Theme 2: Industry
Period: Russian (1741-1867)
Much of the Russian-American Company correspondence between the home office in Russia and the various offices in Alaska has been preserved. Below are summaries of some of those letters written between 1820 and 1834.
25 February, 1820, from Chief Manager, Alaska, to Main Office (Russia):
Discusses Aleuts’ complaints against Batuev (the company’s agent for both Pribilof Islands). While Batuev was suffering from madness or was close to it, Nikolai Ustiugov convinced the Aleuts that they could cut ties with the company, sell fur seals to foreigners instead, and get rich. With two toions and 30 men who had come over to his side, Ustiugov established an independent republic on the west side of St. Paul Island. The Aleuts chose Ustiugov their leader, but soon found him to be a despot and were convinced by the Russians and the other toions to return.
25 February 1820, from Chief Manager, Alaska, to Main Office (Russia):
Criticizes taking of too many young seals. The seals have already been decreasing in numbers. Recommends closure of hunting for one year and then limiting the annual take to 40,000 on St. Paul and 10,000 on St. George.
20 May 1820, from Chief Manager to baidarshchik of Novo-Aleksandrovsk
Fort on the mainland of Alaska:
Asks the baidarshchik to try to convince 50 of the local people (Yup’ik Eskimos), with their families, to relocate to one of the Fur Seal Islands for no more than three years. There they would only have to kill and clean fur seals, for which they would receive 20 kopeks per seal in various goods. Since up to 50,000 fur seals are taken in a year, they would return rich. The baidarshchik will be rewarded if he succeeds.
30 May 1820, from Chief Manager to Unalashka office:
From Unalashka, the schooner Chirikov must go to the Fur Seal Islands to pick up cargo and the Aleuts and their families who asked to leave for Unalashka, more than 20 people. Last year, the Unalashka manager was ordered to convince ten Aleuts to go to the Pribilovs to replace those who were to leave. Those Aleuts should be sent on the Chirikov now.
31 May 1820, from Chief Manager to baidarshchik of St. George Island,
Aleuts who asked last year to leave for Unalashka may be sent out with their families, but only those Netsvetov can do without. Various local products should be sent to Novo-Arkhangelsk: sea lion and fur seal meat, lavtaks, kamleis (gut-skin parkas), gut, and sea lion throat membranes. In place of toion Govorukhin, lost in a boat accident, the company appoints as toion his heir, Marko Govorukhin.
6 January 1821, from Main Office (Russia) to Chief Manager, Alaska:
The Chief Manager reported that the Aleuts long on the Pribilofs ask to be returned to their families. He promised to return the old infirm ones that year and convinced the young ones to remain another two years, but asked the Main Office what he should do at the end of that time. For reasons unknown to the Main Office, he claims he cannot convince either people from Kodiak or those from the Fox Island chain (in the Aleutians) to go in their place. The Main Office agrees that the old Aleuts should be returned to their families and that the young ones should not be detained too long. It does not believe that the Chief Manager could not get the Fox Islanders to go to the Pribilofs if he would explain to them their duty to the company.
6 January 1821, from Main Office (Russia) to Chief Manager, Alaska:
Approves an increase in salary to 600 rubles per year for Netsvetov, baidarshchik on St. George Island.
7 April 1821, from Main Office (Russia) to Chief Manager, Alaska:
The Chief Manager requested that Aleuts on St. George Island be paid as much as Aleuts on St. Paul Island for fur seal pelts. This should have been resolved when the baidarshchik of St. Paul Island, in the capacity of supervisor of both islands, received a directive to raise prices for fur seals. In order that there be no misunderstanding, the Main Office asks the Chief Manager to reaffirm to the manager of St. George and St. Paul islands that the Aleuts of both islands should be paid equally for fur seals.
14 January 1822, from Chief Manager, Alaska, to Main Office (Russia):
The Aleuts do not want to stay on the Pribilofs, despite the fact that more than 40 people of both sexes and all ages have already been transported to Unalashka.
28 February 1822, from Main Office (Russia) to Chief Manager, Alaska:
The Chief Manager is to ship no more fur seal skins; the 60,000 sent on the Borodino are still unsold.
25 July 1822, from Chief Manager, Alaska, to Main Office (Russia):
When the Chief Manager was in the Pribilofs, all the Aleuts there petitioned him to return them to the Fox chain (in the Aleutians). He thought that the abundance of food and clothing and the fact that each received 130 rubles as his share of the hunt there should be advantageous enough to convince people to stay. He even raised payment, so that each should get at least 150 rubles next year, but all still wanted to leave. Justice demands that they be allowed to do so, but they must be replaced. The office should ready some Aleuts with their families for transport to the Pribilofs next year, assuring them that they will be brought back to Unalashka after three years and that they will be well rewarded for their time there.
