Skip to main content
 Previous Next
  • Zoom In (+)
  • Zoom Out (-)
  • Rotate CW (r)
  • Rotate CCW (R)
  • Overview (h)
General: Encyclopedia Arctica 12: Alaska, Geography and General
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

General

Promyshlenniki

EA- Geography Alaska: History
(Hector Chevigny)

PROMYSHLENNIKI

Promyshlenniki was the term applied to the fur traders in the 19th cen–
tury Russian commerce in Alaska and the Aleutians, deriving from the term
applied to the Siberian frontiersmen. A correct equivalent might be the
French-Canadian term, "coureurs des bois."
In the mid-16th century, the infant Russian Empire emerged as Tear Ivan
Vassilievitch (The Terrible) threw off the last of the Tartar yoke. Confront–
ing Tear Ivan was still the task of subduing the vans of plunderers which
through the war years had enjoyed almost unlimited freedom of movement, par–
ticularly in the southern section of Muscovy. They were composed of all breeds
and nationalities of mid-European but had adopted Cossack titles, customs, dress,
and modes of warfare. In 1573, the hetman Yermak Timofiev, contrary to an ukase
of the tear opening the Volga to European trade, attacked a party of English
merchants, causing the tear at last to send an army to punish him and his follow–
ers. At the head of some 650 mounted followers, composed of Poles, Ukrainians,
and many other nationalities, including a sprinkling of genuine Cossacks from
the region of the Caspian, Timofiev fled across the Ural Mountains and into
Siberia, which was then under Mohammedan hegemony. But the Mohammedan strong–
holds had become old and effete, no match for these fierce, trained fighters.
Yermak took the khanate of Isker, in 1581, driving the Khan, Khutchum, for safe–
ty to the steppes. Yermak thereupon offered the tear the domain of Siberia,
promising conquest in its entirety. Ivan accepted, adding the jewel of Siberia

EA- Geography Alaska: History Chevigny: Promyshlenniki

to the Muscovite crown and forgiving Yermak for all his crimes. Yermak fell
in a subsequent battle, but his men pressed on to initiate the most extraordin–
ary march of conquest and colonization in the history of the white race. The
oppressive measures of the Tsar Boris Godunov, Ivan's successor, caused many
more searchers for freedom to go over the Urals, and these were added to by
official troops. When fortunes in furs and fossil ivory were added to the in–
centives, the tide swelled until, in 1639, less than a century after the erup–
tion of Yermak and his men, Russians stood on the shores of the Pacific and
founded the village of Okhotsk.
On this march these men intermarried with the Tartar, Buriat and Yakut
women they encountered, and this was the ancestry of the promyshlenniki. The
promyshlennik was the Russian pathfinder, trader, trapper. Crude, harsh, im–
petuous, fearless, he was perhaps the most rugged individualist known. Like
his American counterpart, freedom from restraint was his aim, and the far ocean
his unconscious goal. Toward that sea he pushed his frontier with incredible
speed, conquering the remaining Mussulman strongholds and tribes encountered
on the way in a fraction of the time it took the French and English to cover
less than a tenth the same distance under virtually the same circumstances, from
the Atlantic to the Mississippi in America.
The course of the promyshlenniki is an expression of the ancient force that
had motivated many of Russia's actions — the need for seaports. The promysh–
lenniki
drive was eastward, then southward, toward the along the Amur River to
the sea. Poyarkov's boats descended the Amur, in 1643; in 1649, Khabarov occupied
the river's course. The resistance of the Chinese, however, forced a retreat,
and the tear at Moscow, to whom the promyshlenniki continued owing allegiance,
forbade further encroachment on the Chinese Empire. The trade in tea, to which

EA- Geography Alaska: History Chevigny: Promyshlenniki

Muscovy had become addicted, silke, nankeens, medicines and many other articles
had become endangered. The Treaty of Nertchinek, in which Jesuits functioned
as diplomats for the Chinese Emperor, settled the issue by stipulating two
points of entry for Russians to the Chinese Empire. Trade could be carried
on only through these places, one of which was Fortress Mai-Mai-Cheng. Irkutsk,
because of its proximity to this point, became Siberia's commercial metropolis.
Frustrated by this cloture of what seemed their object, the promyshlenniki
turned from the Amur as a direction to the northeastward, toward the maritime
provinces and the Sea of Okhotsk, as well as the Anadyr and further Arctic
regions.
As they advanced, the promyshlenniki built, usually at the juncture of
rivers, palisaded forts (ostrogs), which later became the towns of Siberia.
Their names — Omsk, Tomsk, Irkutsk, and so on — derived from the nearby
streams. Using these ostrogs as operational bases, they sortied in pairs or
in bands, usually mounted on shaggy Mongol ponies, searching for the skins for
which the Chinese paid so well on the border. Cossack titles, customs, dress,
and modes of warfare continued to dominate; as a remnant of this fact, the prom–
yshlenniki
are sometimes referred to as Cossacks, and the term "Cossack" con–
tinued for many years to be applied to the Siberian mounted police. They prac–
ticed democracy of a sort, electing and deposing leaders, on a basis of merit,
by vote.
In 1706, the hetman Atlassov conquered the peninsula of Kamtchatka. This
was the end of the promyshlennik march, for there was no longer vast land over
which to wander in search of furs and barbarous battle. Unlike their American
prototypes, however, they gazed speculatively across the ocean and wondered what
lay over those dark Pacific waters. They eagerly listened to all the native tales

EA- Geography Alaska: [: Hisotgay ] History. Chevigny: Promyshlenniki

that, not far away, there were islands and another mainland, a bolshaya zemlia.
At the ostrog of Anadyrsk, in 1711, promyshlenniks made excited depositions
thtt they had talked to natives inhabiting the extreme northeast cape who claimed
their reindeer took them across the ice in winter to a large island on which
were other natives who spoke their language and had many furs of rare kinds.
Many writers have seen somhat mystic meanings in the swift Siberian con–
quest of the promyshlenniki and their urge to wander. Parallels are seen in the
differences between the European and the Russian concepts of heaven, between the
Latin coelum and the Muscovite nyebo. There would indeed seem to be something
almost apocalyptic in the promyshlennik urge to wander, wander forever over the
vast plain toward the horizon. It has been said that in trying to penetrate
China they were, in some deeply atavistic way, attempting to return to the home
of remote forebears. However this may be, there were economic factors that
pulled them across the Pacific at last — their own killing of the Siberian fur–
bearing animals with which Russia's enormous trade in tea became entirely fin–
anced. The tales of the natives about the probability of another land across
the Pacific always stressed furs, and furs were the immediate object of the wander–
ings.
One curious fact should be noted. Although the wanderers felt allegiance
to the tear at Moscow, Moscow itself cared little about them. According to the
ancient Cossack custom, each band continued to take, forcibly, from the native
tribes they encountered, a tribute in furs, yassack, in the name of the tear,
but except for the acceptance of this tribute there was little recognition or
directional force from Moscow. As with the spearmen of the American frontier
movement, there was little impulse to set up civilization or to pull a past
culture after them. That was left to later immigrants. At Moscow, for that

EA-Alaska History. Chevigny: Promyshlenniki

matter, there was hardly an administrative center in the western sense, and
this was not radically to change until the accession of Peter the Great. He
was deeply interested in what went on in Siberia, and specifically with the
possibilities of its ports. Peter had caught one fever from the western kings —
to locate the Northwest Passage. On the eve of his death he dictated orders,
adding marginal notes in his own handwriting, instructing Vitus Bering to build
ships at Okhotsk, sail in them and find out for certain, among other things,
if Kamtchatka joined America and whether there were foreign vessels or towns
along the American coast. Peter was dead and the ancient apathy had redescend–
ed on Moscow, when Bering's men returned without him but with a half million
rubles' worth of furs they had gathered on the Pacific islands. The reports of
the scientists of the expedition were put away to gather dust,but this confirma–
tion of the wealth to be found across the Pacific waters revitalized the promysh–
lennik
movement. Furs had become so scarce that the merchants of Irkutsk had
had to send to London for then from the Hudson's Bay Company to keep up their
trade balances with the Chinese. With whoops of joy, the traditional Mongol
ponies were abandoned and all sorts of craft were built in which men advanced
across the Pacific. Many were little more than crude structures of green boards
lashed together with leather thongs.
In the dim pages of what history has been preserved, we note that the first
to follow Bering's men's path was one Bassov, sergeant of a military promyshlennik
company on Kamtchatka. He formed a partnership with a Muscovite merchant. They
built a vessel lashed together with thongs, gathered a promyshlennik crew, win–
tered on Bering Island, returned with 1,600 sea-otter skins, 2,000 seal skins,
and 2,000 arctic fox skins. The first gold rush of Alaska was on. As in gold
rush everywhere else in the world, the boldest, hardiest, and often the least

EA-Alaska History. Chevigny: Promyshlenniki

scrupulous were the first to join. The dangers were extreme, loss of life
heavy, the hardships beyond belief, the profits, if a ship returned, incredible.
This new generation of seagoing promyshlenniki true to their heritage, delight–
ed in going as far as possible. In 1745, the Aleutian Islands were reached.
The old custom of forcibly ectracting yassack was carried on with the
Aleut natives. The Aleuts paid tribute apparently without demur, at first.
Perhaps the promyshlenniki were irritated, there was so little trouble in getting
it. Certainly the barbarities [: of ] the firstcomers meted out have few possible
explanations in ordinary motives. The natives of Attu long remembered the
atrocities their forefathers underwent at the hands of the officers of the ves–
sel Yevdoika , the first Russians they were to see. Even the Cossack, Shekhardin,
was shocked at what he witnessed on this occasion. The old court records of
Irkutsk contain the trial of the promyshlennik commander, Pushkarev, who caused
the suicide of twenty Unimak Island women. At the trial it was testified that
he had slain every male islander he could find and had strangled one of the girls
to death with his own hands. The old promyshlennik motto was, "God is high in
His heaven, and the Tear is far away." Obviously, as on every frontier, the
psychopaths were to be found here too.
On the appointment of the Siberian Governor-General, Dennis Ivanovich
Chicherin, by Catherine the Great, a change took place. This capable, honest
and far-seeing official was interested in what went on in the Pacific, for the
reason that the fur trade needed protection and because the exploits of the
promyshlenniki at sea were, from the seamanship standpoint, so remarkable that
they were worthy of note for their very daring. Almost forgotten in the larger
importance of the Bering expedition is the fact that, eighty years before him,
a promyshlennik named Deshnev, starting from the Kolyma River, sailed around the

EA-Alaska History. Chevigny: Promyshlenniki

northesast extremity of Asia through the Strait which Bering rediscovered. At
this late date, it is difficult to imagine the hardihood of those early Rus–
sian navigators. In the early days of the Aleutian trade, few instruments were
used and no charts at all. The title "Morekhod" (navigator) became one of great
respect. Such skippers emerged as Izmailov, Botcharov and Pribylov. They ex–
plored assiduously, keeping more or less careful records, eventually working out
the charts. For many years their work was the only paper basis for navigation
in the Aleutian region. When, in 1914, Captain Thomas Moore took the Alaska
Steamshop Company's liner, The Cordova , 1,000 miles out of her course to the
rescue of the survivors of the Revenue Cutter, Tahoma , which had hit a reef off
Aguttu Island, the only papers available for his guidance at the U. S. Govern–
ment offices on land were copies of the old Russian polyconic charts. Chicherin
encouraged these developments, in hopes of interesting the Empress in the Pacific
and the meaning of its trade to Siberia. He sent one particularly intrepid
promyshlennik to the court to tell personally what he had experienced and of
the vast extent of lands being added to the Russian crown. Her Majesty abolish–
ed the old custom of vassack , which put an end to much of the brutality attend–
ing the fur traffic, and at various times she permitted exploring expeditions
to sail under her auspices (notably the Billings Expedition), but, except for
this, attempts to turn her attention from preoccupation with European affairs
were without success. (See REZANOV, SHELEKHOV).
Catherine's lack of interest was expressed as a definite policy toward the
Pacific. She stated this policy unmistakably in the ukase of 1769 when she
wrote, "....I renounce forever all possessions in...America." It was a repudia–
tion of the claims of Bering. Catherine did not approve of colonial expansion
to foreign shores. When called upon by George III of England for troops to help

EA-Alaska History. Chevigny: Promyshlenniki

quell the American Revolution, she tartly observed that the affair was England's
fault. But one other act of hers did preserve the North Pacific to Russian ex–
pansion. Until her day, the merchants in foreign trade were taxed to such an
extent that the profits had to be extraordinarlly high to justify more than very
limited investments. Catherine, enamored of the French liberals and their writ–
ings, adopted explicitly the doctrine of laissez-faire and released the merchants
to pursue their own courses without interference. The ukase of 1769 also states,
"....it is for traders to traffic where they please." This, in Russia, was a
revolutionary doctrine. The merchants of Irkutsk, who had grown wealthy as
entrepreneurs in the China trade, immediately made heavy investment in the Paci–
fic trade, forming pools, partnerships and insurance firms by which larger and
better ships were built, in which the promyshlenniki could penetrate farther
toward America and under safer conditions. Shipbuilding at Okhotsk became a
regular trade. (See GALIOTS.)
Europe for 35 years remained largely in ignorance of these Russian enoroach–
ments. An English clergyman, Coxe, in St. Petersburg was shown copies of re–
ports of the remarkable promyshlennik exploits in the Pacific, wrote, "An Account
of the Russian Discoveries between Asia and America." The book, perhaps because
it appeared under European, and therefore respectable, auspices, threw the St.
Petersburg court into an uproar. The empress ordered it translated at once,
although the original reports were in her own files. Sauer states, "The court...
was astounded at the discoveries already made by its own roving subjects...the
amazing extent of the dominions now acknowledging the sovereignty of Russia be–
came now the fashionable topic of conversation at court." Still Catherine was
not moved. Europe, however, was. The expeditions of Cook, Laperouse, and four
under Spanish auspices were directly motivated by the suspicion that the promysh–
lennik
expedition had imperial aims behind it.

EA-Alaska History. Chevigny: Promyshlenniki

There was one more result of profound, if seldom noted, importance. Spain's
fear that the promyshlennik advance, rumors of whoch were coming southward along
the American coast, might threaten her domain resulted directly in the determin–
ation to occupy and colonize California. The viceroy of Mexico, in an effort
to find the means and manpower with which to meet what seemed an immediate threat,
asked the cooperation of the Church. The Franciscan Order agreed, in return for
the promise to support its mission activities with military personnel. Mission
San Diego was founded, in 1769, and other missions established at the rate of
more than one yearly steadily northward until establishment of Sonoma.
With the establishment, by a merchant firm, the Golikov-Shelekhov Company,
of the first permanent Russian settlement in America, in 1784, the decline of
the promyshlenniki movement, as a more or less pure expression of the wandering
instinet, began. A guiding spirit, the corporation, entered in. When, in 1799,
the Russian-American Company, the counterpart of the East India Company, was
established as the one corpo t ration with authority to do business in the Pacific,
the end was in sight. " Promyshlenniki " became a term applied to the employees
of the Company, the men who did the actual hunting and trading. The term sur–
vives in Soviet terminology, but it has come to have a meaning quite different
from that indicated by these events.

EA-Alaska History. Chevigny: Promyshlenniki

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Berkh, V. N. Khronologiskava istorva otkrytya Aleutskikh ostrovov ili
podvigi Rossiiskavo kupechestva
- (Chronological history
of the discovery of the Aleutian Islands, or the exploits
of the Russian commercial companies.) St. Petersburg, 1823.

Coxe, Rev. Wm. Account of the Russian Discoveries between Asia and America,
to which are added the conquest of Siberia and the trans–
actions between Russia and China.
London, 1787.

Golder, F. Guide to Materials for American History in Russian Archives .
Washington, D.C., 1917.

----. Russian Expansion in the Pacific . Cleveland, 1914.

----. The Pacific Ocean History . New York, 1917.

Kaidanov, N. Sistematicheskii Katalog Dielom Gosudarstnavo Kommertz
Kollegii
- (Systematic Catalogue of the affairs of the
Imperial College of Commerce.) St. Petersburg, 1884.

Krashennikov, S.P. The History of Kamtchatka and the Kurilski islands . London,
1764.

Langsdorff, Dr. G.H, von Bemerkungen auf ein Reise um die Welt , Frankfort, 1812.

Lewis and Dryden Marine History of the Pacific Northwest . Portland, 1895.

Markov, A. Russkii na vostotchnam okeanye - (The Russians on the
Eastern Ocean.) Moscow, 1849.

Sauer, M. An Account of a geographical and astronomical expedition...
stretching to the American coast. Performed by Commodore
Joseph Billings in the years 1785-94
. London, 1802.

Tikmenyev, P. Istoricheskove Obozrenve obrazovanva Rossiisko-Amerikanskoi
Kompanii i deistvii eya do nastoishchnavo vremenii

(Historical Review of the formation of the Russian-American
Company and its proceedings down to present times.) St.
Petersburg, 1863.

----. Materialui dlya istorli russkikh zaselinii no beregam Vostotchnavo
okeana
. (Materials for a history of the Russian settlements
on the Eastern ocean.) Press of the Ministry of Marine,
St. Petersburg, 1861.

Turner, R.J. Russian expansion to America. Papers of the Bibliographical
Society of America
, Vol. XXV, Chicago, 1931.

Wickersham, J. A Bibliography of Alaskan History, 1724-1924 . Cordova, 1927.

