Russia's Attempts to Colonize America: A Missed Opportunity

TLDR Russia's exploration and colonization of America, including Alaska, Hawaii, and California, could have resulted in a different future where Russia controlled the Western seaboard of the Pacific. However, due to various factors such as ruthless methods of enslavement, lack of resources, and missed opportunities, the Russian Empire ultimately failed to establish a lasting presence in America.

Timestamped Summary

00:00 This episode explores Russia's attempts to colonize America, including Alaska, Hawaii, and California, and the possibility of a different future where Russia controlled the Western seaboard of the Pacific.
04:52 The Russians had a much easier time sailing to America across the Pacific compared to the Spanish who had to go around Cape Horn or across the Isthmus of Panama, and if you look at a map from the top, Russia is contiguous to Alaska and America.
09:33 Vitus Bearing is sent by Peter the Great to explore the Pacific, crossing Siberia on foot and eventually making his way to the Pacific coast of Russia, where he builds his own ship and sails around the northern Pacific, making the first Russian landing in North America.
14:15 Catherine the Great disapproves of Shilikov's ruthless and appalling methods of enslaving and torturing natives in Russia's imperial expansion, while Nikolai Rizanov takes the expansion to a new official level and establishes settlements in Alaska for the purpose of collecting valuable sea otter pelts.
18:50 The Russians realize the importance of a maritime empire and the potential for a Pacific triangle trade, leading them to establish the Russian American Company, a state-like entity with the right to bear arms, have a navy, and issue currency in America.
23:26 The Russian American Company is founded in 1799 under Emperor Paul, who sees it as a means to expand the empire and fulfill his world domination fantasies, despite his mother Catherine the Great's initial reluctance.
28:25 Russian America was a harsh and brutal place, populated by criminals and rejects from Siberia, where the Russian colonists were not settlers but rather workers on contract, and the settlements resembled the Wild West with wooden stockades, log cabins, and Russian Orthodox churches.
32:51 The Russian colonists in Russian America realized that in order for the settlement to thrive, they needed to recruit decent women and create a new Russia without serfdom, but unfortunately, this plan did not come to fruition and the settlement ultimately failed.
37:24 Nicolay Rizanov proposes to the governor's daughter in San Francisco, which could have led to a Russian conquest of the area, but several factors including a lack of ships, competent people, and Imperial patronage money prevent this from happening.
42:01 The Russian American company continues to exist and founds Fort Ross in California, but eventually sells it in 1842, unaware that gold would be discovered in the area just six years later during the gold rush.
46:39 The Russian Empire realizes they can't hold onto their Pacific holdings and tries to sell Russian America, eventually selling it to the United States in 1867 for $7.2 million, just before gold is discovered in the Yukon Valley.
Categories: History

Russia's Attempts to Colonize America: A Missed Opportunity

85. The Russian Conquest of America
by Empire

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