Historic Work and Wages of Russian American Company Employees
Relations of Employees to the Company – In the past employees were hired under an overall contract. On December 14, 1820, the Board of Directors issued this directive outlining the terms on which workers are to be accepted for hunting and other company duties in the American colonies. The terms for this directive are as follows:
“Upon entering the service this statement is to be read to the employee and by signing it, he obligates himself to fulfill it. The Company will secure for him a passport valid for seven years, and will give him the necessary money to cover the cost of his transportation.
When they arrive in the colonies, they are under the jurisdiction of the Chief Manager (based out of Sitka, Alaska) or the various office administrators, and they must carry out their professional duties or other work, according to their training; they pledge to obey the administration at all times.
An employee must promise not to engage in any trading with the (Indigenous peoples) or with foreigners, under threat of loss of his contract and his profit.
Every new arrival must pledge to avoid the following vices: drunkenness, extravagance, quarreling and other offenses, and not to accumulate large unpaid debts.
The terms of service is seven years; at the end of this period, if the employee has nNo debts and decides to return home, the Company shall not hinder this decision, and the employee shall be sent by the first available transport to Okhotsk, or around the world, at Company expense. At the time of his departure he shall receive an accurate accounting and within a month after the journey via either Okhotsk of St.T Petersburg he is completely discharged from service. Those who have debts must pay them through service, and must neither ask or petition to be released from their contracts.
For its part, the Company promises the following to those who enter its service:
To issue salaries of 350 rubles per year from the day of boarding ship to the return to their homeland. According to the rules established by the Chief Manager the salary has been raised as follows: Master craftsmen such as smiths and metalworkers, coppersmiths, carpenters, shipbuilders and others, from 400 to 450 rubles; boatswain first class, 450, boatswain second class, 400 rubles.
The Company pledges not to deduct debts from pay before reaching the colony. In the colonies, salaries will be paid monthly, with up to one-third being deducted for payment of debts.”
Here are historic Russian-American company examples of work and wages earned.
Sample Wages and Debts for the building of the brig Buldakov –
- Craftsmen Vasilii Grudinin – 500 rubles
- Chief Carpenter Aleksei Korenev – 200 rubles
- Chief Carpenter Vasilii Permitin – 200 rubles
- Chief Carpenter Gerasim Popov – 125 rubles
- Chief Carpenter Nikifor ZyriaNov – 125 rubles
- Chief Carpenter Aleksei Igumov – 125 rubles
- Carpenter Vasilii Vasil’ev – 100 rubles
- Carpenter Iakov Okhlopkov – 75 rubles
- Carpenter Ermil Medvedev – 75 rubles
- Carpenter Fedor Kundiukov – 100 rubles
- Carpenter Pavel StephaNov – 75 rubles
- Carpenter Peter Popov – 50 rubles
- Blacksmith Stepan Titov – 150 rubles
- Blacksmith Dimitrii Samoilov – 100 rubles
- Coppersmith Nikifor Ulitovskii – 100 rubles
- Cooper Andrei Chechul’ka – 150 rubles
- Block-maker Mikhalio Rastorguev – 100 rubles
- TOTAL – 2350 rubles
Excerpt from James R. Gibson, “Russia in California, 1833. Report of Governor Wrangel” Pacific Northwest Quarterly, October, 1969. Volume 60, No. 4.
“November 3rd, 1824… In keeping with the Chief Manager’s instructions, I ask the Ross Office to pay the prikazchik (supervisor) Dorofeev an extraordinary recompense of 300 rubles for having carried out his duties with zeal during the sea otter hunt. The sum is to be credited to him and deducted from the commercial accounts. … The Ross Office has requested authorization to grant a wage increase to the locksmith Titov for his great diligence and his agreement to live at Ross. It has also asked for permission to reward the following Alaska Natives: the mason Timofei, the coal miner Ivan Tuchek, the hunter Ivan, and the baidarshchik (boatman) Klimsha….In addition to the 50 kopecks daily wages for the Alaska Natives, reward the coal miner Ivan Tuchek 10 rubles for each large lump of coal, and add 25 kopecks daily to the future wages of the other Alaska Natives. I request that the Ross Office carry out these instructions.
Letter to the Ross Office ‘In accordance with the instructions of the chief manager, please submit to me all money collected by subscription for the construction of a chapel in Ross, along with an excerpt from the office records indicating who has donated how much. ….June 22nd, 1824, With regard to your inquiry of June 12th about the building of a chapel, I hereby inform you that as there are no icons or other objects at Ross that would be suitable for decorating a place of worship, the construction of a chapel should not begin unless the chief manager gives his permission. But given the religious zeal of all the Ross settlers, it is essential to have a place where prayers can be read on holidays. For that purpose, I think it would be appropriate, when rebuilding the barracks this fall, to set aside a room where 30 to 40 persons could say their prayers. “
Historic Russian-American Company fur trade exchange rate – Even if the skillful Alaska Native or California Native hunter managed to bring in plenty of pelts, the following trade exchange list shows how advantageous the trade rate was for the company. Do you think the hunters were paid fairly for the furs they brought into the company?
For the information of each employee, this price list must be posted in the store and cannot be changed by the clerk, but only by the Chief Manager.