Hector Chevigny

The Russian American Company

COPY STUART R. TOMPKINS

THE RUSSIAN AMERICAN COMPANY

The expansion of the Russian Empire across the Pacific to Alaska and down
the American coast as far south as parallel of latitude 54° 40′ north had its remote
beginnings in the design of Peter the Great to determine the relation of northeastern
Asia to northwestern America. To achieve this a series of expeditions were was carried
out between 1719 (the date of the expedition of Yevreinov and Luzhin) and 1741, (the
date of Bering's second expedition) when the outlines of the northwest coast of
America began to take shape in a cartographical sense.
The return of the survivors of the Bering expedition in 1741 synchronized
with the beginning of a new regime which was unfavorable for the carrying on of
exploration. The court of the Empress Anne had been dominated by German favorites
and her death was the signal for a reaction against all foreigners. The Academy of
Sciences staffed exclusively by non-Russians was one of the first victims of this
anti-foreign bias and its usefulness temporarily came to an end. Fortunately the
expedition of 1741 on its return brought back skins of an animal — the sea otter —
hitherto unknown to Russians. The fabulous prices they brought at the Chinese market
at Kiakhta provided a private incentive to further exploration just when public
interest had begun to languish. It should be noted that the Russian Government at
this time exercised practically a monopoly of the fur-trade throughout Siberia,
however difficult to enforce owing to the remoteness of the country and the venality
of its officials. As soon as word got round in fur-trading circles of the profit
to be made from this new source , adventurers swarmed to the little coastal town of
Okhotsk, the point of departure for these fresh fields.
Between the second expedition of Bering in 1741 and the date of the
establishment of a private monopoly in the North Pacific (1799) not less than one
hundred ships were to set out for these regions. Some of them were wrecked and their crews perished; some failed owing to the hostility of the natives; some came back
loaded with pelts whose sale might enrich the backers one hundred percent or better
on their investment; even the members of the crews shared in the profits.
Few of the men who manned the ships were experienced mariners; in many
cases they had not even been to sea before. They had merely exchanged the calling
of trapper for that of deck-hand. The ships were of the crudest. Worst of all , the
instruments for navigation were lacking; even had the ships possessed them, none of
the officers were trained in their use. Moreover, exploration was secondary to profit
and accurate records of the voyages were not thought of. It was late when the
companies recognized the need for these, not only as a guide for other expeditions,
but also as evidence of achievements in discovery to which they might appeal in
soliciting the government's support or assistance.
In 1762 the accession of a new sovereign — the Empress Catherine II —
marked the beginning of a new era. Catherine assumed the task of carrying to
completion the work of exploration begun by Peter , and to implement this project, she
arranged during the first years of her reign, three important expeditions; that of
Admiral Chichagov from Archangel, in the years 1764-1766, whose object was to pass
from European coastal waters around the northern coast of Asia into the Pacific; that
of Lieutenant Sind which sailed from Okhotsk in 1767 returning in 1768; and an ex–
pedition of two ships under command of Captain Krenitsyn and Lieutenant Levashev,
respectively, which sailed across the Pacific in the years 1768-1769 as far as the
Alaska Peninsula. Though none of these made history they commanded the services of
trained navigators and set a new standard in nautical skill. Facilities were at
this time provided for the training of pilots in the east whose services were at the
disposal of the fur-trading companies.
The ending in 1762 of the monopoly of the Chinese trade gave private
trading a new lease of life. As a result, larger and more permanent companies took
the place of the loose associations who which , since their financial resources were slight, must needs make a quick profit without an eye to the future. To extend their
operations over a lengthy period and wait years for the returns was impossible.
The new groups commanded the backing of such men as the Demidov family, the munition
makers of Tula. At once the American fur-trade took on a new character.
By 1770 the various groups of the Aleutian chain of islands had been visited
and located with some degree of accuracy. The ill-treatment received at the hands of
the Russians provoked serious native risings. But the primitive armament of the
Aleuts was no match for the firearms of the Russians and they were cowed into sub–
mission. The Alaska Peninsula had been reached in 1759; Kodiak discovered in 1764.
The depletion of the sea-otters in the Aleutians drove the promyshlenniki on. As they
extended into these new fields their operations were bound to arouse Spanish appre–
hensions.
The government of Spain had learned only slowly of Russia's expansion across
the Pacific to the American mainland. The expeditions of Bering were a state secret
and it was only when publication abroad of some of the results, by persons who had
left the employ of the Russian government, had forced their hand, that the Russian
account first saw the light of day in 1761. It was at this time that Spain , having
revived the Family Compact, re-established after the elapse of some years diplomatic
relations with the court of St. Petersburg and instructed its ambassador there to
secure information of Russian discover ie ei s and designs. These enquiries confirmed
Spanish fears for their exclusive monopoly of western America, hitherto uncontested.
The Viceroy was directed to buttress Spain's claims by the despatch of
expeditions to map the coast. At the same time Spain moved northward by land from
her Mexican possessions and occupied Upper California. Though representatives of
both powers were approaching one another across the vast distances , they were not to
meet till 1788. By this time the threat to Spanish dominance came from an entirely
different quarter.
During the eighteenth century the maritime power of Great Britain had
appeared in the Pacific but it was not until the last quarter that it appeared in the
north. By that time efforts to solve the mystery of the northwest passage from the
east had failed and it was felt that the solution might be more easily found if the
attempt was made from the Pacific.
Captain James Cook who had had wide experience in the south Pacific was now
charged by the Admiralty with the express task of establishing the practicability of
a passage around the northern coasts of the continent of America as a commercial
route; as well as exploring the coastline from latitude 60° (north) to the extreme
limit possible. He did not succeed in his primary object of passing from the Pacific
into the Atlantic but he did map in broad outline the northwest coast of America and
confirmed its conjectured separation from Asia.
Perhaps of especial significance was his meeting with the Russians at
Unalaska. Here he exchanged geographical information with the factor, Gerasim
Ismailov. His curiosity was satisfied on the subject of Russian exploration in
Bering Sea and the Russians in turn learned for the first time of the existence of
Prince William Sound, a great body of water of untapped fur resources to the east.
After Cook's death in Hawaii in 1778 his ships returned to the north. At
the very time the English were struggling for a second time with the ice near the
entrance to the Arctic Ocean, the last of three Spanish expeditions was feeling its
perilous way through the Alaskan waters. Lieutenants Ignacio Arteaga and Juan
Francisco de Bodega y Quadra in two ships , -- the Princesa and Favorita , entered Prince
William Sound and Cook Inlet and planted the flag of Spain to signalize taking formal
possession in the name of the King of Spain. Though they met neither Russian nor
Englishman the crude cross they left on Nuchek Island with its sonorous Latin phrases
served formal notice of Spain's determination to enforce her claims.
By 1780 there had been great changes in the situation in the far east while
a new generation of traders had arisen to cope with it. Of these perhaps the most noteworthy were Grigorii Ivanovich Shelekhov, a merchant of Ryl'sk, Ivan Larionovich
Golikov from Kursk, Lebedev Lastochkin of Yakutsk, Ivan Lapin of Solikamsk, Ivan
Shilov, Yakov Protasov, Afanasii Oryekhov (the last four old-timers in the fur-trade).
They had in their service a number of able and experienced pilots — Gerasim
Ismailov, Stepan and Potap Zaikov and some Greeks, attracted perhaps into the Russian
service by Catherine's pro-Hellenic policy, such as Izot Kuzmich Lenshi, Evstrat
Delarov, and Peloponisov, newly arrived from the Levant. The nautical skill of the
latter was badly needed. Competition among these groups was keen, costs of operation
high as it became necessary to go farther and farther afield for fur, but profits
also were high. What wonder therefore that each began to manoeuver to oust his rivals;
or, if that were not possible, to combine with them for joint operations ? With
financial backing , they began to work for permanent monopolies and, for this purpose
it became necessary to court official favor.
In general the government was averse to granting such privileges. Catherine
had , perhaps from her reading and her correspondence with the savants of the enlighten–
ment, come to favor individual enterprise , at least for the fur-trade. She had
abandoned the state mono mp po of the China trade in 1762. She had promoted the estab–
lishment in 1765 of the Free Economic Society . Whether this was a mere pose or not,
the fact was that down to 1766 at least, there had been no assumption of sovereignty
over the Aleutian Islands or the adjacent mainland of America. Yassak , the traditional
tribute to which the Siberian natives were liable, had , however, been levied by special
persons designated to accompany the expeditions. Further, ships returning from
America were called on to pay ten percent of the value of their catch; from time to
time exclusive but purely temporary monopolies of the hunting rights in certain areas
had been granted. But the barbarities practised by the promyshlenniki outraged the
empress' feelings of humanity. In a decree of March 3, 1766, we find a statement
of the discovery and annexation of six islands in the Aleutian chain — probably the
Andreanof Islands ( Polnoe Sobranie Zakonov , St. Petersburg, 1830, ff.). Other decrees
warned the traders against ill-treatment of these "new subjects" of the Russian Empir [: ] . Catherine's keen interest in the far east is amply attested by the zealous
enquiries which she prosecuted, by her correspondence with the governors and by the
expeditions she promoted in these years. After 1767 she became more and more pre–
occupied with other matters — the legislative commission of 1767, the first Turkish
War, 1768-1774, the first partition of Poland, the Pugachev revolt, and the diplomatic
complications arising out of the American Revolution. In the eighties we find her
attention again directed to the east.
In 1781 Grigorii Shelekhov formed a partnership with Ivan Golikov then living
in Irkutsk under sentence of exile for malfeasance of monies. This arrangement did not
exclude other partnerships. Shelekhov held stock also in the company of his arch-rival
Lebedev Lastochkin. But it was obvious that the business was narrowing down to a few
powerful groups with strong financial backing. Some bold methods were called for to
forestall rivals. Shelekhov decided that the occupation of permanent posts and the
backing of the government would enable him to outstrip his rivals. To this task he
addressed himslef with characteristic energy.
In the spring of 1783 , accompanied by his resourceful wife, he sailed with
three ships to America. The expedition, overtaken by bad weather, was scattered and
Shelekhov decided to winter on Bering Island. The following spring with two of the
vessels he pressed on to Unalaska where he left an agent. He proceeded to the east.
Putting into a bay on the northeast side of Kodiak Island , he built a post to which he
gave the name of Three Saints . During the following winter he exerted himself energet–
ically to winning over the natives and acquiring their confidence. If we can believe
his own story , he imparted some education in addition to instructing them in the truths
of the Christian religion. This seems to have been all part of his scheme to impress
the government with the civilizing and Christianizing role of his company in America
with a view to securing official favor. Pressing matters forced his return in 1786.
The third ship, the St. Michael , under Delarov which had become separated
from his three years before had not been heard from. Shelekhov, therefore, left Samoilov in charge of the new post and instructed another pilot, Bocharev, to prosecute
the exploration of the American mainland to the east. This he did. During the course
of that year (1786) Delarov finally turned up and took over full responsibility. in accordance with
Shelekhov's instructions . full responsibility.
Shelekhov and his wife reached O khotsk on their return in the later autumn
of 1786. After a delay on Kamchatka occasioned by matters requiring attention he was
off by land for Yakutsk and thence by the S o i berian post road for St. Petersburg.
Conditions at this time seemed peculiarly propitious for his undertaking. Catherine
was just returning from her triumphal progress through the new Taurid province. At
Kiev she seems to have met Golikov who had received from his partner a map and an
account of his g v oyage to the east; her interest was aroused and the prospect of secur–
ing imperial favor seemed bright. Other factors at this time were propitious. An
Englishman, William Coxe, once resident in Russia had written an account of Russian
discoveries in the Pacific (see bibliography) which had come to Catherine's attention.
This notice prompted him to urge on the monarch further explorations in the east.
In this he had been seconded by Peter Simon Pallas, an influential member of the
Academy of Sciences. Their joint efforts succeeded. Catherine accepted the recommen–
dations and authorized an expedition under command of Captain Joseph Billings, a
former shipmate of Captain Cook e . His task was to carry to completion the work begun
by Peter and to fill in the blank spaces on the map of the coast of northeastern Asia.
The Empress was also entertaining another project , first conceived by
Professor Leonhard Euler some years before. This was to detach from her fleet in the
Baltic a squadron to circle the globe and back up Russia's claims in the Pacific.
The project was recalled by a suggestion from another quarter. An English naval
officer , at that time on half-pay, addressed a letter to Count Vorontsov, the Russian
ambassador in London, urging that Russia send to the east a naval force under his
command to impose Russian authority. This proposal was accepted. Four vessels were
to be made ready to sail from Kronstadt the following year. Captain James Trevenen,
120
the naval officer in question , was to assume command with a Captain Mulovskii as his
second.
These various projects were influenced by the arrival in St. Petersburg of
the afterwards famous South American revolutionary Francisco Miranda. The latter
had met the Russian ambassador at Constantinople, Count Y.I. Bulgakov. Impressed
by the Spaniard, he Miranda had encouraged a journey across the Black Sea to the Crimean city
of Kherson, where he met the Governor , A.I. Vyazemskii ; , and secured an introduction
to the all-powerful viceroy, Potemkin. Miranda was thus enabled to meet Catherine on
her return from her journey through the Taurid province. The monarch's interest was
at once engaged. She listened intently to Miranda's accounts of Spanish America ,
O o f Spanish weakness and disaffection of the population. She seems to have encouraged
Miranda to hope for Russian intervention and aroused Spain's anger and distrust at the
somewhat ostentatious display of favor and protection she extended the South American
rebel. Did she seriously contemplate challenging Spanish power in the Pacific? We
have no means of knowing.
As a result of the outbreak of war with Sweden the following winter s and
shortly afterwards with the Ottoman Empire, the Russians could scarcely spare any of
their naval forces; nor could Catherine afford to risk Spanish hostility since
Russian vessels operating in the Mediterranean needed Spanish bases. So these far–
flung schemes of empire had to be laid aside. Catherine was thereafter distracted
by the French Revolution and schemes for the final partition of Poland.
Shelekhov's hopes of securing imperial sanction or even active support for
his schemes in the east were dashed. Despite the strongly worded recommendation of
Governor Jacobii , he was refused a loan from the state coffers or the grant of a
monopoly. Swords, medals were bestowed on the partners as a mark of imperial favor
but the empress refused to go beyond these rather polite gestures.
A step which turned out to be more decisive in the fortunes of the Shelekhov-
Golikov company was the decision to employ an experienced trader as the instrument of their policy. The establishment of permanent posts meant a complete break with
the past and since precedent was henceforth no guide, few of the older hands could
be recruited for this purpose. Shelekhov turned therefore to an acquaintance of some
years. Alexander Andreyevich Baranov a merchant of Kargopol had been engaged for
many years with his brother in trade with the Chukchi. After some official hesitation
they had been authorized to establish a post in the heart of the Chukchi country at
Gizhiginsk. The Baranov brothers had high hopes for this new venture and Alexander
rejected Shelekhov's first offer. But the worst official fears regarding the enter–
prise of the Baranov brothers were realized. The Chukchi fell on the post and looted
it; a glass business at Irkutsk seems also to have failed. Baranov finding himself
in financial straits was more ready to listen to Shelekhov's offers, supported now by
the Governor of Irkutsk, Jacobii. In the hope of recouping himself Baranov this time
accepted. He undertook the management of the American posts for a limited period. He
was to be given not only a fixed salary but a share in the company's operations.
In the spring of 1790 he left Okhotsk in the company's vessel, the Three
Saints
for his distant post. They put into Unalaska. Here during a storm, the ship
was wrecked and supplies lost. The winter was passed amid the greatest privations
from lack of food. In the spring despite illness Baranov set out in a baidar manned
by Aleuts, crossed to the American mainland, explored the northern shore of the
Alaskan Peninsula, then ran across the Gulf of Alaska to Kodiak. He arrived in the
harbor of Three Saints in June, 1791, to relieve Delarov. The latter at once
returned to Okhotsk and St. Petersburg where a sinecure in the company's service was
granted him.
Baranov had before leaving received full instructions as to future plans and
policies. His task was no less than to make good the foothold of the Russian company
in the new world. He had not only to carry on the principal business of fur-trading;
he had also to introduce farming; he was to build churches and to help to prosely–
tize the natives. The means placed at his disposal were of the slenderest. He was supplied with a far from numerous band of employees of indifferent caliber. The
missionaries sent out from the monastery of St. Valaam were monks whose ascetic
training ill-fitted them for dealing with the native people. He was called on to
meet the challenge of the Lebedev-Lastochkin company on the mainland.
Following the receipt of intelligence from Cook's expedition of a great
inlet not yet reached by Europeans the Lebedev-Lastochkin company had some time
subsequent to 1786 built a post on Cook Inlet to trade with the natives there. The
crews sent out were undisciplined. Having easy access overland to Prince William
Sound which Baranov had marked out for himself they occasioned some anxiety by their
steady encroachments. Finally the establishment of a second post brought matters to
a head. The new agent, Konovalov was quarrelsome and violent. A reign of terror on
Cook Inlet threatened to spread to Prince William Sound. Baranov's warnings to
Shelekhov went undeeded. Shelekhov was indeed a shareholder in the rival company.
Baranov finally took matters in his own hands, arrested the offending factor and
sent him back in irons to Okhotsk to stand trial. Baranov's energetic action proved
salutary, even though Konovalov got off scot free. There was no more trouble.
Within a few years the Lebedev-Lastochkin interests withdrew and left the field to
the Shelekhov-Golikov group.
On instructions, Baranov selected a site on Prince William Sound where he
located shipyards and began the building of a ship. The task was under direction of
an Englishman, Shields by name, in the company's employ. Native lumber was used
and even some of the other needed materials were secured locally. Finally in 1793
the vessel was launched. She was given the name Phoenix and was in the company service
on the run between Okhotsk to Kodiak until lost in 1802.
Another project that engaged Baranov's attention was the establishment of
a farming colony on Yakutat Bay. For this purpose the laws governing transfer of
peasants was stretched to allow the company to buy some from their landlords and to
transport them to this distant region for a start in agriculture. But the site chosen was quite unsuitable; the native Kolosh threatened; and after suffering
unheard-of privations, the settlement was attacked and wiped out.
Nor were the attempts to Christianize the Indians attended with greater
success. The monks were dependent for support entirely on the company and Baranov
apparently grudged the food and supplies needed for this purpose. The strange
surroundings, the ill-will they met from Baranov and the company, along with the
distrust of the natives combined to depress them. Want of experience and tactlessness
defeated the efforts. Their want of understanding of the native mind led them to
identify the adoption of purely formal observances with the acceptance of Christianity.
At least one missionary met martyrdom and little success was gained until the arrival
of Veniaminov a quarter of a century later.
A year prior to Baranov's appointment there had been a sharp clash between
the English and Spanish on the northwest coast. After an interruption of ten years
Spain had in 1788 renewed her naval activity in the Pacific. An expedition commanded
by Don Estevan Jose Martinez had pushed northward to Prince William Sound and had made
actual contact for the first time with the Russians at Kodiak and Unalaska. The
officers were informed or at least they were so told by their interpreter that the
Russian Government proposed the following year to occupy Nootka Sound. Martinez was
directed the following year to forestall this move but on arrival he found the
English in possession. The Spanish had force on their side; the English vessels became
prizes and their crews prisoners. When news of this incident reached London it all
but provoked war. Pitt demanded satisfaction. Only after prolonged negotiations and
severe tension was the matter settled. Spain accorded recognition formally of Britain's
right of possession though both powers agreed to evacuate the site.
The final implementing of this treaty was entrusted to an expedition under
Captain George Vancouver already under orders for the Pacific. Vancouver failed to
meet Baranov though he did visit one of the Lebedev-Lastochkin posts on Prince
William Sound.
The explorations of Vancouver gave Baranov much less cause for concern
than the continual presence of English and American trading vessels along the coast.
English ship-owners trading to India and China had learned from Cook's crews of the
profits to be made from the pelts of sea-otter that abounded in the north Pacific.
This led them to divert their vessels into the fur-trade. The first ship had
arrived from Macao in 1785 and, thereafter not a year passed without at least one
English vessel appearing on the coast. After 1789 American competition was added.
This invasion seriously reduced the income of the Russian American Company.
As the industrial revolution spread in England the superior quality and
cheapness of English goods made it more and more difficult for the Russians to meet
the English on equal terms. In addition to these vexations Baranov was being con–
tinually plied with fresh injunctions from his employers and censured for what he
did or left undone; was plagued by incompetent or insubordinate help; harassed by
the rival Lebedev-Lastochkin Company; and all the time hunger stared his garrisons
in the face; want of supplies hampered the fur-trade. And to complete the picture
the outbreak of war in 1796 rendered communication by sea hazardous. Baranov came
to realize if he and his men survived it must be through their own efforts.
Meanwhile Shelekhov had died in 1795 with his dream of a monopoly of the
American fur-trade unrealized. But his resourceful wife Natalia and his son-in-law,
Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov, from a post of vantage within the administration, con–
tinued with the help of Golikov to work towards this end. The interest of the church
was engaged by playing up the missionary side of the company's enterprise. Court
was paid to the reigning favorite, Platon Zubov. Catherine's death in 1796 might
well have proved fatal to the scheme had not Rezanov shown himself a master of court
intrigue. The choleric emperor Paul was placated and finally brought round. Within
less than a year all the fur-trading companies were put under the control of the
College of Commerce. On September 8, 1797 the Shelekhov-Golikov Company was merged
with the Myl'nikov group under the name of the Commercial American Company. Two years later — July 8, 1799 — a merger of existing companies was approved by the so-called
"Act of the American United Company." A formal charter was issued on December 27,
1799 to the "Russian American Company under the all-highest protection." All inde–