13 May 1329, from Chief Manager, Alaska, to Main Office (Russia):
Section 53 of the company’s new privileges and rules clearly states that payment to Aleuts for furs should not be less than one-fifth the payment proposed for Russians. Under this provision, the Aleuts on St. Paul and St. George would be paid double what they are now getting. The Chief Manager is ready to implement section 53, but has insufficient goods to pay the higher prices. He reemphasizes the need for goods from the Main Office for payment.
27 February 1824, from Main Office (Russia) to Chief Manager, Alaska:
Approves payment of 25 rubles to those Aleuts who agree to stay for a fourth year on the Pribilofs.
15 April 1824, from Chief Manager, Alaska, to manager of the Pribilof
Islands in St. Paul:
Responds to the manager’s letter in 19 June 1823 in which he wrote that, of the people he has, he has promised to release up to 25 good hunters to their homeland. The Chief Manager tells the manager to try to keep his promise. He, for his part, will order the Unalashka office to send replacements. If there are not enough volunteers, the office is free under the new privileges to send people against their will, but the Chief Manager hopes that there will be volunteers.
11 July 1826, from Chief Manager, Alaska, to manager of the Pribilof
Approves suspending the fur seal hunt on St. George Island in order to let the animals multiply; the hunt should be closed there until further notice. The priest will soon come to visit the Pribilofs. The Pribilof manager should encourage all the Aleuts to take advantage of this to get married, have their children chrizmatized, etc.
13 December 1826, from Chief Manager, Alaska, to Main Office (Russia):
The main thing that troubles the Unalashka district is sending Aleuts with their families to the Pribilofs. Many who return to Unalashka from the Pribilofs die. The Chief Manager blames the change in diet.
16 May 1828, from Chief Manager, Alaska, to baidarshchik of St. George
This fall the baidarshchik should resume the fur seal hunt and kill 6,000 fur seals, 7,000 if possible, but not so many as to jeopardize future hunting. The Chief Manager has heard that the baidarshchik raises the prices on goods issued to the Aleuts and that he frequently insults them. He should remember that the Aleuts, too, are Christians and, just like Russians, are subjects of the emperor. He should issue them goods at the set prices, return what he has overcharged them, and treat them more kindly. If the Aleuts complain about the baidarshchik again, he will be replaced. His behavior cost him his raise this year.
6 October 1829, from Chief Manager, Alaska, to Main Office (Russia):
Mr. Khlebnikov visited the Pribilof Islands. From St. George Island, 4,780 fur seal skins were delivered. In the past the catch never used to be less than 6,000. The three-year suspension of hunting there did no good.
26 May 1831, from Chief Manager, Alaska, to Unalashka office:
For provisioning the vessel crews and workers at Novo-Arkhangelsk (Sitka) port, which is difficult due to a shortage of salted meat and often even of salted fish, the Chief Manager has instructed that a certain quantity of salted sea lion and fur seal meat be prepared on the Pribilofs every year. To this end, the brig Chichagov will stop at St. George Island and deliver there some barrels of salt for salting sea lion meat and to hold oil.
20 May 1832, from Main Office (Russia) to Chief Manager, Alaska:
The Main Office was glad to see that Wrangell had safely completed his voyage for an inspection of the colonies. The fur seal hunt is evidently in sharp decline, and this is worrisome. The Main Office still hopes that some previously unknown fur seal rookeries will be found.
24 July 1832, from Chief Manager, Alaska, to baidarshchik of St. George:
The construction of a chapel is approved. The timber delivered from Sitka may be used if any is left over after necessary repairs to existing structures. No new timber can be sent next year. The Aleut Kochergin, who has lived on St. George for eight years, wants to return to Unalashka. He should be allowed to go, but given his knowledge of carpentry, he will be needed for construction of the chapel. The baidarshchik should try to convince him to remain another year.
31 October 1832, from Chief Manager, Alaska, to Main Office (Russia):
Complains of the decline in the sea lion hunt. The baidarshchik on St. George Island says that the sea lions are abandoning the island and establishing new rookeries in more inaccessible places. The Chief Manager believes the only solution is to close St. Paul Island to fur seal hunting not for three years, but for twelve years. And when St. Paul Island is reopened to hunting, St. George should be closed for twelve years. Asks the Main Office for instructions as soon as possible.
30 March 1834, from Main Office (Russia) to Chief Manager, Alaska:
Acknowledges receipt of Wrangell’s letter on his inspection of the islands St. Paul and St. George. While the Main Office finds Wrangell’s proposals to close fur seal hunting on St. Paul Island for 12 years to be justified, it cannot fully agree to them. The Main Office proposes instead that 10,000 fur seal skins for internal trade in Russia be produced per year on all the islands combined. If 3,000 skins apiece can be produced on the islands St. George and Copper (in the Commander Island group), then 4,000 will be needed from St. Paul Island. Which rookeries to let rest and which to hunt will depend on local knowledge.
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