The Russian-American Company

Nikolai Rezanov had a vision that went beyond helping his father-in-law corner the fur market in Siberia. To successfully expand the fur trade and make Russia the dominate force in the North Pacific, he would follow the example of British merchant-adventurers and form a government-backed corporation.

The British East India Company was the powerhouse behind Britain’s imperial expansion and accumulation of wealth. Rezanov wanted to do the same thing in Alaska that Britain had done in India: colonize the land, exploit the natives, and extract the wealth. With the backing and the assets of the Shelikhov family, and his connections at the imperial court, he was well-placed to make his vision a reality.

Rezanov went to work in St. Petersburg, publicizing, persuading, bribing. His chief argument was that if Russia didn’t move swiftly into the North Pacific, Britain, or maybe Spain, would, threatening the security of the Russian Empire from the east. He soon had his charter, with a list of shareholders headed by the Tsar himself. It gave the Russian-American Company a monopoly on all trade and natural resources in Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, and islands north of Japan.

But Rezanov envisioned an even greater empire. Why shouldn’t Russian control extend even further south, to California and the Hawaiian Islands? With bases rimming the Pacific Ocean, from the Chinese border right round to the San Francisco Bay, Russia could dominate commercial traffic in the Pacific.

How different our world might be if his vision had come to pass.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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