pendent groups disappeared. The new organization was granted a monopoly of the fur–
trade along the shore of northeastern Asia (without fixing exact limits) and along the
northwest coast of America as far south as the fifty-fifth degree of north latitude.
The privileges granted and the responsibilities imposed were to remain in force for a
period of twenty years.
Two or three points in the charter are worth noting. The Russian Empire
now for the first time put forward an unequivocal claim to possession of a part of
North America. Secondly, yassak , the tribute levied on the Siberian natives and which
had been intermittently exacted from the Aleuts, was now as a result of strong
recommendations made against it by naval officers, absolutely suppressed. On a third
matter the charter was silent. From an early date in their relations with the Aleuts
the Russian traders had adopted the practise of requiring the natives to do their fur–
hunting for them. This practise was adopted by Baranov and continued to be followed,
but there was no statutory sanction of this till the charter of 1844 was issued.
Baranov did not hear of these events till 1802. He had expected to be
relieved at any time yet he did not slacken in his zeal on behalf of his employers.
The inroads of English and American traders of which he had once made light was now
beginning to trouble him. Reversing his original stand he decided on a bold move;
nothing less than to build a new post four hundred miles to the south and east of
Kodiak among the dangerous Kolosh in the heart of Alexander Archipelago. Previous
reconnaissances made had pointed to Norfolk Sound as the best site. In the spring
of 1799 a flotilla of three hundred baidars and one of the company's ships proceeded
south and disembarked on Sitka Island. Here despite some coldness on the part of the
natives, he located and began the construction of new St. Michael post. The native
Kolosh acquiesced somewhat sullenly but Baranov exerted himself to reconcile their
chiefs to the situation by advantages that they would derive from the presence of the Russians.
When this had apparently been accomplished Baranov sailed back to Kodiak
leaving his subordinates to finish construction and to begin trading operations. The
threatening attitude of the Koniags required his presence on Kodiak and here all
Baranov's firmness and tact were required to restore tranquility and security.
In the summer of 1800 the new company suffered a cruel blow in the loss of
the fort at Sitka and the massacre of most of its garrison. As always Baranov was
short of competent help. His departure for Kodiak was somewhat premature hence the now
reduced garrison had to do double duty — to guard the fort and to labor in the forest
cutting the timber needed for building. Inevitably the less fit were left behind to
guard. The native Kolosh, who were kept informed by the Kolosh women who came and
went through the lines, planned to attack the post and overcome the garrison leaving
the working parties to be dealt with later. The plan succeeded. They assembled in
overwhelming numbers and rushed the fort before measures of defence could be taken.
The hastily constructed blockhouse on which the Russians had counted for last ditch
defense easily fell to them. The lower storey was carried by assault; and by firing
the building, the garrison in the upper storey were forced to jump to the ground
where they were quickly disposed of. A handful of survivors escaped to the forest
whence they were able ultimately to escape in English and American ships then cruising
among the islands. The unsuspecting hunting parties of Aleuts were then ambushed as
they returned. One party on the way from Yakutat was in sufficient force to beat off
an attack. They secured a truce and returned to Kodiak.
A fresh calamity overtook the Russians in the spring of 1801 in the loss
at sea together with her commander of the vessel Phoenix , Baranov's pride and joy.
Baranov was all but crushed. Signal honors from the state failed to rouse him from
his depression. The expectation of momentary relief gave him no incentive to action
and he merely brooded. Finally in 1803 the news of the Peace of Amiens and the projected despatch of naval forces from Kronstadt roused him to an effort. Assembling a
flotilla of baidars to be supported by the company vessels he set out for a rendez–
vous in Norfolk Sound to attempt the recovery of Sitka.
On his arrival Baranov found the Russian ship Neva commanded by Lieutenant
Lisianskii who had sailed from the Baltic with Krusenstern and had been detached from
the Hawaiian Islands when news of the loss of Sitka was conveyed to them. Lisianskii
and the factor joined forces. The frontal assault on the Kolosh positions, however,
broke down and Baranov was wounded. The Indians were finally dislodged by the more
deliberate methods of bombardment. They evacuated the island to the Russians. A
site was selected for the post in the neighborhood of the old post. New Archangel
thus superseded the former St. Michael. From here the Russian American Company
dominated the northwest coast for the next sixty-three years.
Yet fresh difficulties were arising to plague the Russians. At the renewal
of the war in 1803 Russia aligned herself with England, Austria and Sweden in the
Third Coalition and was henceforth involved on one side or another in the titanic struggle.
She could henceforth ill spare naval forces for the hazardous task of reinforcing
and supplying these distant posts on the Pacific. Baranov was left to his own devices.
His first experiment was to buy part of the cargo of an American ship the Juno ,
offering Captain O'Cain in exchange the services of Aleut hunters to catch otters
along the California coast. This experiment proved successful and became a regular
practise. But to avoid friction with the Spanish authorities, the Russians kept in
the background.
Meanwhile Rezanov had come out with Krusenstern on a mission to Japan. After
the failure of his mission he returned to Petropavlovsk and thence sailed to Kodiak
and Sitka. Here in accord with his instructions he assumed control. The low state
of supplies led him to embark on a new venture to find some source in more southerly
latitudes from which to draw on for their posts. Sailing in the Juno (engaged for the
trip) he tried but failed to enter the Columbia River in search of a suitable site for a farming settlement. His more immediate object, however, was to secure badly
needed supplies from the Spanish presidios in California. He anchored in San
Francisco Bay. On disembarking he explained his quest to the Spanish authorities
and applied for permission to purchase supplies. Despite an unpromising beginning
the deal was finally completed. The embargo was probably circumvented out of
sentimental considerations, Rezanov having become betrothed to the daughter of the
Spanish commandant. But when Rezanov died in 1807 all attempts to repeat this success
were doomed to fail.
By this time diplomatic recognition of the United States by Russia was
being arranged. The consular agent, Dashkov despatched to America in anticipation of
more formal recognition was instructed to endeavor to induce American shippers to
undertake the supply of these posts. Astor at that time engaged in the China trade
at once responded and a cargo was assembled for Sitka. But his purpose to get a
monopoly of the business was refused. Astor lost interest and decided to build his
own post on the west coast at the mouth of the Columbia River.
The outbreak of war between France and Russia and between Great Britain
and the United States in 1812 put an end to this arrangement. Not only did Astor
lose his fort to the British Northwest Company in 1813 but American ships could no
longer sail with supplies for Sitka. The Russians tried one more experiment, a
project long contemplated of undertaking farming operations themselves in California.
In 1812 Kuskov in the Chirikov landed at Bodega Bay in northern California and some
twenty miles further north chose a location on the Slavyanka River for farming. To
this settlement the name of Fort Ross was given. Eventually the crops raised here
went far to meet the needs of the northern posts for food. Its small scale industries
likewise catered to the demands of neighboring Spanish settlements.
A similar venture made on the Hawaiian Islands ended in failure. In 1814
communication between the Baltic and the east had been resumed with the arrival of the
Suvorov under Captain Lozarev. Lozarev and Baranov clashed. Lozarev sailed away leaving Baranov fuming with impotent rage. But the ship's doctor who was left
behind made some impression on Baranov and it occurred to the latter that he might
be just the man to send to the Hawaiian Islands, to carry out the long contemplated
design of finding in these islands a base of supplies as well as a source of commodities
suitable for trade. But Scheffer's espousal of the cause of one of the king's
rebellious vassals threatened complications with Great Britain, the protecting power,
and he was speedily disavowed. Hostility of the king and the natives was the
immediate result and Scheffer was fortunate to escape with his life. Russian property
was attacked, Russian buildings burned and lives lost. Russia thus completely lost
her hold.
After the termination of the wars with Napoleon two vessels were despatched
from Kronstadt to the Pacific and in November 1817, the Suvorov under Captain Hagemeister
and the Kutuzov under Captain Ponafidine dropped anchor before Russian headquarters
in Sitka. Hagemeister had instructions to inspect the books and records of the
company; he was then to inform Baranov that he was to be superseded. Hagemeister
decided to name Yanovskii his successor, a choice perhaps influenced by Yanovskii's
recent marriage to Baranov's daughter. The painful step was taken and Baranov's long
reign was over. He survived but a short time. On his voyage back to Kronstadt he
died and was buried at sea.
The years that followed brought profound changes for the company. The
charter of 1799 issued for a period of twenty years was about to expire. A committee
of officials was named to review the activities of the company and , to recommend whether
or not the charter should be renewed. The work of this committee brought to
attention the encroachments of foreign, especially American, traders, about which
Baranov had been concerned and which had already been the subject of sharp but quite
fruitless exchanges between St. Petersburg and Washington. Pending renewal of the
charter the Russian Government on September 4, 1821, issued an ukaz (notified to the
governments concerned) proclaiming that along that part of the coast of both continents claimed by Russia — from Bering Strait south on the Asiatic coast as far as 45° 50′
and on the American side as far south as 51° north latitude foreign ships should not
engage in trade or approach land within one hundred Italian miles.
This claim advanced by Russia went far beyond the customary three-mile limit
of territorial waters as recognized in international law. For all practical purposes,
as John Quincy Adams saw, it proposed to turn the north Pacific into a mare clausum .
Great Britain as the leading maritime power was bound to resist it, as was the United
States. But Britain had another motive for challenging it. Both Cook and Vancouver
had staked out a definite though still indefinite claim to a part of the northwest
coast, a claim tacitly recognized by Spain in the Nootka Sound affair. The Northwest
Company now had a post at the mouth of the Columbia and was active in the interior and
was about to merge its interests with the Hudson's Bay Company. She was bound to lodge
a strong protest on behalf of this powerful company against the extension southward of
Russia's claims.
The United States was less concerned whether the limits of Russian occupation
should be 51° or 55° north latitude. The treaty of 1818 had admitted her interests
as equal with that of Great Britain to the west of the Rocky Mountains and to the north
of Spanish territory, though serious claims had not at that time been advanced by her
to anything beyond the 49th parallel of latitude. But owing to these prior committments
interests of the two countries therefore did not quite coincide.
A further complicating factor at this time was the revolt of 1821 in Spain.
This ultimately led the powers of the Quadruple Alliance to summon the Congress of
Verona. At that congress England opposed intervention in Spain. When the further
question of restoring by force the Spanish colonies in America to their allegiance,
Britain went further than mere abstention. Canning expressed willingness to make
common cause with the United States. But the contemplated co-operation broke down
over the question of the recognition of the new governments. President Monroe there–
upon issued his resounding challenge to all the European powers but coupled it with a warning to all that further acquisitions on the American continent would be resisted.
The British Foreign secretary thereupon took umbrage at what seemed a wanton flouting
of British claims, gave up the joint negotiations. Each power proceeded separately
to settle its own score.
The result was each country wr i u ng from Russia i a n implicit disavowal of the
claim to a mare clausum . It was admitted that all parts of the north Pacific were open
to the subjects of either country for trading and fishing — so long as they did not
resort to any Russian post without first securing permission. On the question of
the territorial extent of Russian claims, the United States Ambassador Middleton having
agreed to 54° 40′ as the southern limit, it was inevitable that Great Britain should
conform by withdrawing from this part of the coast also.
The company now went through a strange transformation. It was more and more
assimilated to a branch of the government. The chief factors (and many of the minor
officials) were henceforth drawn from the ranks of naval officers; its posts garrisoned
by Russian troops. Its board of directors now became the preserve of retired generals
and admirals. After the Decembrist rising of 1825 the implication of Ryleyev and
other officers in that conspiracy left the company under a cloud and it was jealously
watched by the Emperor and his chancery.
After the amalgamation of the Hudson's Bay Company and Northwest Company
the new organization under the leadership of the chief factor, Sir George Simpson,
became very active on the Pacific. In common with United States' traders, their
ships enjoyed the run of the coastal waters and the Hudson's Bay Company built a post
at Fort Naas on the Naas River and had access to Sitka. In 1834 the energetic Dr.
MacLoughlin sent Peter Skene Ogden north to avail himself of the right (granted by the
Treaty of 1825) to navigate the rivers crossing the coastal lisiere to establish a
post in the interior. But the Russians who were already settled at the mouth of the
Stikine refused Ogden permission to pass. In the face of this refusal and the menacing
bearing of the natives, Odgen withdrew and MacLoughlin lodged with the directors in London a huge bill for damages against the Russians.
Meanwhile in 1835 United States as well as British ship captains were
warned that the privilege of trading at Sitka was at an end. No protests were of
any avail and American ships gradually withdrew from the coast.
When the bill of the Hudson's Bay Company was duly presented by Lord Durham,
the British Ambassador in St. Petersburg, circumstances disposed the Russians to be
conciliatory. As early as 1834 the company in their annual meeting had taken the first
step towards finding an approach to the hinter land from the Mackenzie River. A
Hudson's Bay man named McLeod had been authorized to ascend the Liard River from
Fort Simpson. By this means the Dease Lake had been discovered and crossing the height
of land, McLeod had reached the Tanzilla and the Stikine. Campbell who followed up
McLeod's discoveries gave final proof of the breaking of the Russian blockade by
sending a pencilled note down river through the Russian lines by Shekes, the chief
of the Tsimshean Indians.
Other factors besides the circumvention of their lines by the British
company disposed the Russians to come to terms. The Emperor Nicholas stood in great
need of Britain as an ally in dealing with Mehemet Ali, the truculent Khedive of
Egypt. When therefore Simpson on behalf of the Hudson's Bay Company offered to lease
the coastal strip from latitude 54° 40′ north to Cape Spencer, N o i cholas directed that
the offer be accepted. The incident that had occurred at the mouth of the Stikine
River was thus considered closed.
On February 6, 1839 representatives of the two companies met at Hamburg and
agreed that this coastal strip should be leased for ten years to the English company
for an annual rental of two thousand land-otter skins. Further sti up pu ulations were that the
Russians had the right to purchase an additional two thousand of the catch west of the
mountains. The Hudson's Bay Company for its part undertook to furnish the Russian posts
with the goods they required, delivery to take place where they requested.
The company obtained two advantages by this move; first they were secured for the future in the matter of supplies for the northern posts; secondly they were
free to turn their attention to the Yukon valley a hitherto untouched source of fur.
With the Hudson's Bay Company undertaking farming operations in the Puget Sound area
for their benefit, there was no longer any reason for the retention of Fort Ross and [: ]
the neighboring ranches . Indeed, it was now an encumbrance rather than an asset. With
the arrival of increasing numbers of United States citizens on the west coast its
retention threatened to embroil Russia with that country. Only the weakness of Spain
had enabled the Russian company to establish it in the first place. When the Mexican
Government took over from Spain the chance of a friendly settlement was less remote
since no Mexican Government could surrender Mexican territory and hold office. In
1836 Wrangel, the outgoing chief factor, had been authorized to attempt to negotiate
a settlement with Mexico. His efforts failed and there was nothing left but to give
up the holdings, the only title to which was a vague Indian grant.
So in 1841 the company made a virtue of necessity and sold the stock and
movables to John Sutter who transferred them to his settlement at New Helvetia on
the Sacramento. The fort was dismantled and the land allowed to revert to Mexican
possession.
While retreating in the south the Russians were able to advance elsewhere,
Russian explorers competed with navigators of other nations for honors in Arctic
exploration to learn the secrets of the northern ocean; an expedition in 1815 was led
by Kotzebue, Wrangel led another in 1820. Lütke a third in 1826. When he became
governor, Wrangel began the exploration of unmapped parts of the Alaskan shores of
Bering Sea. In 1833, at his direction, Teben'kov took an expedition north to recon–
noitre the mouth of the Kvikhpak (Yukon) River. Suitable anchorage for ships was
found, not in the delta but behind an island in Norton Sound and here he erected
Mikhailovskii Redoubt (modern St. Michael). Missionaries of the Orthodox Church,
inspired now by the zeal of Veniaminov, Bishop of Kamchatka, the Aleutian and Kurile
Islands, moved into the Yukon valley and founded a mission at Ikogmute. A trading post
was built at Nulato. In 1843 Lieutenant Zagoskin of the Imperial Navy was commissioned to explore the Yukon and its main tributaries. Instead of entering the Yukon Valley
by the delta he followed a route well known to the natives from the head of Norton
Cound by way of Unalakleet River to the Yukon at Kaltag. He ascended the Yukon to
Nulato. The first year, the Koyukuk was explored for some two hundred miles; and the
Yukon to Ikogmute. The next year passing by an old Indian trail across country to the
Kuskokwin, he traversed that river some three hundred miles, before leaving the Yukon
by the delta, and finally reaching St. Michael.
A route was sought into the middle Yukon valley by way of the Copper River.
Overland routes were also opened from Cook Inlet to the Kuskokwim. But the Hudson's
Bay Company shortly established a post at the junction of the Yukon with the Percupine
and the Russians were never able seriously to challenge them in the interior.
The results were scarcely commensurate with the effort involved. The in–
crease in the furs of land animals thus obtained could hardly be adequate compensation
for that of the sea-otter whose furs had been the foundation of the company's early
prosperity and which were now becoming a mere memory.
It was at this juncture that the whole international situation began rapidly
to change. Great Britain in the Chinese War of 1840-41 and the Treaty of Nanking
(1841) which concluded it, had opened the eyes of the world to the weakness of the
Celestial Empire. The lesson was not lost on Russia.
It is true the company's charter was, in 1844, renewed for a period of
twenty years. But that same year decisions of the highest importance for the future
of Russian dominion in America were taken at the Russian capital; on the one hand to
forego for all time hopes of expansion on the American mainland; on the other to press
southward as opportunity presented itself into the long-coveted Amur valley which had
exclusively belonged to China since the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689. The Russian
American Company's services were enlisted and in 1846 a new port of Ayan was occupied
by them far to the south of Okhotsk. In 1847 Count Nikolai Nikolaievich Murav'ev
was named governor-general of eastern Siberia with secret instru s c tions to prepare the
way for this advance. The exploration of the coast was begun; posts were occupied at the mouth of the Amur; while the Holy Synod undertook a special mission to the
Gilyaks on the lower Amur. On the eve of the Crimean War troops and supplies for
Russian posts on the Pacific were despatched through Chinese territory in open
violation of Chinese sovereignty.
Meanwhile in America events of the deepest significance followed one another
in rapid succession — the Mexican War, the annexation of California and the discovery
of gold. The insatiable demands of the gold fields enabled the company to unload its
shopworn stock of goods at Sitka and at San Francisco at the highest prices. They
organized a company — the American Russian Company — to act as their agent at the
latter port. And having opened up a vein of coal they were able to supply two of the
prime necessities — fuel in winter and ice in summer. But this transitory success
could not offset the constantly recurring deficits of the company. It could only
postpone a reckoning.
The Crimean War brought a new crisis. On its approach it was evident that
Russia could not guarantee the security of the company's posts. The Russian home
fleet was certain to be immobilized by a blockade of the Baltic. When the Hudson's
Bay Company offered to neutralize the posts of both companies on the west coast of
America, the Russians made haste to accept, but while the American posts were left
alone the posts of the company on the Asiatic coast were attacked. Reinforcements
sent by Murav'ev to Petropavlovsk saved that post but Ayan was captured. Russia's
impotence to retain her American possessions in the face of British sea power was
apparent and the accession of a new monarch, Alexander II, in 1857, prepared the way
for disposing of them on the best terms possible.
Negotiations set on foot in 1859 were brought to a halt by the outbreak of
the civil war. In spite of this an incalculable series of events hastened rather
than deferred the change. In the midst of the war the threats of Great Britain and
France to intervene against Russia in the affairs of Poland and fear of the North
that these powers would recognize southern belligerence and possibly independence
gave the United States and Russia a common interest. Visits of Russian warships to American waters was taken as a proof of this solidarity. The end of hostilities
was seized as an opportunity to reopen negotiations for the sale of their American
colonies.
Stoeckl, the Russian ambassador was authorized to invite an offer from the
United States Government. He returned home in the winter of 1866-67 to receive his
government's instructions. These indicated the precise limits of the area to be
covered by a cession and the price to be asked. On his return things quickly moved
to a climax. There was some haggling over the price and the method of payment. But
by March 30, all obstacles had been overcome and on the early morning of that day
Seward and Stoeckl sat down in the former's rooms and drafted a treaty embodying the
chief points of agreement. No information about the contemplated arrangement leaked
out till it was an accomplished fact. Senate ratification was obtained on April 9;
that of the Tsar was obtained by cable in an unprecedented move. Formal possession
was taken of the territory by representatives of the United States Government in a
ceremony held at Sitka on October 18, 1867.
The obtaining of a h H ouse appropriation presented some difficulty. Interested
persons brought forward a claim against the Russian government and were able to hold
up the money grant but eventually the opposition weakened and the bill went through.
In the ensuing publicity there were hints of jobbery resorted to to secure passage
of the bill and there is evidence that some of the money from the sale found its
way into the hands of persons whose support was necessary. But generally the trans–
action found general approval.
By the terms of the treaty of cession the United States was to pay Russia
$7,200,000.00, the money to be paid over in New York. All public property was turned
over to the United States government; the company records at Sitka became the property
of the State Department. The Orthodox Church was free to continue its ministrations
to the natives. Russian troops were to be withdrawn and Russian subjects and employees
of the company were free to return to their native land for a period of three years. The Russian government assumed the company's obligations. The former employees of
the company were pensioned off and the property of the company to which the United
States Government could lay no claim was disposed of. The affairs of the Russian
American Company were then wound up.
RUSSIAN AMERICAN COMPANY
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Andrews, Clarence Leroy. Story of Alaska , Caldwell, Idaho, 1938.