- 1 sea otter – 2 large blankets
- 1 sea otter – 2 1/2 arshins (70 inches) heavy wool cloth
- 1 sea otter – 1 case razors
- 1 sea otter – 1 cast iron utensil
- 1 yearling sea otter – 1 axe
- 1 yearling sea otter – 1 medium blanket
- 1 yearling sea otter – 3 arshins (84 inches) calico
- 1 river beaver – 3 arshins (84 inches) cotton cloth
- 1 river beaver – 1 axe
- 10 mink – 1 mirror
- 8 mink – 1 pound Virginia tobacco
- 2 black bear – 1 cast iron kettle
- 1 large black bear – 1 large blanket
- 1 medium black bear – 5 arshins (120 inches) heavy linen
- 1 medium black bear – 5 arshins (120 inches) wool
- 1 brown bear – 1 large blanket
Inventory of day-to-day necessities – The following report from a Russian-American Company official not only points out the difficulties of the daily lives of Ross inhabitants, but also provides an excellent inventory of day-to-day necessities. The measurements are defined below.
“Everyone has confirmed that there are no ways to help them [the promyshlenniki live and feed a family on a single salary, with one ration of flour and one pound of meat (with bones) a day. Consequently, there is indeed no way the office can reduce debts; on the contrary they increase year by year. In order to give an idea of the expenses of a Russian Promyshlennik at Ross, I add here the debts of one of them, Vasiliy Permitin, who has a wife and five children. For 1832 he received on his salary’s account: All these total 728 rubles, 17 kopecks at existing prices, while Permitin’s annual salary is 350 rubles.”
- Wheat – 3 1/2 puds [126 2/5 lb.] (see glossary )
- Wheat flour – 42 puds 10 funts [1525 lb.]
- Barley – 2 puds [72 1/4 lb.]
- Dried Meat – 1 pud [36 1/10 lb.]
- Fresh Beef – 1 pud 35 funts [63 3/5 lb.]
- Lard – 24 funts [21 3/5 lb.]
- Cow’s Butter – 11 funts [9 9/10 lb.]
- Tallow Candles – 14 funts [12 3/5 lb.]
- Salt – 14 funts [12 3/5 lb.]
- Copper Utensils – 4 1/2 funts [4 lb.]
- Millet – 10 funts [9 lb.]
- Circassian Tobacco – 22 funts [19 4/5 lb.]
- Soap – 27 funts [24 1/3 lb.]
- Tea – 10 3/4 funts [9 2/3 lb.]
- Sugar – 1 pud 7 1/2 funts [42 7/8 lb.]
- Treacle – 10 1/2 funts [9 1/2 lb.]
- Wool Felt – 2 bundles
- Cotton Stockings – 1 pair
- Flannel Blankets – 2 bundles
- Cotton Dress – 1
- Soles – 21 pair
- Uppers – 10
- Cotton Ends – 5 pieces
- Medium Sheepskins – 2
- Flemish Linen – 21 arshins [49 feet]
- Calico – 32 arshins [74 2/3 feet]
- Ticking – 17 arshins [39 2/3 feet]
- Trouser Burlap – 15 arshins [49 feet]
- Gingham – 7 arshins [46 1/3 feet]
- Soldier’s Broadcloth – 2 arshins [4 2/3 feet]
- Arshin = 28 inches
- Funt = 36.11 lbs
- Kopeck = 1/2 cent (in early 19th century)
- Pud = 0.9 lbs
- Ruble = 50 cents
Private Land and Agriculture –
“…On their days off, those who were industrious could work their land themselves…Everyone received seed on loan. The advantage is that the private land is worked at no expense to the company, and many of the men harvest enough to last them for the whole year and thus receive No ration from the company.”
Defense of the Settlement, from The Khlebnikov Archive, Travel Notes, 1824 by RAC Commercial Counselor Kirill Khlebnikov.
- I wrote to the Ross Office to point out that the fortifications must be improved.
- The private dwellings situated outside the fort should not be torn down without the Chief Manager’s approval, but do not allow any new dwellings to be built. Almost half the men now live outside the fort’s walls, and in the event of enemy attack, they would immediately be taken prisoner. If an attack appears to be imminent, everyone living outside the fort should be brought in without delay. I will inform the Chief Manager of this.
- During the dark autumn and winter nights, post two sentries on the towers and appoint a prickazchik (supervisor) or one of his assistants to supervise the sentries in turn. Those sentries who sleep on watch are disobeying orders and are to be whipped with a ship’s line as punishment.
- An enemy attack may come by land or sea. You should devote all your energies to repulsing them and, like a true son of the native land, spare neither your efforts nor your blood to defend the fort, whose safety has been placed in your hands. Your subordinates should be instilled with these same sentiments. From the sea, ships cannot approach the fort to fire their cannon, and a landing must therefore be prevented. It is impossible to move artillery over the mountains, and with your cannon, you would have an advantage over an enemy armed only with light weapons. In any event, may the almighty prevent such an event from occurring during your management.
Khlebnikov also had a few words to say about the use of gunpowder at Ross –
- “I noticed that there had been an excessive use of gunpowder, and I decided to write the office to point out the importance of economizing in all areas.”
- “The warehouse accounts of the office records for the period ending on May 1 of this year contain an entry for the following expenses: 345 charges of gunpowder between September 1, 1823 and May 1, 1824, for special celebrations, for arriving and departing ships, for signaling, and for firing the cannon at dawn.’ Comparing that figure with earlier periods, I noted that it was more than twice as large. It must be remembered that any unnecessary waste of the company’s supplies is, to a certain extent, negligence with company capital, regardless of the capital’s form, and such negligence is in violation of one’s obligation to the company. In order to avoid such expenses in the future, I ask the Ross Manager to bear in mind the exact state of affairs and to refrain from using the Company’s capital without reason. The value of any goods wasted without a valid reason will be debited to the account of the person responsible.”