California. Could it be that this is the first star crossed love story between a Russian and a Spaniard in California? The bookstore carries a title related to this called ‘Concha, My Dancing Saint’ and ‘The Romance of Nikolai Rezanov and Conception Arquello’.
The RAC and Settlement Ross was the first to establish a widely used commercial trade port in California. By Spanish law, California ports were closed to trade with any foreigners. The Russians, on the other hand, were willing to trade with any ship. Therefore Port Rumianstev, the RAC’s shipping and trading port at Bodega Bay, was the first port for foreign trade in California.
The Russians were first to build ships on the west coast of North America. Four ships were constructed at the Ross colony in Fort Ross Cove. The first was the brig Rumianstev, launched in 1818. This ship lasted only until 1823. The second was copper-hulled brig Buldakov. It was launched in 1820 and was in use until 1826. The third was the brig Volga, launched in 1822 and in use until 1827. The last brig, Kiakhta was built in 1824 and it is unknown how long this brig was in use.
The Fort Ross Chapel, built between 1823 and 1826, was the first Russian Orthodox church built in the mainland United States. The chapel is a National Historic Landmark.
Settlement Ross was the first to have a full-time blacksmith, at times two of them, in California. The Spanish were soon to learn of this and in fact employed this blacksmith for use in the missions on occasion.
Also, they were first to ship glass into California. The glass came from Russia, which impressed the Spanish and others.
The Russians had a vineyard established at one of their local ranches with over 2000 vines. This was the first vineyard north of San Francisco.
Our State Wildflower, the California Poppy, is tied to Fort Ross. In 1816, two well known naturalists Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz and Ludovick de Chamissio, traveling on the ship Riurik, paid a visit to Colony Ross. Chamissio decided to name the plant after his good friend and colleague calling it Eschholtzia Californica.
Some of the first weather statistics in Northern California come from Fort Ross due to the efforts of the trained agronomist, Igor Chernyhk. In 1836 to help the colony with its agricultural efforts.
The oldest surviving building in the original location today north of San Francisco is at Fort Ross. The Rotchev house is about 170 years old. It is in the original location with most of the original timbers. It is thought to be the oldest building between San Francisco and Alaska.
Fort Ross today is one of the premier sites for archaeology in California due to the multi-cultural groups who lived and worked at Fort Ross.
The RAC flag was the second European flag to fly over what is called California today.
The Russians had more cannon (and never had to use them in anger) than any other settlement in the North Pacific. The RAC, in fact, sold to the Spanish several cannon and black powder.
The Farallon Islands were inhabited by the RAC as a hunting ground.
During the Gold Rush, eight years after Fort Ross was abandoned, The Russian American Company supplied San Francisco with ice towed behind the ships.
Fun Facts and Dates
1802 July 7 The first comic book is printed
1804 May 14 – Lewis and Clark set out on their expedition
1807 August 17 – the first steamboat trip was taken
1809 February 12th – Abraham Lincoln is born
1809 December 24 – Kit Carson is born
1819 August 1 – Herman Melville is born
1825 October 26 – The Erie Canal is opened
1828 April 14th – First Webster dictionary published
1828 September 9 – Leo Tolstoy is born
1832 November 29 – Louisa May Alcott is born
1835 November 30 – Mark Twain is born
1840 July 19th – Antarctica is officially discovered
1841 – November 4 – The first wagon train reaches California
1846 August 10 – Smithsonian Institute is created
1859 August 27 – The first working oil well is drilled