Bancroft, Hubert Howe. The History of Alaska , San Francisco, 1890.

Bancroft, Hubert Howe. History of the Northwest Coast , 2 v., San Francisco, 1884.

Berkh, Vasilii Nikolaevich. Khronologicheskaya Istoriya Otkrytiya Aleutskikh Ostrovov ,
St. Petersburg, 1823.

Burney, James A. A Chronological History of North-eastern Voyages of Discovery, and
of the Early Eastern Navigations of the Russians , London, 1819.

Clark, Henry W. Alaska. The Last Frontier , New York, 1939.

Coxe, William. Account of Russian Discoveries Between Asia and America , London, 1780.
Subsequent editions 1780, 1787 and 1803.

Doklad Komiteta ob ustroistvye Russkikh Amerikanskikh Kolonii , St. Petersburg, 1863.

Essig, E.O. The Russians in California , San Francisco, 1933.

Golder, Frank A. Bering's Voyages , 2 v., New York, 1922-25.

Hildt, J.C. Early Diplomatic Negotiations of the United States with Russia , Baltimore,
1906.

Hudson's Bay Company. Certain Correspondence of the Foreign Office and of the Hudson's
Bay Company copied from the Original Documents. London, 1898
by Otto C. Klotz , Ottawa, 1899.

Jochelson, Waldemar. History, Ethnology and Anthropology of the Aleut . Washington, 1933.

Khliebnikov, Kiril Timofeyevich. Zhiznopisanie A.A. Baranova, glavnogo pravitelya
rossiiskikh kolonii v Amerike , St. Petersburg, 1835.

Materialy dlya istorii zaselenii po beregam vostochnago okeana . 4 parts in 1 vo.
Supplement to Morskoi Sbornik , (Nos. 1-4, 1861)

Okun' S.B. Rossiisko-Amerikanskaya Kompaniya . Leningrad, 1939.

Pilder, Hans. Die russich-amerikanische Handelskompanie bis 1825. Berlin and Leipzig,
1914.

Politovskii, V.G. Kratkoe istoricheskoe obozryenie obrazovanii i deistvii R.K. K-a .
St. Petersburg, 1861.

Polnoe Sobranie Zakonov Rossiiskoi Imperii . 44 v. St. Petersburg, 1830, ff.

RUSSIAN AMERICAN COMPANY
Bibliography

Sarychev, Gavrilo. Puteshestvie Flota Kapitana Sarycheva po syeverovostochnoi Sibiri
. . . s 1785 po 1793 god . 2 v in 1 and atlas, St. Petersburg, 1802.

----- -----. Puteshestvie Kapitana Billingsa... v 1791 god . St. Petersburg,
1811.

Sauer, Martin. An Account of a Geographical and Astronomical Expedition to the Northern
Parts of Russia . . . in the years 1784-1794. London, 1802.

Shashkov, S.S. Rossiisko-Amerikanskaya Kompaniya . St. Petersburg, 1898.

Shelekhov, Grigorii Ioanovich. Rossiiskago Kuptsa imenitago ryl'skago Grazhdanina
Grigor'ya Shelekhova Stranstvovanie s 1783 po 1787 god
. . . St. Petersburg, 1791.

----- -----. Rossiiskago Kuptsa Grigor'ya Shelekhova Prodolzhenie
Stranstvovaniya . . . v 1788 god . St. Petersburg, 1792.

Simpson, Sir George. Narrative of a Journey Around the World during the Years 1841
and 1842 . 2 v. London, 1847.

Stejneger, Leonhard Hess. Georg Wilhelm Steller, the Pioneer of Alaskan Natural
History . Cambridge, Mass., 1936.

Thomas, Benjamin P. Russo-American Relations . Baltimore, 1930.

Tikhmenev, P. Istoricheskoe Obozryenie obrazovanii Rossiisko Amerikanskoi Kompanii .
2 v. St. Petersburg, 1861-63.

Tompkins, Stuart Ramsay. Alaska: Promyshlennik and Sourdough . Norman, Oklahoma, 1945.

United States Embassy, Russia, "Papers relating to the cession of Alaska," (enclosures
Nos. 2 and 3 to Despatch No.2115 of December, 1936 from the United
States Embassy at Mos cow), 1856-57 (sic! 1867). Photostatic re–
productions of copies on file in the Archives of the Department of
State, Washington, D.C.

Veniaminov, I. Zapiski ob ostrovakh Unalashkinskago Otdyela . 3 v. in 2. St. Peters–
burg, 1840.

Zavalashin, D.I. Rossiisko-Amerikanskaya Kompaniya , Moscow, 1865.

History of the Fur Seal

EA-Alaska: History
(Fredericka I. Martin)

HISTORY OF THE FUR SEAL

CONTENTS
Page
Nomenclature 2
General Description 2
Living Habits 3
Sealing Today 7
Sealing Before 1867 10
Sealing After 1867 21
Interregnum Leasing Systems 22
Land Sealing 1870-1892 24
North American Commercial Company, 1890-1910 30
Russian Sealskin Company, 1892-1902 32
Pelagic Sealing 34
Bering Sea Controversy 35
Bering Sea Commission 39
Paris Award 42
Western Bering Regulations 43
Indemnities 44
Post Award Negotiations 44
Domestic Seal Controversy 46
The North Pacific Sealing Convention 47
Sealing Holiday 48
Sealing on Land after 1917 49

EA-Alaska: History
(Fredericka I. Martin)

HISTORY OF THE FUR SEAL
Order Pinnipedia. Family Otariidae (Eared Seals). Northern species
Callorhinus ursinus. Sub species: Callorhinus alascanus , Alaskan or Pri–
bilof; C. ursinus ursinus, Commander Islands or Russian; C. curilensis or
C. ursinus mimicus (Tilesius), Kuril, Robben, or Okhotsk fur seal.
The fur seal is a gregarious, polygamous migratory, carnivorous (fish-
eating), amphibious marine mammal, possessing a commercially valuable under–
fur. Descended from a terrestrial bearlike land ancestor, it is more
accurately a sea bear, morphologically more like today's land bear than a
true seal. Its regression toward complete aquatic existence is unfinished.
The infant seal is still a land animal for the first few weeks of life. So,
to propagate the species, all seals must come ashore for about one-third of
each year. Once a resident of the Antarctic as well as of the Subarctic,
only the three norther herds — Pribilof, have survived excessive exploitation.
The Pribilof herd ( Callarhinus alascanus ), the largest (about 80% of the
survivors), possesses the most valuable fur; its members are distinguished
from those of the other herds by a larger head, thicker neck, more even,
dense underfur, and minor color variations. Its foreflippers are only pitted
at the site of former nails while Commander seals have vestigal claws on all
flippers. The behavior and habits of the three herds are almost identical,
but as they travel separate migration routes, it is believed they never

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: History of the Fur Seal

mingle or interbreed. Their chief enemies are storms, killer whales, and
men.
Nomenclature
The fur seal is often sea bear or sea cat. Baby seals are pups, then
yearlings. Two-year-old females are virgins; after mating that season and
giving birth the next, they are cows; also dubbed "clapmatches" for their
swift flight. From 2 to 5 years males are bachelors, congregate in groups
called pods on hauling ground from which they are herded on drives to the
killing field. At 5 the male is a half-bull; a 7 a bull who keeps his
wives in a harem; if unmated but holding a harem sits on the rookery, the
breeding seals' beach, he is an idle bull. For dominance of his harem, the
bull is also a beachmaster; the patch of thick hair on his neck is a wig –
also the market name for bull furs. Russian and Aleut names are still used
in literature and, except for the period of Japanese ownership of the Kuril
and Robben seals, on all seal islands. Russian terms are:- fur seal morzhoi
kot
(sea cat; bull sikatch (strong); half-bull polasikatch ; cow matka
(mother); pup kotik (kitten); bachelor holostiak . Russian influence seems
to have eradicated the Aleut generic name, but the Aleuts still call a bull
adaq (father), a cow anadaq anadaq (mother), a pup lakudaq lakudaq (child).
General Description
Superficially resembling a hair seal, the fur seal has a longer neck,
can move its more pointed head freely, and turn its hind flippers forward
for swift, agile land locomotion. All species have vestig i al claws on their
hind flip p ers. The Okhotsk seal has whitish underfur and a broader head
than the Russian. Its peculiar guard hairs necessitate a special process

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: History of the Fur Seal

in dressing its fur. Differences in size and color between the three
varieties are minor, but there are marked individual variations within
each herd. The average bull weighs from 400 to 500 lb., and about 6 ft.
long; its shoulder girth is about 4 ft. It is dark brown, sometimes almost
black. The Alaskan bull's underfur is yellowish; its general color some–
times rusty brown. All varieties have a man on the back of the neck. A
cow weighs between 70 and 80 lb., is about 4 ft. long, and about 30 inches
around the shoulder. Her fur is gray (the Alaskan cow's more splotched
with rufous or cream-color patches) and lighter on the undderbody. Bachelors
are predominately gray, are about 4 ft. long, and a little over 2 ft. around
the shoulders. At birth a pup weighs about 10 lb., is a little over 30
inches long, and has short, black hair. At about 4 months old it weighs
about 35 lb., and has a new thicker gray coat.
A rapid swimmer, fur seals can lope quickly, with a hopping movement,
but not for very long on land. If guided slowly, with many stops to rest,
they can travel miles. Lacking sweat glands, they die quickly if overheated.
Their skins, if not immediately salted, become stagy and the hair falls out
in patches. The arch conservatives of the animal world, they show no
intelligence, only mechanical obedience to instincts become inflexible
and unbreakable.
Living Habits
The three herds have similar migration and breeding habits. All winter
they remain at sea, feeding on their favorite squid and herring. The west–
ern herds' feeding grounds are not well established. Both proceed south
in fall between the islands and the Asiatic coast, keeping close inshore to
the former, to the northern waters of the Sea of Japan. They have been

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: History of the Fur Seal

sighted below 36° latitude N. Most cross between the Japanese islands of
Honshu and Hokkaido (Yezo) and return vis a Pacific route. Pribilof males
of all ages winter in the North Pacific and Gulf of Alaska. Females go
directly through midocean to southern California in autumn, arriving in
December. Turning back in February, they travel more slowly fairly close
to the islands that flank the continent. Migration studies to date,
mainly of Pribilof seal travels, show few deviations in time schedules or
routes. The seals land nowhere during their travels, only upon their
breeding islands. There is some dispute between early investigators who
claimed yearlings landed in June and July and later investigators who
insisted they landed in late summer. Still others think they remain at sea.
First at the breeding island in late April and May, the bulls, fat
and vigorous after their winter's rest and good feeding, pick out harem
sites, but go back and forth to the seal freely until the females begin
to arrive in May. Noisy but not serious battles are in constant progress
but even the bull who loses his station will not fight too fiercely to
oust the usurper.
After the first cows arrive, not even the idle bulls at the rear of
the rookery, who get no mates usually until the virgins come in late summer,
will leave their stations to bathe, eat, or sleep. The cows continue to
arrive throughout June and most of July, about the middle of the latter month
being the climax of the season. Within 48 hours after landing, a cow bears
a single pup and is usually ready to mate within another 48 hours. Possess–
ing a double-horned uterus, insemination of one horn is possible before the
other is healed.

