Nikolai and Conchita


N.P. Rezanov

Nikolai Rezanov must have looked quite impressive in his dress uniform, with the diamond Order of St. Anne on his breast and a laced bicorne hat under his arm. He went out of his way to be charming and courteous, distributing presents to one and all. He was aware of the need to “hide from the Spaniards our distress and needfulness,” so no mention was made of just how bad conditions were at the Russian colony in Alaska, or the real reason that they had come to California. He assured the Spaniards that Russia had no interest in extending their colonies southward.

Conchita was smitten with this courtly, handsome gentleman, resplendent in his uniform. She had never met anyone like him; he was an emissary from another world, the world of glittering courts and grand balls. He danced with her; together they explored the wooded hills of Yerba Buena; he told her stories of his travels in Europe, Asia, and the isles of the Pacific. She had never been farther from home than Monterey, and here was a man who had sailed around the world. In spite of her position as the daughter of the comandante of the presidio, she was leading a humdrum life in a small town in a cultural backwater. She was eager for a new life and Rezanov was the only chance she was ever likely to meet to change her fortune.


Concepcion Arguello and Nikolai Rezanov as depicted on a mural in the Presidio Interfaith Chapel.

After only two weeks in California, Nikolai made a proposal of marriage to Conchita, and she accepted. Conchita began to dream of travel to Europe, of wearing beautiful dresses and meeting the noble and great. But what would her parents think?

Her parents were shocked and appalled. How could their daughter think of marrying a foreigner? He wasn’t even a Roman Catholic. It was impossible.

But Rezanov was not an expert diplomat for nothing, and a mere difference in religion was not going to stop him. If the marriage required a dispensation from the Pope, then he would see to it. He assured Conchita’s parents that once he was back in St. Petersburg, the Tsar would appoint him ambassador to Spain. He would make every necessary arrangement to bring about the marriage and return via Mexico to claim his bride. He was willing to make another trip around the world for love. And so her parents consented to a betrothal.

Many years later, Conchita told a friend how “Nikolai Rezanov came bounding into her life. How she loved him and how they planned for a life of love and happiness in far-off Russia.” Such were her dreams.


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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