Russian Claims Fort Ross

According to this news story, a Russian politician has called for the return of Alaska and Fort Ross to Russia. Speaking in an interview, Oleg Matveychev, a member of the Duma (parliament), outlined his demands.

He called for reparations from the United States (because, you know, the war in Ukraine is the fault of the U.S.) and the “return of all Russian properties, those of the Russian empire, the Soviet Union and current Russia, which has been seized in the United States, and so on.”

By the way, he also claims Antarctica. “We discovered it, so it belongs to us.”

Alaska was sold to the United States in 1867 for $7.2 million dollars. It was bought and paid for, a done deal, and we are not giving back the 49th state.

What about Fort Ross?

When the Russian-American Fur Company decided to leave California, after having depleted the sea otter population and failed to grow wheat on the foggy coast, they sold the entire establishment to John Sutter.

For the agreed-on price of $30,000 Sutter got “the structures and chattels.” For an additional $3,868.16 he got “various merchandise, provisions, and goods.” He didn’t get the land, since that belonged to the Mexican government. Neither Spain nor Mexico had sold the land to the Russians.

Payment for the fort and all its accoutrements would be made in shipments of wheat to the Russian outpost at Sitka, Alaska. Sutter made a down payment of a mere $400 and for years afterwards let the debt slide. What with the Gold Rush and the loss of most of his vast rancho, he had other things on his mind.

Did he ever pay it off? Does the U.S. still owe that debt to the Russian Empire?

Over the years Sutter had accrued enormous debts and he was never in any hurry to pay them off. But once gold was discovered at his sawmill on the American River, debtors began pressing harder for repayment. Sutter’s son, August, worked with Peter Burnett, lawyer and later first governor of California, to sell off lots in Sacramento to give Sutter some ready cash. According to Sutter’s biographer Albert L. Hurtado,

In January [1849] the Russian-American Company’s agent, William M. Steuart, demanded that Sutter immediately pay nearly $20,000 or face the consequences. Before paying him, Burnett stalled briefly by demanding proof that Steuart was indeed the Russian agent. “We had quite an earnest discussion,” Burnett recalled, but he assured Steuart “that our intentions were to pay the Company as early as possible.”

Burnett was true to his word. On April 13, 1849, Steuart provided the required documentation, and Burnett handed over $19,788 in notes and gold. The Russian debt that had hung over Sutter’s head for eight years was gone.

Albert L. Hurtado, John Sutter: A Life on the American Frontier (2006). p. 244

So, sorry Mr. Matveychev, but we are keeping Fort Ross.

A Russian at Fort Ross — our daughter-in-law Katya, two grandkids, and son Tom.

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.
This entry was posted in Fort Ross, John Sutter, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Russian Claims Fort Ross

  1. nosey bear says:

    I’s so glad we get to keep Fort Ross!
    Good thing Sutter paid his debt, even if by individuals who otherwise were ripping him off.
    Very timely research. Just sad that it comes about due to the tragic world events.
    Also a nice photo memory for your family.

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