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: History of the Fur Seal

Once mating begins, bulls attempt to seize as many mates as they can
get without crossing the invisible but strictly observed boundaries of
their harems, stealing them from their neighbors. Pregnant cows are
bitten, thrown, and trampled on while males battle for them. An average
harem holds about 35 cows. Those nearest the water, where bulls have
the first chance to seize new arrivals, are the largest. Some may con–
t ain over a hundred cows. As soon as a female has been impregnated, she
may go to sea to feed and return to hurse her young. Pribilof cows swim
from 150 to 200 miles southwest to feed, as do the bachelors; Bering Island
cows swim (to feed) a much shorter distance to the northwest; Copper Island
ones, not very far to the southeast. Where Okhotsk cows feed is not known.
Rookery battles are continuous and deadly serious throughout the weeks
of mating. Fighting follows exact rules. Bulls, holding their foreflippers
tightly against their bodies to protect them, lunge at each others' shoulders,
trying to tear each others' flippers off. Their short sharp teeth rake and
slash the skins and blubber in that area but they rarely penetrate to vital
muscles, or bite off a flipper. Wounds bleed copiously because the layers
of blubber are well supplied with blood vessels. Despite the savagery,
there are only a few deaths a season. After six to eight weeks of uninter–
rupted harem duties, a bull retires, his skin hanging loosely around his
shrunken frame. Until it is time to migrate, he recuperates, feeding at
sea and coming back to sleep in the soft grassy areas behind the rookeries.
No longer a bristling, ferocious contender for females, he is nervous,
ready to scuttle off to sea at the slightest alarm.
Although to propagate the species the whole herd forsakes the sea,
adults display little affection or interest in a pup. From the moment he
is born, he is on his ow wo n and even has to teach himself to swim. Only his

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: History of the Fur Seal

resilient fat enables him to stand incredibly rough trampling by the older
harem inmates, bites and fliper blows from mother and stepfather (a pup
born in his own father's harem must be most rare), or neighbors; he is
rarely injured even when a bull sits down on him. For several days, until
the rocks cut the drying cord, he drags his placenta around. Soon he
ventures from his harem, joins up in pods with other infants and, at the
end of a month, begins his swimming lessons in the tidal pools. At first
only about two days elapse between nursings, but, as his stomach grows to
hold more milk, his mother makes more leisurely journeys and just before
migration he nurses only about once every five days.
On land pup play seems strangely like practice for adult duties.
Sea sport is definitely training for the winter ahead. Persistently pups
advance into the waves, are tossed back and try again until they can keep
afloat and moving. As soon as possible, the pods practice where sand beaches
can cushion their fall when tossed ashore. After learning to swim, they
practice breaching and play follow-the-leader water games. By October
they have their thick new coats and teeth and must leave their birthplace.
The mortality from storms and killer whales is high, about 40% the first
winter, almost half that the next two. As the only seals to eat on land, the
pups are the only ones ever found with food, milk only, in their stomachs.
All other seals digest their food and evacuate at sea, a habit which keeps
their beaches surprisingly clean.
Segregated on their hauling grounds, adjacent to the rookeries, the
bachelors carefully avoid short cuts across harems on their way to and from
the sea because bulls mercilessly punish trespassers. Their fur is the
finest, most evenly developed, not yet scarred from mating battles. They

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: History of the Fur Seal

have no defense against man except flight. Although the sex ratio n is
believed to be equal, because they are polygamous a certain proportion
of young males are superfluous and can be killed without affecting the herd
in the least. Their gregariousness makes them vulnerable, also. Hunters
can get between them and the sea, startle them into flight directly inland
where, after a rest, they can be prodded and driven by easy stage to con–
venient and clean grassy places to be clubbed and stripped of their furs.
All of the fur seals' characteristics and habits — rigid adherence
to the ancient migration routes and destinations, plygamous mating, the
segregation of the finest furred surplus males, their lack of defensive
organis — make them as easy to handle as domestic animals without the
expense of providing food, shelter, and constant custodial care.
Sealing Today
No data are available about sealing methods in use on the Asiatic
seal islands. Pribilof sealing is under the direct management of the
Division of Alaska Fisheries, Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the
Interior. The Fish and Wildlife Service has a contract with the Fouke Fur
Company of St. Louise whereby the company acts as agent to process and
auction the dressed skins. The Service manages driving, killing, and skin–
ning the seals, supervises the Fouke Fur Company's initial salting and
curing on the islands and the shipment of skins to that agent's St. Louis
factory, and governs the American Aleut residents of the islands.
The Fouke Fur Company's contract of 1939-49 gave it the exclusive
right to dress and dye all Pribilof skins for $13.50 a skin and 3 1/ 4 2 % of
all sales for expenses and services in connection with the two public auctions

EA-Hist. Martin: Fur Seal

held each year in spring and fall. On the islands the company manages
salting, blubbering, drying, and packing of skins, importing and train–
ing many laborers for these duties. The company also advertises widely
to promote the popularity of sealskins.
The actual killing of fur seals is limited by law to the resident
American Aleuts. Only males, chiefly three and some four-year-old bachelors,
are killed between early June and the end of July. At dawn (Reef Peninsula
seals only are driven in the evening because of the long distance to the
killing ground where they are permitted to rest all night before being
killed) the sealers begin to round up the pods of bachelors. Running
between a pod and the sea, shouting and festiculating, they frighten the
seals who run inland to escape them. Permitting them to rest at intervals,
the sealers herd them on to the killing field. Death results almost in–
stantaneously after a blow on the head from a sealer's club. To make
certain, each seal is stabbed immediately. The bodies are measured before
skinning; the pelts spread on the grass to cool; then removed by truck to
the washhouse, washed and steeped in brine for ten days before they are
flensed. About a quarter of the skins are shipped before they are blubbered.
Washed and dried, the blubbered skins are salted again before shipment.
At the St. Louis plant, skins are inspected and graded upon receipt.
Less than 0.05% are rejected. Blubbered skins are washed several times
and dried on hoops. Before the guard hairs are removed, they are soaked
in cold water, then subjected to high dry heat in special cockles to loosen the
stiff hair. Overheating at this time will ruin the furs. Then a dull knife
drawn over a tightly stretched pelt cuts out the majority of the guard hairs
but does not cut the short, silky fur. Shorter guard hairs are removed later
in a special machine where air blows the fine fur flat while scissors cut

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

the stubby short hairs off close to the leather. The skins are tanned
with a mixture of seal oil, other fats, and soaps. To remove all grease,
they are tumbled vigorously in a container of sawdust. Then they are dyed,
either black or Matara or Safari brown. The stiff, hard leather side of
the skin, which once detracted from the sealskin's popularity, is now
shaved quite thin; the pelt is much lighter and more supples but retains
its durability. Processing a fur takes about 60 days. Between 6 and 8
skins are required to make a coat. One advantage of the processing mono–
poly is the uniformity of the furs.
Seal oil and meal are produced from the carcasses at a small by-products
plant on St. Paul Island, run by the Service. The oil is sold; part of the
meal is used to feed Pribilof foxes; the reindeer is sometimes used in
federal fish hatcheries.
The present safeguards to perpetuate the herd have been practiced long
enough to prove their reliability. In addition to prohibiting the killing
of females and limiting killing to three- and four-year old males, a reserve
of potential breeding males is guaranteed yearly by terminating sealing by
the first of August. The quota is determined by the same time limitation;
all bachelors rounded up before the closing date are killed. An annual
enumeration of the herd is obligatory. At the height of the breeding season
in mid-July, from elevated runways built across the breeding beaches,
officials actually count the conspicuous bulls, establishing the number
of harems (and idle bulls) very exactly on small rookeries, quite accurately
on larger ones. The normal annual increase of pups (the rate of increase
established as 8% by actual counting of pups between 1917 and 1922) is
assumed to have occurred if the preceding winter has not been abnormally
stormy or the beaches show no obvious shrinkage. The number of cows is

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

estimated at the same rate. This system, like all previous ones, still
depends largely upon the judgment of official observers. Quotas depend
in part upon this computation.
Beyond the islands the Coast Guard boats as well as Fish and Wildlife
Service vessels are charged with observing traveling seals, especially
during migration, and arresting illegal hunters. Since the seals do not
travel in groups, such supervision cannot be very strict. Skins taken by
any native peoples at sea, in accordance with their aboriginal rights,
must be certified and stamped by a government official before they can
legally be sold. Very few such pelagic skins are taken.
Sealing Before 1867
Until the middle of the eighteenth century, northern fur seals, safe
from land hunters on their breeding islands far from aboriginal settlements,
were hunted only at sea, chiefly during migration by littoral tribes.
Thus the Asiatic herds were hunted on their spring and fall travels by
Ainus and Kamchadals; the Alaskan seals on their northward spring migration
by a dozen tribes from Cape Flattery to the Aleutian Islands, and in spring
and fall by the most expert of all sea hunters, the Aleuts, who may also
have hunted them on their islands. Hunting on land began after the
Russians' successive discoveries of seal islands, and sealing both on land
and at sea remained their almost exclusive monopoly until 1867.
The earliest Russian promyshlenniki (fur hunters) in Kamchatka
named the fur seals "sea cats" and probably appropriated the Kamchadals'
sealskins along with other furs; after 1715 they acquired Kuril pelagic
pelts in the same way. As long as more profitable furs were available,
however, they had no incentive to hunt seals, for the only sealskin buyers,

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

the Chinese, shaved off all hair to use the tough, durable hide as leather,
mainly for luggage wrappings, and paid only a few kopaks a skin.
The islands of the second largest herd were accident accidentally
discovered when Vitus Bering's vessel was wrecked on the larger of the
Commander Islands in the late autumn of 1741. The next spring the sur–
vivors watched the arrival and mating of the Commander Island fur seals,
the first known observers of the animal's unique habits. The expedition's
scientist, Georg W. Steller, studied them so closely that his on-the-spot
observations, posthumously published in De Bestiis Marinis in 1751, are
the classic natural history of the fur seal, amended only in minor details
by subsequent investigators. But his description of the sea bear interested
only naturalists. It was the $30,000 received for 900 sea otter pelts they
brought back which inspired practical Siberian traders and hunters to launch
dozens of crude shitiki (small ships, literally sewn together with sinews
or willow withes) to seek otter and fox in the dangerous North Pa [: ] ific.
Russian sealing, after the discovery of the Commander Islands, falls
into four distinct periods, roughly outlined by incomplete, far-too-low
statistics of seal killings and exports, particularly those of Commander
and Kuril hunting. During the first period, from 1746, when Emilian Bassov
first brought 2,000 pelts to Siberia on the Capitan , to 1760, the promyshlenniki
considered the fur seal useful only for food and oil during their hunting
voyages and probably brought back no more than 20,000 skins of those killed
for food. As more profitable furs grew scarce, the shrewdest traders, par–
ticularly the Labedev Lastochkin Company and other firms in which Ivan Shele–
kov owned shares, experimented with large shipments of cheap sealskins and
handled at least 100,000 between 1760 and 1786; the majority of these were

EA-Alaska: History. Martin:Fur Seal

Commander Island pelts, the remainder the Aleuts' and Kuril Islanders'
pelagic skins.
The third period opened when Lebedev Lastochkin's pilot, Gerasim
Pribylov, deliberately searched for and discovered the Alaskan seals'
breeding islands in 1786-87. There followed thirteen years of fiercely
competitive, fantastically wasteful exploitation of the Commander and
Pribilof herds. All companies hunted them. A do [: ] en outfits killed over
a million Pribilof seals; the Commander herd's losses were never reported.
The few known shipments,15,000 skins, could have been only a small part.
This influx was absorbed, for a time, by Chinese traders at the border
city of Kiakta because, although the Russians did not know it until 1797,
sealskin had become a fur. A Chinese artisan had discovered how to pluck
out the coarse guard hairs without damaging the dense, velvet underpelage
and the new dyed fur had won popularity.
Competitive sealing ended in 1799 and the Russian American Company's
monopoly began. Reluctantly the Chinese agreed to exchange five rubles
worth of tea for a prime seal pelt. The insenate seal slaughter continued
long after the fourth period opened. By 1817, at least another 1,499,856
Pribilof pelts had been taken. Hunting on the Commander Islands was less
constant; only 15,000 skins shipped, 1799-1826. Since these islands and
the Kurils were under the Okhotsk office until 1823 and 1830, respectively,
possibly many pelts were taken directly to Siberia and not included in
colonial records. Colossal waste also prevented immediate glutting of
the market. From 1786-1817, at least one and a half million skins cut by
careless skinners or rotted after hasty curing, were burned or thrown into
the sea; thousands of food skins were thrown away; several shiploads were
lost at sea. Although the Russians learned it belatedly, from 1790 to 183 6 5

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

millions of antarctic sealskins reached southern Chinese ports. So, in
1802, the Kiskta merchants refused Russian peltry, not even accepting all
otter furs. Alarmed by this and news of a half-million pelts stored at New
Archangel (most worthless, later destroyed), the directors forbade further
Pribilof sealing, an order that was ignored. For Chandellor Rezanov, in–
vestigating Russian America, found 15 Russian and some Aleut hunters still
sealing on St. Paul in 1805, killing about 100,000 a year. Rezanov was
appalled by the herds' losses (90% of the herd since 1794, the hunters
estimated) and irrational waste, especially the yearly discarding of
30,000 food skins. After the winter meat was dried, the skins were spread
out to dry or were smoked. Dampness, scarcity of driftwood, and incompe–
tence made waste inevitable, but, unable to import salt, such curing was
used for four more decades. Rezanov insured a Zapusk (literally a-time-for–
growing) for the seals by taking men away, ordering the others to get
walrus ivory. Sealing was resumed on St. George in 1808, and within the
next two years on St. Paul. Probably food killing continued throughout
the other islands. Rezanov also recommended transferring a small sealing
party from the Commanders to the Kurils to hunt otter. Apparently no
further sealing was done on the Commanders until 1811.
The missionary-historian Veniaminov called the years 1817-38 on the
Pribilofs, the "Period of Diminution" - 578,224 skins were taken. Tikhmenev,
official historian of the Russian American Company, published (1862)
statistics of sealskin shipments from New Archangel for the period of the
company's second charter (1821-42), a total of 458,502. Actually a steady
decline continued, despite efforts to check it, until after 1835. Scarcity
of Priblof seals necessitated temporary resumption of Commander hunting in
1817-19, and, after these islands were transferred from the jurisdiction

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

of the Okhotsk office to the Atka Island district, the both islands
were permanently colonized — Bering Island by 110 Andeanof Island Aleuts
and Creoles under the Russian foreman, Senkov, in 1826, and Copper Island
by Aleuts from Attu Island two years later. That year, the Kuril Islands
were also transferred to the Atka district. By 1836, in addition to 99
Ainus, [: ] there were 104 Kodiak natives and 9 Russians in the Commanders.
When the Pribilof catch was lowest, 1827-1841, the Commander Island take
was 150,000, and for the next two decades only 31,181. Ignoring official
warnings that the Chinese would refuse gray pup skins and preferred bull
pelts, despite the very coarse hair, to small skins, Commander hunters
regularly shipped small grays. Perhaps because irregular supplies made
them dependent on local animals, they killed only their favorite food.
Often Pribilof "annual" supply boats from Sitka were two or three years
late, probably even less punctual at the more remote Commanders until
after 1854. Thereafter ships from Sitka stopped regularly at the Commanders
and at the Kurils for furs and then continued on to the Okhotsk port of
Ayan instead of returning to New Archangel.
By 1817 the steadily waning Pribilof catch inspired belated efforts
to carry out Rezanov's recommendation to cultivate the herds, not merely
prevent extermination. Managers were ordered to record seals killed,
skins shipped, estimates of the remaining seals. To stop waste from
careless handling, skins were graded as best and common with a lower pay
rate for the latter. Reduced quotas, reserves of young males for breed–
ing purposes, outright zapusks were ordered from time to time, though
the latter were not always observed. For instance, in 1830 from St.
Petersburg the directors ordered a 12-year zapusk on all seal islands,

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

but sealing continued, so the order may have been countermanded in the next
mail. St. George had one total zapusk , not even food killings for two
seasons, 1826-27. Ignoring the scarcity of mates, St. Paul promyshlenniki ,
thought reserved males became spiritless adults and obeyed the regulation
only because a scrupulously honest manager, Kasyan Shayashnikov, followed
instructions and strictly supervised the killings. But as soon as the herd
increased, orders from distant superiors soon reduced its numbers. In
1835 sealing was again severely restricted.
Probably that year (1835) the experiment of saving females begin —
perhaps at the suggestion of Manager Shayashnikov. It is obvious from
Veniaminov's discussion of seal preservation that the female's fertility
was being studied. Veniaminov depended upon Shayashnikov for his sealing
data, including observations that the sex ratio at birth seemed equal and
that a percentage of the males were superfluous for propagation because
of the seals' polygamous habits. The next logical steps were to recognize
that females were never superfluous and to protect their lives. Shayashnikov's
1837 memo, seen by an American a half century later, listed only bachelors
and young grays. In 1842, Governor Etholin told Sir George Simpson of the
Hudson's Bay Company that killing was restricted to three- and four-year-old
males — an indication that the experiment had already become a fixed policy.
Statistics for some of these years indicate deliberate restraint
rather than continuing decreases, as many students of sealing assume. The
1834 Pribilof catch was 15,751. Beginning the next season and until 1838
it was roughly 6,500 a year, two-thirds from St. Paul. By 1842, St. Paul's
catch was 6,255, St. George's only 500. The next year St. Paul's increased
to 16,034, St. George's to 2,001, and from that year the herd grew steadily
larger. The quota was increased rapidly without interfering with the
herd's expansion, which was affected only by natural calamities beyond the

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

power of man to control. Except for skins of Commander Island pups and
Pribilof food pups, most skins shipped after 1935 were those of superfluous
three-year-old males. By 1860 it was thought safe to take 60,000 skins on
St. Paul but a natural disaster limited the take to 48,000. The previous
spring the ice pack, blown back upon the islands after the bulls arrived,
prevented other seals from landing. As a result cows calved at sea, and
their pups drowned. For weeks after the ice receded again, thousands of
dead pups were washed ashore. In 1863, the Russians began to kill 70,000
St. Paul bachelors yearly without damaging the herd. Pribilof shipments
from 1842-1867 amounted to 571,612 — nearly half of which were killed in
the last three seasons. Yet once more, as after the discovery, the herd
numbered several million animals.
The history of Kuril and Sakhalin sealing is even more obscure than
that of Commander hunting. Probably the Okhotsk herd was hunted chiefly
at sea throughout Russia's domination of the region. The Kodiak settlers
knew the location of the rockery on Srednoi Rocks but were not accustomed
to killing seals on land. But the Ainus, previous to the settlement of
the Russians, had visited Mushir each June to kill sea lions — presumably
fur seals also — for food. Earthquakes as well as Japanese competition
interfered with Kuril otter hunting. How much pelagic sealing was affected
is unknown. As elsewhere, long zapusks were ordered on the Kurils; a long
rest period, 1850-1869, improved on the sea otter catch and presumably the
seal catch also.
Even less is known about Sakhalin sealing. In 1852, during the Crimean
War, American whalers took advantage of the interruption of Russia's European
trade and killed 60,000 fur seals on Robben Reef. But the Russians may not

