Russian Alaskans (Russian America)

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Russian dancers.jpg
A group of Russian Alaskan dancers in traditional dress.

A Russian Alaskan may refer to any permanent resident of the

Alaskan Democratic Federative Republic

who can trace their ancestry back to, or were born in


. Russian Alaskans make up the second largest ethnic group in the country approximately at 16%.

Second only to Ukrainian Alaskans. Because many Ukrainians carry the legacy of Russification and have intermarried with Russians frequently, Russians could possibly be the largest group in Alaska depending on statistical parameters.

Russian Alaskans are the founding population of the modern Alaskan State and were the majority population of the country until the 1890s. Through the 20th century, they have still constituted a large part of the country's population and often set the cultural standard despite not being the largest group. The Russian Language is still the backbone of Alaskan Culture. So much that Alaskans have diverged standard Russian into their Alaskan Russian dialect. The Russian Alaskans historically were the foundations of modern Alaska. There has never been a Russian President of Alaska. Most Alaskan Presidents have self-identified as Ukrainian with some possible Russian ancestry.


An area of adventures

The Russian state was the first European country to discover in detail the edges of Northwest North Americas and to reach the Americas from proceeding eastward. Russian Semyon Dezhnev in 1648 set foot on the Diomede islands, being the first Russian to reach modern Alaskan territory. However, he did not reach the North American mainland nor did the later Bering expedition in 1741.

When news of available sea routes to America via the Bering Sea became public hordes of Russian, Siberian, and Turkic adventurers arrived upon the rocky shores of the Aleutia. In the beginning, the relationship with the original Aleutian Peoples was based on transactions, similar to that of the French treatment of New France. The Newcomers employed the natives to fur trap on their behalf, however as demand for fur grew in Eastern Europe, coercion and violence replaced initially friendly relations. The last years of the 18th century saw Russian colonizers exercise their brutality on uncooperative peoples, especially in the Kenai and Kodiak governates. Japanese observers in the area documented evidence of Russian brutality

Initially, Alaska was a wild land, for journeys that lasted up to two and three years, in what was one of the riskiest adventures of the time there was a high death rate for early travelers. Despite the extraordinary cost and distance, Catherine the Great subsidized the state Russian-American Company to create a permanent presence. Spanish sailors at the same time were eagerly staking claims to entire territory which has become modern Alaska.  In 1799 New Archangel was christened the center of Russia's American territories. The earliest years were marked by wars with the early Tlingit Confederation which resulted in the early loss of the town, only to be reclaimed in 1804.

Spanish War

For the first nearly quarter of a century the European Population of Alaska did not exceed 1,000 individuals, most of who would have been Russian, or Eurasians mixed with Mongolian and Turkic heritage. The majority of the population of the colony were the Christianized and friendly Aleuts who had made peace with the RAC. Initially, most Russians would have resided the Northern Areas of the colony, only a few farmers and soldiers guarding the Southern outpost of Ross. Day to day oversight of Russian America fell in the hands of Cossack leaders in charge of the war effort against resistant Indians.

Seeing great potential in Sonoma and fearing loss of Russia's New World to Great Britain and Spain, the central government took a direct hand in bolstering the holdings of the RAC in the country. The company was instructed to locate wealthy aristocrats and merchants who would be willing to invest in the company or to permit some of their serfs to migrate to Ross. Investors who permitted their serfs to emigrate were given a share of stock ownership in the RAC company, and the serfs themselves contracted as indentured servants to work on the company's direction for twenty years, after which time the serfs would become freeman with the possibility of land ownership, however the company could also choose (and usually did) to convert the serfs into free renters. In many ways Alaskan Indentured Service resembled the Seigneurial System of New France.

Any children or women who the servant may encounter at that time were part of the company until the expiration of the contract. This system proved lucrative for Russian landowners who accumulated great amounts of company stock only by permitting their serfs to emigrate, some of whose decedents are on the company's board of directors.