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

have known a rookery existed there although the island appeared on a Russian
map in 1802. So, news of the whalers' success may have inspired the order
for Aleut hunters to explore the coast of Sakhalin for good hunting grounds
in 1853. The outcome of that exped i tion is not known.
Pelagic sealing by primitive methods was not confined to the Okhotsk
and Commander seals passing the Kurils. Throughout the Russian period,
Aleuts and Kodiak Islanders sealed at sea near their home islands, except
when the Pribilof herd was so decimated that migrating seals were scarce.
Probably such pelagic skins were included with Pribilof shipments, for there
is no evidence that separate records were kept. At New Archangel in 1850
the Russians paid the Tlingit (Kolosh) hunters three times as much for their
pelagic skins as their own native hunters, from 1 1/2 to 3 rubles for a prime
skin, to counteract the Hudson's Bay Company's competitive price of $1.50.
Even if the statistics of Russian sealing were complete and accurate,
they would not reveal the fur seals' importance as a colonial asset. With–
out them the Russians would never have established a secure foothold in
Alaska or maintained a colony there until 1867. Throughout their occupation,
the fur seals helped feed and clothe the colonists from St. Michael in the
North to the capital at Sitka. Manager Baranov tried to make hats, gloves,
and socks from their fur, apparently by weaving it, but the shortness of
the hair spoiled his experiments. Small skins were part of the ottar
hunters' pay. Pup skins were shipped to St. Michael to be traded to the
Eskimos for more marketable furs, the officials being charged with con–
vincing the Eskimos that seal fur coats made more attractive garments.
Seal oil burned in the lamps of New Archangel, kept the ships and machinery
in the workshops running smoothly. But the animal's abundance and fixed

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

abode were the characteristics that gave the Russians a measure of economic
security, made the Pribilof Islands a dependable bank, the seals legitimate
currency.
When the administration in Russia failed to send supplies regularly
or fill colonial orders or sent half-empty ships to pick up peltry, Baranov,
the company's first Chief Manager, disobeyed stringent orders, bought food
and merchandise from visiting foreigners and paid them off with sealskins.
Shrewd English and Yankee skippers, realizing that only a desperate crisis
would induce the Russians to buy their goods, asked extortionate prices or
fixed the sealskin's barter value ridiculously low. Unprofitable as such
transactions were financially, they were cheap as long as there were seals
to keep Russian America going. Chancellor Rezanov came to discipline
Baranov but, confronting the hunger and scurvy at Sitka, lauded his initia–
tive and advised the company's directors to permit their managers to trade
with foreigners when they deemed it necessary. So Baranov continued to
operate many projects with sealskin currency. He shipped them to the
Sandwich Islands to exchange for salt and sandalwood; he persuaded foreign
skippers to take his pelts to Canton and bring back goods he needed. Fre–
quently their exchange value was poor, and some skippers dealt shabbily
with Baranov. For instance, the skins Captain O'Cain took to Canton were
so damaged by rot he could get only 80 kopeks for a skin. A Captain Bennet
took his sealskin pay from Sitka to Okhotsk where frightened officials
paid his price rather than let him proceed to Canton. When the English
skipper, Captain Piggott, tried the same trick, Okhotsk officials refused
to buy them but at Petropavlovsk a minor clerk gave him 15 rubles a piece
for skins he had accepted at the rate of 2 1/2 rubles. The company refused
to recognize the clerk's purchase and demanded he pay 35,000 rubles, the

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

cost of their purchase and transportation in its vessel from Petropavlovsk
to Okhotsk.
Baranov also bought three ships from Yankee captains for sealskins;
extensive repairs were necessary on all, and one was never able to make
a voyage. Sealskins helped him cement a temporary alliance with Astor's
traders against British competition. Pledging not to trade in each other's
territory or to sell firearms, Astor was to bring goods to Sitka and, if
necessary, collect his pay in sealskins at the Pribilof Islands directly.
Again the Yankees outwitted the Russians. Captain Ebbetts, an Astor em–
ployee, took Baranov's sealskins to Canton but made him pay dearly for
the goods he brought back. Because supplies brought on the Beaver were
too high, Baranov could afford to take only half for which he gave Skipper
Sowle a draft on the Pribilof bank for 124,000 rubles worth of sealskins.
There was little more sealskin trade during Baranov's rule.
Tikhmenev estimated that the value of sealskins exported to Canton
or sold to foreign traders, 1797-1821, was 3,647,002 rubles. During the
second charter, the directors permitted Governor Muraviev to buy goods
with sealskins, but the Pribilof bank was failing. After a few transactions,
foreign skippers were paid with letters of credit drawn on the General
Administration. There was a brief period later when the Spanish in
California accepted sealskins for their flour.
From time to time the fur trade at Kiakta was interrupted. In 1849
internal Chinese troubles led to suspension of trade there and when the
Russians carried their skins to western Chinese border towns such as Chugu–
chak, opened by special treaty in 1851, the merchants were not experienced
fur dealers and refused to trade. In 1853, Kiakta was reopened. Then in

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

1862, in order to damage the British-Chinese trade, Russia revoked the
tariff on tea. Since their main export went into Russia freely, the
Chinese merchants had less need to take sealskins. The Russians made
one desperate effort to transport their skins overland to Peking them–
selves; but the expenses were exorbitant, and the prices obtained for
the furs were small. They developed two new markets, in London in 1843,
and in New York the next year, but the demand was small, about 20,000
skins a year for each. The remainder were absorbed by the domestic
market and China. Before the increasing quota made the need to find
new outlets acute, the government sold Alaska to a customer who knew
little about the region except its fur seals and sea otters.
The conduct of seal killing changed little during the Russian monopoly.
Surrounding a group of seals, hunters drove them inland from the beach to
a convenient spot to kill them, clubbed them on the head, and skinned them.
When the killing of females was forbidden, the only change was the selection
of pods of bachelors to drive. Because it was difficult to carry sealskins
over the rough terrain, they often drove the seals long distances. Some–
times they forced the animals to carry their furs twelve miles from North–
east Point to the harbor on St. Paul. Men and animals plodded slowly
along, resting frequently and camping out several nights. The greatest
innovation was salting skins. On the long trip to the new markets of
London and New York, smoked and air-dried skins did not keep well. Salted
skins, however, were not damaged by delays or changes of temperature. A
salted skin cost less to cure, only 1 ruble 73 kopeks, while, because of
fuel costs, a smoked one cost 3 rubles 75 kopeks. Salting entailed much
extra and heavier labor for the sealers but their pay, 75 kopeks after 1836

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

for killing and curing a skin, was not raised.
As long as Russia and China remained the chief markets, the majority
of the skins were dried but when the quota was increased in 1864 to 70,000
skins, the Chief Manager ordered 25,000 to be dried, the rest salted.
The Russians had killed over four million fur seals by 1867 — prob–
ably counting pups, cargoes lost at sea, discarded skins nearly five
million. After years of groping, they had found a way to take their furs
and keep their herd. The Pribilof beaches were crowded with seal life,
and the Commander herd had waxed strong again when the Americans entered
northern sealing in 1867.
Sealing After 1867
The Pribilof seal herd, its islands transferred to the United States
as part of the Alaska Purchase, was a major, unpublicized asset that affected
the decision to buy the territory. Efforts of Senator Cole of California
to negotiate, through Secretary Seward and the Russian Minister, a lease
of Russian America for Californian merchants who wanted to get seal and
otter furs, ended in Seward's buying the region for the nation. Americans
hurried to obtain sealskins. Shrewed, resourceful Hayward Hutchinson, an
eastern shoe merchant, accompanied General Rousseau to Sitka for the
transfer ceremonies, and as a member of the official party, met Prince
Maksutov before other American merchants could land from waiting vessels.
He bought the former Russian company's Pribilof property, their few wooden
and native-style buildings, sealing gear and skin boats. He hired many
retiring employees, Russians and Creoles, for high wages. Then he returned
to San Francisco, organized Hutchinson, Kohl and Company, and made ready
to have his agents and ships at the Seal Islands in the spring. Other

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

merchants, unable to buy a claim to the sealing business, prepared to
seal anyway. Some obtained permission from the Army or Customs Office
at Sitka to land and trade with the Aleuts.
Interregnum Leasing Systems. Neither law nor government authorities
protected the Pribilof and Commander islands in 1868, and both were thor–
oughly despoiled by sealskin seekers. Four traders installed themselves
on the Pribilofs, banded together for the season, and warned off latecomers
by a show of armed force. So the former Russian Vice Consul Pflugel, of
Honolulu, went on to the Commanders, and was soon joined by other traders,
chiefly Americans. The violence done seals and sealers on the Russian
Islands exceeded the damage on the Pribilofs and continued two more summers.
Many females and young seals were killed.
First at the Pribilofs was the antarctic sealing firm, Williams and
Haven of New London, with a veteran of southern sealing, Captain Ebenezer
Morgan in command. Soon Parrot and Company, Taylor and Bendel of San Fran–
cisco, and Hutchinson, Kohl and Company arrived, the latter with proof it
owned the Russians' property and with former Russian officials who were
able to direct the sealers in Russian or Aleut. These traders brought no
laborers to kill seals, only goods to trade for skins and labor, including
much liquor. United against competition, they also agreed to divide the
season's skins, 50% to Hutchinson's company because of its investment,
equal division of the remainder between the others. While they drove the
sealers to kill and skin seals at 30¢ a piece until overcome by fatigue,
the traders lived merrily with the sealers' women. All emulated Hutchinson's
method of staking a claim. They built salt houses and sheds but Captin
Pomeroy, Hutchinson's agent, erected 18 more buildings on St. Paul alone.

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

The Pioneer Trading Company, with a Sitka permit to trade for sealskins,
dropped three seamen and hunting gear at Garden Cove, St. George. Discovered
killing females, the incumbent persuaded the angry Aleuts to tie them up,
neck and heels, and lock them in the salt house for the night. By morning,
the Aleuts, realizing the novices could not identify cows, regretted their
compliance, released the men, and offered to kill seals for them as compen–
sation. But the other traders managed to send the seamen off the island
and soothed their captain's anger with sealskins when he returned for them.
Because many ski ns sn were shipped via Honolulu, the old antarctic sealing
port, the total export was never known. An estimate of 365,000 is probably
too low. The Aleuts tried to protect cows. When Captain White of the
Revenue Marine, without authority to deal with sealing, visited the islands,
he ordered the traders to respect their selection of young males but there
are indications that about 40,000 females were killed, most of them at
Northeast Point, St. Paul, where killing ended before the last seals mi–
grated only because the salt supply was exhausted.
That fall (1868) Hutchinson and Morgan went to Washington to try to
induce Congress to lease the islands to a single company, naturally to the
one which, with other associates, they were organizing, the Alaska Commercial
Company. On July 27, 1868, Congress had prohibited killing fur-bearing
animals in the Territory. Then the Treasury had sent Special Agent McIntyre
to investigate rumors of unlawful sealing, but he had to wait all winter for
a boat from Sitka. Meanwhile, the traders removed their furs without
interference. Congress made the Pribilofs a special reservation, March 3, 1869,
and prohibited killing except for Aleut food until further information was
available. In May, Captain White of the Revenue steamer Lincoln landed a

EA-Alaska: History. Martin Fur Seals

Revenue lieutenant and regular soldiers on each island and read the first
American laws to the assembled sealers. Special Treasury Agents, McIntyre,
Charles Bryant, and Colonel Frank Wiker, also some Customs officers, in–
spected the islands and made proposals for handling the business. Although
Wiker (fired as soon as he filed his report), Indian Commissioner Collyer,
and General Davis, Commander of the Territory, reported excessive killing
(the latter said 85,000), their findings were ignored. Hutchinson's and
Morgan's companies were permitted to buy the food skins, at 40¢ each,
that season.
The fight to obtain a monopoly continued until late June, 1870.
Hutchinson and other lobbyists for his company demanded that their invest–
ments be protected, threatened damage suits for enormous losses if their
claims were not recognized, predicted an uprising of the settlers if their
work contract (with Hutchinson, Kohl and Company, obtained by the Creole
Captain Archimandritov, whom the sealers feared) were not honored. Their
threats and claims were more persuasive than the arguments of other commer–
cial groups, opponents of monopoly, or those who argued that the Aleuts,
as inhabitants, held title to the seals and islands.
Land Sealing 1870-1892 . July 1, 1870, Congress passed an act to pro–
tect the fur seal from extermination, introduced by the company's advocate,
Senator Cole of California. It contained a peculiar clause. Enjoining
the Secretary of the Treasury to lease sealing rights for 20 years for
100,000 seals a year to responsible parties, he was to remember the interests
of the "parties hitherto engaged in the trade." Because of this stipulation,
the half million dollar offer of a group of California merchants was rejected.
The franchise was awarded to the Alaska Commercial Company (which had submitted

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seals

two rent bids and an offer to pay more than the highest bidder) for
$55,000 a year, $2.65 1/2 tax on each skin it accepted, and some support
to the sealers. (See Pribilof Islands, History)
Then Hutchinson completed his transactions begun in Sitka with
Prince Maksutov. February 18, 1871, Hutchinson, Kohl, Maksutov and Company
secured a 20-year lease to seal on the Commander and Robben islands. Their
agents, arriving unexpectedly at the Commanders that summer, found the San
Francisco Ice Company in possession and were able to buy its enormous stocks
of trade goods very cheaply. Russian law required that at least one Russian
subject belong to a foreign firm within Russian borders. So when Maksutov's
name was withdrawn, the company paid a Siberian merchant for the use of his
name and the firm became Hutchinson, Kohl, Philippeus and Company, nominally
Russian with an office in Petropavlovsk, flying the Russian flag on its ships.
In 1872, Hutchinson, Kohl and Company and the controlling shares of its
Russian affiliate were absorbed by the Alaska Commercial Company. Russian
sealing operations were then directed from its San Francisco office. Links
were also forged with the London firm, Lampson and Sons, to whom most north–
ern sealskins were shipped for resale to furriers. After processing and
dyeing, the majority were shipped back to the United States where the lessees'
advertising was making sealskin a fashionable and expensive fur. As long
as London remained the fur seal processing center, the United States
collected duty on imported dressed skins as well as the company's regular
tax.
A Russian government officer was posted on each Commander Island to
make certain the company fulfilled its contract, to supervise the killings,
to keep accounts of skins shipped, and pay the sealers their earnings. The

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

lessees determined the annual quota. They paid a yearly rent of 5,000
rubles, a tax per skin of 2 silver rubles (then about $1.33); after 1877,
the tax was reduced to 1.75 rubles for the first 30,000 skins. For this
number the sealers were paid 1 ruble a piece, for all additional skins
only 1/2 ruble. The company also contributed toward the sealers' sup–
port and, as on the Pribilofs, voluntarily built cottages (most were
larger than Pribilof houses) for them. Unlike American sealers, the
Russian Aleuts received full title to them. The contract admitted duty–
free American goods for sale to the sealers at San Francisco retail prices
plus a fixed percentage to cover transportation and storage. The company
kept an agent-storekeeper on each island and a supervisor near each rookery
to accept skins the sealers brought to the slat house - not supervising
the killing but only the salting, packing, and shipping. In 1871, the
catch was only 8,100. Because the long lawless killing had been so drastic,
the average take until 1880 was about 30,000 skins; from 1880-1889 the
catch was about 45,000. Commander and Robben island shipments were so often
shipped together that the exact Commander catch is not clear. The combined
1872-1891 shipments were 803,978.
On Robben Island, where camping sealers drank rain water, there were
only summer quarters: huts for the sealers and a salt house, two good
cottages for officers and non-Aleut laborers. In 1870 Captain Daniel
Webster (probably still working only for William and Haven before the
Alaska Commercial Company merger was completed), in the bark Mauna Loa ,
with the schooner John Bright as tender, had nearly wiped out the Robben
Island seals, killing the cows and leaving only 800 infant pups. When
the new lessees' agents inspected the rocks in late 1871 and found only

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

2,000 seals, they postponed killing. In 1873 they began to take about
2,700 seals a year. To prevent more raid, a ship patrolled the coast and
a few Aleuts remained on land until the seals left. But, whenever the
ship was absent, American, English, and Japanese raiders, waiting off
Sakhalin Island for an opportunity to land, were able to get furs. Usually
several ships worked together, paying the sealers to signal when the coast
was clear and to help get skins. Unable to protect these seals, the
lessees finally killed femal e s and pups as ruthlessly as the raiders.
Until the Aleut and Kodiak hunters, removed to Kamchatka from the Kurils
after Russia ceded them to Japan in 1875, were resettled on the Commanders,
the Hutchinson interests had not known about the Kuril rookeries. But
Captain Sandman came to look for the seals at the wrong season in 1881;
la [: ] er that year other vessels got 8,000 from the Srednoi Rocks. Thereafter
raiders took a few hundred skins each year until 1895 when the catch became
too small to attract them. Mushir, Raikoke, and Makanruru rookeries were
also decimated by Americans, English, and Japanese raiders in the early
1880's.
After taking only 23,000 Pribilof seals in 1870, the Alaska Commercial
Company filled its quota except when it wanted to avoid market prices, al–
together 1,997,337 skins, netting an average profit of over a million dollars
a year. Empowered by law to conduct the actual killings company agents
determined the time and place of sealing. Treasury agents, not instructed
to attend seal killings regularly were required specifically to check the
lessees' count of sealskins before they were shipped and were supposed to
inform the Secretary of the Treasury of any company practice contrary
to the law. Lacking experience and having no function on the killing field,

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

they were the Treasury department's sole source of information about the
seals for most of the first lease.
In 1872, Henry Wood Elliott, made an Assistant Treasury Agent at
the request of the Smithsonian Institution in order to study the scarcely
known fur seals, surveyed the rookeries and devised a system of counting
seals. Because they crowded together on the beach, he divided the rookery
area by a coefficient of 2 square feet, the space he estimated that an
average seal required. He found there were 3,193,420 breeding seals in
1873 and estimated the non-breeding seals as roughly as 1 1/2 millions.
In 1874, together with Lieuten [: ] nt Washburn Maynard (each separately com–
missioned to investigate the lessees' fulfillment of their contract) he
[: ] repeated his surveys with more accurate instruments. Lieutenant Maynard
thought Elliott erred on the side of moderation, that the total that year
was about 6,000,000. He recommended annual surveys but no more official
counts were made during the first lease. In 1886, Chief Agent Tingle
voluntarily made a partial survey using Elliott's system with a larger
"average" seal. He announced St. George had a million more seals. Assit–
ant Agent Loud thought — or so he said later — that there had been a
serious decrease.
Elliott's fur seal monograph was printed as a Tenth Census Report in
1880, and as a separate publication two years later. In 1886, slightly
revised, it was a major part of his Our Arctic Province or Alaska and the
Seal Islands
. Acclaimed as the sole seal authority, he lectured and wrote
about Alaska and the seals. He defended the leasing system as the best
means of protecting the fur seals, and the Alaska Commercial Company as
the most reliable lessees. His insistence that Alaska would never be more

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

than a source of furs and his lavish praise of the lessees caused the
latter's foes to label him the company's hired press agent. Actually he
was so absorbed by the fur seals that he was blind to other Alaskan re–
sources. His liking for Hayward Hutchinson made him confident of the
company's probity. He also assumed that as long as the Aleut sealers
visited their relatives at Unalaska, no lessees could hide illegal [: ]
practices. He placed no reliance upon Treasur e y agents, only on the sealers'
gossip.
When Aleut gossip and serious charges from other quarters brought the
company before the House Ways and Means Committee in 1876, Elliott's stal–
wart defence helped stifle the gossip he relied upon so heavily and clear
the company's reputation. In 1879 the sealers warned Agent Otis the seals
were disappearing. A newcomer s , he consulted experienced company employees
and rejected the Aleuts' notion.
Quietly a new kind of hunter had begun to kill seals at sea, the
pelagic sealer. But the losses ifnlicted at sea were ignored by island
officials, even though, after 1879, the danger was constant that such
sealers would raid the beaches. Before that year there had been a few raids,
undetected until skinned carcasses, broken clubs, or blood on the rocks were
found after they left. The company installed a telephone line between
Northeast Point and St. Paul village in 1880, to summon help if raiders
landed; sentries guarded the rookeries and Otter Island until the seals
left in the fall; revenue cutters patrolled the sea. Whenever they had to
refuel at Unalaska, schooners inevitably appeared and shot seals not far
from the islands. But the seals' custodians saw no gaps on the Pribilof
rookeries.

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

Secretaly, in 1889, the company sent a journalist, Theodore Williams,
to investigate the extent of pelagic sealing. It did not want to bid too
high to renew a lease that might be worthless in a few seasons, for the
local company employees knew that the Probilof herd was shrinking fast.
Superintendent McIntyre wrote confidentially to the company directors
that the seals were getting less, but they did not relay his report to
the Treasury Department. When sealing was over that fall, Agent Goff
finally [: ] pprized the Treasury that ths seals were vanishing, that the
lessees had taken at least 50,000 under-aged seals (skin weight 4 lbs.,
not 7) in order to fill their last quota. He proposed a shorter killing
season, prohibition of pup killings, and a quota of 50,000 for the next
season.
North American Commercial Company 1890-1910. Despite Goff's report,
before it could be fully investigated, the Secretary of the Treasury
awarded another 20-year lease this time to the North American Commercial
Company, set a maximum quota for the first year of 60,000 subsequent
quotas to be determined by the herds' condition. The rent was increased
to $60,000 [: ] a year; the tax per skin to $9.62 1/2; the commitments to
the sealers were not only increased but were defined most precisely to
insure a decent standard of living. Immediately after the award, ex–
Treasury agent Tingle accused President Liebes of being part-owner of a
pelagic schooner. The charge, if proven, would automatically have cancelled
the lease. But he quickly retracted his charge (nearly 20 years later
Elliot exhumed that proof) and became the company's general superintendent.
In May, Tingle and other employees of the ne s w lessees arrived and took
possession of the buildings they had bought from their predecessors.

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

Elliott, too returned. Shocked at Goff's news, he had helped persuade
Congress to authorize a special investigation and had secured the assign–
ment. He was hor r ified by the "wreck and ruin" of the almost empty seal
beaches, grass growing where thousands of seals had massed in 1874.
According to his seal count system, only a "scant" fifth of the herd re–
mained. He did not believe sea hunters alone could have caused such havoc.
The records showed the number of drives to fill the quota had been increas–
ing year after year. He concluded that many young seals, rejected several
times and forced to repeat the exhausting parade to the killing field again
and again, must have been damaged by their excessive exercise. Because
the Russians had described excess bulls as spiritless, he assumed such
constantly driven seals became impotent.
By July 20th after the most thorough searching for bachelors and
continual drives, the lessees had secured only a third of their quota,
21,000. Agent Goff backed up by his own assistants and Elliott, ordered
sealing stopped. Tingle blustered and threatened but he could not brow–
beat the agents who felt safe from recriminatory measures as long as the
fur seal authority agreed with them.
Elliott returned to make his recommendations, and ceased to be a
seal authority [: ] in governmental circles. For he urged the immediate
stoppage of land killing to demonstrate American interest in seals, not
sealing profits for one company, and a joint Anglo-American commission
to visit the islands quickly. The British had only to see the ruined
herd, he felt, and they would be willing to regulate sea hunting. If
necessary, he suggested, a mutual division of sealing proceeds might
induce other nations to refrain from pelagic sealing. His castigations
of the former lessees for over-driving and killing small seals were most

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

bitter. His quixotic proposal to stop commercial sealing angered the
lessees and their political friends, including senators who owned stock
in the company. Elliott's report was characterized as unsound by Secre–
tary of the Treasury Foster and filed away unprinted. Goff was trans–
ferred to a Canadian customs post. His assistants changed their opinions.
To explain the suppression of Elliott's report, a rumor spread that, still
loyal to or in the pay of the former lessees, he was trying to ruin their
successors. Others gossiped that he had been hired by pelagic interests
to stop land killing so the sea catch would be more profitable. Because
his report was suppressed, these rumors could not be disproved.
From 1891-1894 only 7,500 seals were killed while the problems were
being investigated. By 1894 there was a new sight on the seal beaches,
broad black bands of infant seals that had died from starvation.
From then on year after year the pelagic catch of Pribilof seals
was much larger than the land catch. The second lessees took only 342,651
seals during their franchise. The pelagic catch for those 20 years was
621,989. The government netted $2,920,877.15 from rent and taxes. The
sum was meaningless because the fur seal had cost millions of dollars
during that period. The total expense of commissions, trials, patrol
boats, extra support to the sealers, indemnities for confiscated boats,
etc., have never been collected from the budgets of so many government
agencies: Congress, Departments of Treasury, State, Commerce, etc.,
which dealt with one or more of the fur seals' problems.
Russian Sealskin Company, 1892-1902. In 1892, Russia gave a ten-year
contract for Commander and Robben sealskins to the Russian Sealskin Company
but retained complete management of sealing and government of the sealers.
The government agent set the quota each year, personally directed the

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

driving, killing, skinning, salting (the company's agent supervised the
salting of skins only), bundling, and delivering to the ship. The govern–
ment maintained the doctors and teachers; each community supported its
dependent members from its sealing income. The company paid the regular
high merchants' fees for the privilege of providing all store goods but
only articles the government agent ordered. Otherwise the company's
sole local function was to inspect salting and receive skins on board
its ship. It paid 10.38 gold rubles per skin to the government, 1 1/2
rubles apiece to the sealers, depositing at least half the money for the
expected quota in advance each spring. It could reject skins but, since
the government would then sell them to rival traders, it never exercised
that privilege. Governed by a single authority, life was easier for the
Commander sealers than for their distant American Pribilof cousins. Their
sealing pay was higher: 75¢ a skin, the American only 50¢. Copper Islanders
made xtra money from sea otters; Bering villagers had salmon to dry and
export. Nearly all skins were shipped to London and sold as the Copper
Island catch. But complete statistics are available only until 1896, by
which time the Russian Sealskin Company had taken from the Commanders
149,857 skins and almost 3,000 more confiscated from raiders within
territorial waters.
Raids had been frequent but more numerous on Robben Island. The
results of an attempt to seal there in 1891 were so poor that raiders
skipped the next season; they took 1,500, 1,000, and 1,300 skins respec–
tively, the next three years. As soon as the company's ship or the
Government patrol left in the fall, raiders braved autumn storms for a
few skins. Returning unexpectedly in 1891, the company's steamer surprised
and seized two steamers from Yokohama, flying the British flag. A crew

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

left there in October 1895 by the British Saipan was arrested by the patrol
and, after a trial, put to work on the streets of Vladivostok. The patrol
ship Yakut's officers were involved in a scandal in 1893-94. There was a
court martial; the captain resigned; an officer committed suicide. Although
their offense was not made public, it was believed they had hauled salt from
Vladivostok for foreign dealers. Raiders took at least 53,000 male and
female seals from Robben Island between 1878 and 1895 while the authorized
companies got only 33,319 males.
Pelagic Sealing . Primitive pelagic sealing did not harm the northern
herds. But sea hunting had jeopardized the seals' very existence less than
15 years after civilized man, with more deadly weapons and longer, faster trans–
port, and turned to this ancient method of hunting. At first only the
Pribilof herd was endangered.
The first known pelagic hunter, a Canadian trader, Hugh Mackay, carried
three Indian hunters and their canoes to the seal routes off Vancouver
Island on his sloop Ino in 1868, a trip so profitable that he built a
special schooner, the Favorite , to carry more the next season. Contemporary
pioneers — even Vancouver Indians operated their own schooners — found
the new hunting too profitable to publicize and attract competition. Only
sixteen schooners are known to have been operating regularly off the North–
west Coast before 1880. Simultaneously, captains who had raided Pribilof
rookeries on their way home from unsuccessful whaling trips, between 1872
and 1876, sought means to enter the increasingly profitable sealskin business
since the American monopoly system barred them from land hunting. Until
1880 the average take, known in London as the Northwest Catch (bullet and
spear holes were conspicuous proof of origin) was generally less than 6,000

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

pelts. Then it began to soar rapidly. Within a few years pelagic seal–
ing became a heavily capitalized maritime industry, employing many seamen
and hunters and supporting shipbuilding and outfitting firms in Victoria
and other Canadian ports used by American and Canadian schooners because
of the ample labor supply and nearness to seal routes. A large fleet
(34 schooners in 1883, at least 119 in 1889) pursued seals from Cape
Flattery in February to and around the Pribilof Islands in summer. Before
the new sealing was generally recognized as a distinct industry, it had
become a vital part of Canadian economy, a source of profit to many Ameri–
cans.
Bering Sea Controversy
As long as sealing was confined to the Pacific Ocean, no American
official interference was contemplated. Warned by the San Francisco Customs
Office in 1872 that ships in South Pacific ports were outfitting to seal near
the Pribilofs, Secretary of the Treasury Boutwell replied that Alaskan seals
could not lawfully be protected by a marine league beyond American shores.
Ten years later when so many schooners were hunting in the Bering Sea,
Acting Secretary French decided that, according to the wording of the Alaska
Treaty of Purchase, all waters north of the Aleutian Chain and east of 163° W.
longitude were American. This concept of the eastern Bering as a mare clausum ,
a private American sea, inspired precipitate action four years later. With–
out prohibiting American citizens, without knowing how serious the consequence
of sea hunting had been, and without prior discussion with Canada or Great
Britain, the Revenue Cutter Corwin arrested an American and three Canadian
schooners and convoyed them to Sitka for trial. In his summary, Judge Dawson
(after consultation with the Attorney General and Alaska Commercial Company's
lawyers) defined the eastern Bering as American waters and charged the jury

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

to find the hunters guilty if convinced they had sealed within that area.
The sealers were sentenced and fined, the ships condemned for public sale.
At once the shocked Canadians asked England to stop American inter–
ference with one of their valuable industries. While Secretary of State
Bayard's replies to England's sharp notes postponed explanations until he
received the court transcript and the Corwin's report, Cleveland's Cabinet,
disagreeing over the validity of or ability to uphold a claim to Bering Sea
sovereignty, studied means to protect the seals without inviting war with
England. No constructive course was discovered. Instead, without explana–
tion or apology, the prisoners and their boats were freed by Presidential
proclamation the following February. Lord Salisbury asked [: n ] if the release
meant an end to interference. American replies were noncommittal. Then
three more Canadian schooners were seized.
During the ensuing correspondence, England cited John Adams' successful
thwarting of the Czar's attempts to exclude other nations' trading and
hunting ships from the North Pacific in the early 1820's. Embarrassed by
this precedent, Bayard, still without openly claiming Bering Sea jurisdiction,
argued it was not a branch of the Pacific but a separate sea, and contended
that Canadian sealing was contra bonos mores , harmful to American interests.
Approaching the problem more reasonably, in the late summer of 1888, Bayard
invited England, Japan, Russia, and other European countries to discuss
regulating marine exploitation. Disinterested European powers declined.
Lord Salisbury's prompt acceptance and request for American proposals sur–
prised Bayard, who had none to offer until the next February. His major
proposition was a closed season from April to November above 50° N. latitude
and from the Pacific coast to 180° W. longitude, during which signatories

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

would restrain their subjects from sealing. So cooperative was Salisbury,
suggesting only one minor change, that formal ratification seemed certain.
Confidentially, to avoid domestic controversy during a presidential cam–
paign year, Bayard promised to molest no sealers until agreement was reached.
Arguing that previous orders to the Bering Patrol had not been cancelled,
the Canadians rejected Salisbury's suggestions to stop their sealers by
refusing clearance papers. Before Bayard could convince them cutters
could not [: ] act without new orders, Canadians were sealing in the Bering-
without interference. Only Americans were seized that season.
Salisbury's reasonable attitude was largely due to several thousand
London fur-workers's dependence upon sealskins; their steady pay then, in
the midst of a serious depression was 3 a week. But domestic interest had
to be sacrificed for colonial good will. Under Canadian pressure, Salisbury
abruptly terminated negotiations in July and refused to reopen them. Bayard
as hastily broke off the talks with Russia and Japan. To induce England to
resume talks, Bayard offered, if owners posted bonds, to halt the sale of
condemned schooners, but arousing only fresh argument over the amount of
the bonds. Meanwhile the schooners deteriorated and the expense of guard–
ing them increased. Discussions were awkward because Canadian ownership
was nominal; the rightful owners were American. Although not unlawful
for Americans to seal (only luckless ones caught hunting in the Bering Sea
were punished), those avoiding public criticism by registering their
schooners as Canadian we [: ] e reluctant to confess ownership. The schooners
were sold, March 1889.
Convinced that Salisbury dare not oppose Canadian opinion, Ministew
Phelps advised the State Department either to let the Pribilof herd be

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

exterminated or to arrest sealers until heavy losses forced the Canadians
to accept hunting restrictions. Fur seals born on American soil, he argued,
were American property, even if they spent two-thirds of their lives at
sea, and were entitled to the same protection as American citizens. More
and more American opinion swung to this viewpoint. Congress reviewed the
problem in 1888-89, and, after bitter argument over Bering Sea sovereignty,
rushed through an inocuously worded bill the last night of Cleveland's
term, ordering a presidential proclamation to restrain hunting in the
Bering Sea within the "domain of the United States." The vague phrase
increased British suspicion, already roused by the false rumor that Presi–
dent Cleveland had unlawfully signed the bill in the early hours of
Inaugural Sunday.
"Domain" was defined only when the cutters Rush and Bear began to
board schooners in the Bearing Sea, seizing sealskins, hunting gear, some–
times the salt, and ordering the vessels to Sitka. Naturally captains
disobeyed but, without gear, could not hunt and had to sail home. Canadians
celebrated the first arrivals' courageous defiance before realizing the new
tactic effectively stopped sealing without troublesome litigation and
expense. Actually an expedient adopted by captains too shorthanded to
spare officers for convoy duty, it frightened the sealers more than out–
right seizures. Angry Canadians at public meetings called for war against
the aggressor, castigated Lord Salisbury, and demanded England seek arbi–
tration to prove their right to kill seals at sea. Hastily Sir Julian
Pauncefo o te asked the new Secretary of State, Mr. Baline, to invite
discussions. Welcoming negotiation, Blaine delined to [: ] initiate talks.
He asked for an immediate suspension of sealing before another summer's

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

hunting made discussion pointless. During delays caused by Canadian insist–
ence that the United States as the aggressor state her case first, and her
stubborn demand for equal representation with England at conferences, seal–
ing was not interrupted.
Persuaded by Salisbury, the Canadians finally yielded and proposed
closed sessions in the Bering Sea during May and June and October and
November (when the fewest seals were there) and no hunting within ten
miles of the Pribilof Islands at any time, a perfect hunting schedule for
them, which Blaine rejected. Finally, before submitting to arbitration it
was gareed that a joint commission should investigate seal habits. More
bitter notes were exchanged before this was settled and specific disagree–
ments defined for arbitration. Confident their status as seal owner would
be recognized by impartial judges and anxious for a quick settlement, the
United States reluctantly permitted England to submit four points about
Bering Sea sovereignty as the major dispute and, dependent upon their
settlement, the contention that Pribilof seals were either American property
or entitled to American protection at sea because of birth on American soil.
A modus vivendi for one year, extended for two more, was adopted June 18,
1891, prohibiting Pribilof sealing except 7,500 for Aleut food, and hunting
in the Bering east of 163° W. longitude; this was amended later to provide
that the loser would compensate the victor for sealing losses during the
interruption. While land killing was suspended hunters took more seals in
the Pacific, and for the first time they invaded the western Bering and
Okhotsk seas and brought back 10,119 pelts of Asiatic seals.
Bering Sea Commission
Sir George Smyth Baden-Powell and Professor George Mercer Dawson, a

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

Canadian geologist, were appointed by the British, and Professor Thomas Cowin
Mendenhall and Dr. Clinton Hart Merriman by the United States, to inves–
tigate the Pribilof herd. After a season's study, the Commission met in
Washington in February 1892, and agreed in a 1 1/2-page joint report only
that the Pribilof herd faced extermination, not upon the agents of destruc–
tion. Until the Commission's findings and Elliott's 1890 report were
available, American officials had regarded pelagic hunting as a potential
threat of extinction, completely unaware that its consequences were calami–
tous long before Agent Goff's revelation arrived. Fear of future losses
and resentment that unauthorized persons dared lay hands on national
property had prompted the 1886 seizures. Regarding the true status, the
officials had been misled by market figures and Treasury agents' reports.
According to the former, the total pelagic catch 1870-1889 was only 277,858,
less than three years's land take. During the same period the lessees had
taken 1,997,357, and Pribilof agents had reported yearly that the herd was
either flourishing or increasing. No one had realized that most seals killed
at sea were not recovered. The hunters themselves estimated that from 6 to
10 sanks for each one they hauled aboard, although Canadians soon denied
admitting such proportions and insisted the rate was one to one. The
consequences of killing females had been ignored. Hunters, even if willing
to spare cows, could not distinguish age or sex of swimming targets. Chief
victims of spring Pacific hunting were always gravid females; each death
a loss of two seals. In summer, killing a gravid nursing mother in the
Bering meant a triple loss because the nursling starved on its beach.
Only Pribilof observers could have reported the loss of over a million
seals. Both Treasury and Alaska Commercial Company agents had concealed the