Initially the program was limited as to not cause disturbances in domestic Russian Society, nonetheless, the total settler population in Russian America doubled within ten years. The rapid growth provoked the Spanish Empire into an engagement on the high seas of the Pacific Northwest with RAC vessels sparking the Russo-Spanish War.

Wayward Settlement

The proceeding war brought many Imperial Russian soldiers to North America for the first time, most of which were conscripted serfs or small farmers. The presence of thousands of soldiers in Alaska changed the motherland's perception of Alaska forever. Only after the war with Spain did many Russians become aware that their nation had colonies in the New World at all.

Thousands returned home with tales of 'pure, fair, country', in fact, ethnic Russians mutinied and at first refused to return home. Only when they were promised grants of land that they would receive at the end of their twenty-five year service did they agree to withdraw. Literate military men wrote much romantic literature based on what they had seen as the 'heavenly east'.

During these times, the majority of Alaska remained a wild country, while in theory the Russian America Company enforced laws on the territory, lands beyond the port cities were in fact free. Cossacks continued to remain the main enforcers of authority but even their grasp was limited as they were often preoccupied with negotiations or warfare with native peoples. Pioneers who reached the interior of the country would earn a self fought autonomy seldom witnessed in the Russian Empire. Russian Siberians on their own accord made treacherous journeys, often crossing the Bering Sea on fishing boats to arrive in newly discovered lands- dozens of fisherman and castaways reached Bering in this manner. In some cases complete travel times could transpire for four years or more with some traveling over the entirety of Sibera before reaching the Bering Sea. Death rates for immigrants continued to be high

The appeal of escaping authority- however dangerous it was encouraged Old Believers sects to resettle in the colonies. At this time Old Believers were experiencing intense persecution under Tsar Nicholas I, their emigration was unauthorized but huge distances made apprehending them often near impossible. Once in the New World many Old Believers reached secluded forests and valleys to avoid detection. The Russian American Company developed a policy of benign neglect, not acknowledging or attacking their presence as long as they avoided public life. By escaping the arms and ears of institutions however minorities and outcasts ran into still existing native Alaskan populations. The result of interactions depended on the personalities of the pioneers themselves, ranging from joining Athabaskan peoples to outright war

Birth of Russian Alaskan Culture

The Gold rushes of 1848 began to transform the landscape attracting the migrations of thousands overnight. In some cases excited small land owners and even some major estate holder sold everything they had to reach the land of gold. There were also cases of landowners sponsoring their serfs, however in order to prevent serfs from attempting to flee with any possible revenues, there was a common practice of branding them with the names of the nobles in question. In theory serfs were contracted out as agents to exact gold to return and split profits but in practice serfs were routinely robbed out of their share. Dozens of serfs did in fact flee with gold often going east towards Idaho or fleeing over the border to (then) British Columbia or the United States.

Cities, grew overnight but were still impeded by the long distance from the nearest European port which had now shifted to Odessa in modern day Ukraine. The outbreak of the Crimean War temporarily slowed emigration as both conscription and war disrupted critical migration routes. The seizure of Vladivostok in Asia made emigration more possible for ordinary citizens.

Few bombs shells hit Russians and Russian Alaskans as the freeing of all serfs in 1867 on decree by Czar Alexander II. The Russian America Company benefited immensely as it could now recruit freed serfs without any middleman to compensate. Tens of thousands of contracted freed serfs arrived in Ross, and New Archangel originally to work in agriculture, but very quickly industrialize Russian America as shipyard workers, or in manufacturing.

Cultural and Scientific life began to bloom in earnest in the late 19th century. Native Russian Botanists, engineers, artists and writers all began to immigrate from Moscow and St. Petersburg to relish in a freer world farther away from the Czar. The immigration of cultural elites contributed to the construction of many new Dachas. In addition some native born Russian Alaskans began to a form into their middle class, but were disdained by elitists from Russia proper.


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