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

constantly increasing difficulty of filling quotas which island records
showed plainly. St. Paul's quota, generally 75,000 (some years more) had
been taken in 35 drives to 69 hauling grounds from 1877 to 1881. Each
year thereafter more drives were made until in 1889, 74 drives to 100
hauling grounds and the killing of 50,000 under-sized males had been
necessary. Aleut efforts to point out the danger in 1879 had been dis–
counted by Agent Otis because company employees disagreed and the Aleuts'
explanation of the seals' disappearance, the smell of a new refining plant,
seemed ridiculous. The Alaska Commercial Company, keenly aware of the
truth, because it bought so many skins at one post that they were labeled
the Sand Point Catch, had persuaded Otis to try to prohibit pup killings.
Unable to present a reasonable excuse for denying the sealers' their
favorite food without exposing seal losses, the lessees' dropped the
matter when the Aleuts protested vigorously.
The long separate report of the British Commissioners emphasized
such official negligence and the 129,530 pups (inevitably many were females)
killed for food 7% of the land catch for the two decades. It contained
affidavits that extra skins had been taken and that the Aleuts had traded
skins with visitors illegally. The British had requested — and received —
Elliott's suppressed report. They cited his indictment of the lessees'
sealing practices, ignored his condemnation of pelagic sealing.
Unable to assemble equally devastating proof of pelagic consequences,
the American Commissioners could only deny evidence of malpractice and
neglect and insist sea hunting alone had ruined the herd. American pre–
tensions of concern for their seals had been seriously weakened also by
the award of another twenty-year lease. American diplomatic efforts were

EA-Alaska:History. Martin: Fur Seal

continually handicapped by the need to protect the monopoly's interests.
Officials were badgered by the lessees's political friends. Exploitation
of an alleged national resource for the benefit of one company was impossible
to defend, especially when the evidence of previous neglect and mishandling
was so patent.
Public speeches by all commissioners, in language less restrained than
their reports, kindled fresh animosity on both sides of the Atlantic. So
bitter were relations between the disputing nations that eminent international
objective observers as well as prominent men in both countries advocated
extermination of the fur seal to remove the cause of such enmity. Neither
side heeded proposals for sharing proceeds of properly conducted land kill–
ing advanced by Thomas Huxley, Elliott, and others. In this tense atmos–
phere, the seal case went to arbitration.
Paris Award
The Arbitration Tribunal (7 judges - 2 each for the disputants —
three neutrals, French, Italian, Swedish) opened final hearings in Paris
April 12, 1893, and delivered their Award in favor of Great Britain July 8th.
The court ruled the Bering Sea was not a mare clausum. Beyond territorial
limits, nations must adhere to international maritime laws. The judges
agreed with the British that the seals were ferae naturae and as wild
animals could not be considered private property. After hearing the
evidence of American neglect and poor stewardship, they ruled the United
States had no special rights as protector of the fur seal. To prevent
extermination they set up hunting regulations, subject to review every five
years, based on the inadequate, contradictory testimony they had heard.

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

They prohibited nets, explosives, and firearms, except shotguns, in the
Pacific during the open season. Sealers were to obtain a special shipping
license, use only sailing vessels, fly a special flag, hire only certified
marksmen as hunters, and keep daily records. Copies of each season's
hunting records were to be exchanged by the governments each fall to serve
as the basis for revision of unsatisfactory regulations. Aboriginal seal–
ing rights were safeguarded. But the fur seals were delivered over to
their sea hunters by judges unaware that bachelor and gravid, nursing cows
swam as far as two hundred miles from their islands to feed in summer.
The closed season began too late to protect migrating seals, especially
the gravid cows. During the first season under the Award, sealers enjoyed
their highest Pribilof catch, 61,838 recovered seals. England, unmoved
by the excessive total, would not discuss revision.
Western Bering Regulations. The newly-attacked western herds lacked even
the pretense of protection. When Canadian and American sealers sailed west
into Japanese and Russian seal island waters during the modus vivendi, they
brought back 33,736 skins in 1892 and 67,593 in 1893. Russia proclaimed
a thirty-mile safety zone around Robben and the Commander Islands and a
ten-mile zone from her Siberian coast. Within those limits (contrary to
international law as both the United States and England protested when their
nationals were caught sealing) Russian patrols arrested sealers. By separate
treaties with the United States and England in 1893-94, in exchange for
their recognition of these zones, Russia restricted her yearly land kill
to 30,000 - a quota soon made farcial as, in 1894, the Asiatic pelagic
catch soared to 93,149. The next season it dropped to 42,806, the next
to 29,162, and continued to fall. Neither nation gave Russia permission
to halt their nationals, so far beyond the reach of their own patrol boats.

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

Japan, resenting the destruction of her Kuril rookeries within a few
seasons, encouraged foreigners to use her flag and ports, and subsidized
her own subjects to participate in sealing, but she frequently evinced a
willingness to desist as soon as other nations would. Meanwhile Japan–
ese registered vessels, not subject to the Award, hunted unmolested
within the sixty-mile zone.
Indemnities . Having lost the decision at the Paris Tribunal, the
United States had to compensate Canadian sealers for their alleged losses
during the modus vivendi and, after prolonged negotiation, settled all
Canadian claims in 1898 for $473,151.26.
In 1903 at the Hague, Russia was ordered to pay the United States
$50,000 for the arrest and seizure of the James Hamilton Lewis in 1891
after the crew had landed and killed seals. A co-owner of the vessel
was Isaac Liebes, President of the North American Commercial Company.
Post Award Negotiations. A second Anglo-American commission studied
the fur seals in the summers of 1896 and 1897 and unanimously condemned
pelagic sealing as the sole force destroying all the Pacific herds.
Dr. David Starr Jordan directed a most comprehensive investigation of
the Alaskan and Asiatic seals, their islands and pelagic sealing. D'Arcy
Thompson's objective and thorough [: ] tudies definitely located the Pribilof
seals' summer feeding grounds from 150 to over 200 miles from the islands.
The Commander seal' feeding grounds, while not so well mapped, proved
much closer to their islands — Bering Island animals going to the north–
east, Copper Island seals heading south. The proof that the 60-mile zone
was a convenience to hunters, a death trap to gravid, nursing cows, led
to no changes. British scientific opinion had changed but Canadian
political emotion and economic interests (her fleet in 1897 was 41 vessels

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

carrying 149 hunting boats and 288 canoes) had not and she continued to
adhere to the Award. Consequently England refused to attend an International
Fur Seal Conference in Washington in 1897 where delegates from Japan, Russia,
and the United States agreed to suspend the next year's sealing while formu–
lating better conservation regulations, if, before that date, Great Britain
agreed to join them. England would not. Another attempt the next year to
settle seal problems along with the Alaskan Boundary claim and other issues
also failed despite an American offer to buy the Canadian pelagic industry
outright. December 29, 1897, the United States finally forbade her citizens
to seal north of 35° N. latitude, including the Bering and Okhotsk seas,
prohibited the import of or passage through her borders of pelagic skins
in any condition (raw or in garments). At Jordan;s suggestion, cows were
branded to spoil the market value of their fur.
Nothing deterred the sealers; neither the new prohibitions nor the
increasing difficulty of finding seals. Americans continued to hunt under
the Japanese flag. As the yearly catches diminished, impatient sealers
raided both the Commanders and Pribilofs more frequently. Many were cap–
tured, imprisoned, and fined; some were wounded and killed in pitched battles,
but still reckless raiders tried to fill their salt bins on land. On the
Commanders they even stole provisions. As lawlessness increased, fewer
Indian and even fewer white hunters could be persuaded to sign on. Most
ships, after 1890, carried a white captain, sometimes officers, and a
Japanese crew. This was the era of the Sea Wolf as Jack London, who had
shipped on sealing schooner, described it — the closing chapter of a unique
and wasteful fur hunting.

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

Domestic Seal Controversy
Few attempts to stop pelagic sealing by reparations and international
cooperation were made after 1898, but in the United States various Con–
gressional Committees (House Ways and Means, House Committee on Expendi–
tures in the Department of Commerce and Labor, Senate Committee on Terri–
tories and Conservation of National Resources) held almost continuous
hearings until 1914 on fur seal issues. These were instigated wholly or
in part by Henry W. Elliott, who accused the North American Commercial
Company of illegal sealing practices to get even their small quotas —
of killing females and yearlings and deliberately leaving enough blubber
on small skins to have the market weights appear those of older seals.
He advocated a zapusk to permit the Pribilof herd to recuperate and then,
after such demonstration of real concern for the seals - not merely for
the proceeds of sealing — to open negotiations to outlaw pelagic sealing.
He also proposed that the fur seals should be managed solely by the govern–
ment. On August 4, 1903, a party of Senators, headed by Senator Dillingham,
saw three females killed in a drive and doubted the contention of local
officials that the cows' presence was an unusual accident due to the
lateness of the season. Powerful political opponents continued to argue
Elliott's opinions were only crafty strategems designed to turn Pribilof seals
loose for the pelagic hunters' benefit. Violent abuse did not halt his
efforts. In 1909, Dr. William Hornaday, Director of the New York Zoologi–
cal Society, an official of the Camp Fire Club of America, entered the
fight on Elliott's side. The Camp Fire Club backed their efforts. The
conservationists won their long battle April 21, 1910, when Congress

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

ended the leasing system and transferred management of the Pribilof
Islands — the seal herd and the Aleut sealers — to the Bureau of Fisheries,
Department of Commerce and Labor, which had replaced the Treasury Department
as overseers of commercial sealing July 1, 1903.
The North Pacific Sealing Convention
Simultaneously all resistance to outlawing pelagic sealing in exchange
for sharing proceeds of land killing, collapsed. Several years of turmoil,
with reckless Japanese hunters seized within the three-mile limit, arrested
or killed on the seal islands, had intensified Japan's willingness to co–
operate. Canada's fleet was only 5 vessels although her subjects and
American citizens still owned shares in Japanese registered vessels. For
some seasons, sea hunting could still profit a few sealers. The history
of the antarctic seal, hunted mercilessly until the lone survivor of many
subspecies was killed, might have become the northern fur seal's history
also. But the Canadian public, like the American and British, wearied
by endless wrangling over seal profits and sickened by accounts of seal
foetuses ripped alive and crying from their dead mothers (Kipling's White
Seal
and Jordan's Matka helped outlaw sealing) had turned against pelagic
hunting as a business.
The Convention to protect the fur seal (and sea otter) of the North
Pacific was signed by Russia, Japan, Great Britain, and the United States
on July 7, 1911, and became effectual Dec. 15, 1911, for a period of 15
years. If no signatory withdrew then, it was to continue indefinitely
until one party gave a year's notice of intention to abrogate it. Signa–
tories promised to restrain their subjects from sealing anywhere in the
Pacific north of 30° N. latitude, to refuse aid to pelagic ships, and to

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

import no sealskins not certified as lawfully land-killed furs. Aboriginal
sealing rights were confirmed. Each nation owning seal islands was to
regulate land killing according to its own judgment. When the Kuril herd
totaled 6,500 animals, Japan could begin commercial killing and pay 10%
of the [: ] annual proceeds to the other three signatories. Russia, when
h [: ] r Commander herd reached 18,000, and the United States were to deliver
15% of their proceeds to Canada and Japan. In the event of future seal
residence on her territory, Canada pledges to share 10% with each of the
others. To facilitate the immediate recompenses of their ousted sealers,
the United States immediately paid and advance of $20,000 on future sealing
proceeds to Canada and Japan, and agreed upon means of compensation in case
land killing was suspended.
Sealing Holiday. Nine days after the Bureau of Fisheries took over
the Pribilof Islands in 1910, [: ] Commissioner Bowers announced resumption of
commercial killing, a shock to Hornaday and other conservationists, who,
accepting Secretary Nagel's implied promise to give the herd a recupera–
tive period, had not insisted such respite to be made mandatory. Although
there was to be no sealing on the western islands until their herds had
recuperated, American officials denied that a respite would benefit the
130,000 remaining Pribilof seals. They contended it was their duty to
take advantage of high market prices. Unknown to the conservationists,
Secretary of Commerce and Labor Nagel and representatives of the St. Louis
furrier, Funsten Brothers & Company, were discussing means to permit the
latter to process and market seal furs as an agent for the government.
Hearings began again before the House Committee on Expenditures
in the Department of Commerce and Labor, as the conservationists rushed

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

to the seals' rescue. August 15, 1912, Congress reprieved the seals for
five years, allowing small kills for Aleut food; denominated Pribilof
Aleuts as the only legal seal killers; appropriated funds to replace the
sealing bonus. None of the dire consequences redicted by Fisheries'
officials at the hearings happened. No nation, angered by postponement
of sealing proceeds, withdrew from the Convention. No pel ga ag ic sealers
were tempted to hunt the larger number of seals at sea. Young seals were
not killed on the rookeries because more bulls fought more viciously to
share the same number of cows. At the holiday's close in 1917, the herd
had increased to 468,692. The Committee (hearings continued until 1914)
also asked the Attorney General to prosecute the North American Commercial
Company for malpractice, including the illegal killing of 128,000 year–
lings, but the prosecution was blocked by the unwillingness of the
Department of Commerce and Labor to cooperate.
Sealing On Land After 1917
Before sealing was resumed, in 1917, the Bureau of Fisheries gave
Funsten Bros, & Co. a 5-year contract to process and auction all Pribilof
sealskins. The Funsten Company had tried to buy the famous and secret
dye formula belonging to George Rice and Company, one of the two leading
London fur seal dressers. Failing, it hired specialized Rice employees
and brought them to St. Louis. Rice sued the United States and Funsten
Bros. & Co. for loss of their vital business secret and was awarded
damages by an American court. Forbidden by the court to use the Rice
formula, Funsten Brothers submitted one which was approved by the Bureau
of Standards. In 1921, Funsten Brothers was re-incorporated as the Fouke

EA-Alaska; History. Martin: Fur Seal

Fur Company which has continued to function as the dresser and auctioneer
of sealskins to date.
Beginning in 1917 and continuing until 1926, Elliott instigated another
series of Congressional hearings on bills to require the measurement of
sealskins on the killing field, and an annual enumeration, to make mandatory
the sale of raw, salted skins, and to prohibit any form of monopoly in
connection with any phase of handling seals. He feared the revival of the
leasing system he had helped to outlaw. He also contended that the govern–
ment would derive more income from the sale of raw skins directly to
furriers than by paying an agent to dress and market them as finished
furs. As proof he compared the sales figures for raw skins before the
seal holiday and dressed ones sold in the early 1920's. Net profit on
12,940 salted skins, taken 1910, sold in London, 1911, was $280,000; on
12,000 pelts taken 1911, sold 1912, was $270,194. At two sales conducted
by the Fouke Fur Company in October, 1922, and May, 1923, a total of
35,313 skins grossed $1,106,000 but netted the government only $260,000.
Elliott's age and ill health, the retirement and death of Congressmen
concerned about the nation's fur seal industry, interrupted the hearings
in 1926; they were not resumed.
The Pribilof seal census for 1946 topped 3 1/2 million, irrefutable
proof that regulated [: ] land killing was superior to indiscriminate
pelagic sealing and of the value of the North Pacific Sealing Convention.
From 1912-1914 (inclusive) the sealskin take was 1,036,337; the gross
sales price $24,276,386.56. For slightly more than a million skins
taken after 1918, and for Pribilof fox furs, seal meal and oil, the govern–
ment's net return amounted to $2,364,336.12. The small net income is due
to reductions for convention obligations, maintenance of the sealing plant

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

and compensation to sealers (averaging 60¢ a skin), some rations and
social services (the most moderate portion of expense), and contractual
obligation to the Fouke Fur Company.
Except for two objections, Canada was satisfied with the Convention
terms, receiving up to 1941, $1,757,411.34, almost half as much as the
United States for the same period. In 1925, she criticized the Fouke
Fur St. Louis sales but her dissatisfaction was eased in 1933 when she
began to take skins instead of cash and to sell them, sometimes in London
and sometimes at the St. Louis auctions. The recent increase of her share
of skins had induced her to promote a domestic sealskin industry and
market.
In the early 1930's Canadian fishing interests accused Alaskan seals
of destroying a million dollars worth of salmon daily during spring migra–
tions. Research performed by Canadian scientists disproved their claim
in 1935.
Sealing on the western islands had not been so successful. The
Commander her's recuperation was affected by many circumstances — diffi–
culty of guarding seals at sea in the less traveled waters, the heavy
annual levy on the herd passing close inshore to the Kuril Islands by
Japanese as well as Ainu hunters, and the civil unrest after 1917, just
when the herd's five year zapusk ended. That year, although the herd was
below the requisite 18,000, 800 seals were killed. The next four years
Siberian warfare prevented regular supervision by a single authority.
Although the Aleut sealers were armed and vigilant, and Japanese gonboats
visited the region and arrested some raiders, Japanese boachers constantly
sealed offshore and raided the beaches. Some fur trading is alleged to

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

have taken place between the sealers, out off from regular supplies, and
visiting seamen, including Japanese patrol boat crews. Lacking specific
data, American fisheries experts guessed the Commander had might have
reached the 100,000 mark by 1941. Even if true, since the herd at its
peak was half the size of the Pribilof herd, the increase would be extremely
low. Powerless to check migration casualties, the Soviet Union was forced
into the role of a theoretical supporter of the Sealing Convention, unable
to declare sealskin dividends to the other signatories.
Upon slightly more valid evidence American officials also speculated
that while most Kuril rookeries remained empty, the Robben Island herd
was nearly 50,000 strong in 1941. In 1918 Japan made a small token
delivery under the Convention which increased each year from 56 to about
300 a year, a total of 3,387. Her revenue from the Pribilof herd under
the convention, before she abrogated it, amounted to almost a million dollars.
Soviet inquiries in 1946 about improved sealing methods directed to
the authorized American seal agencies, government and private, indicated
renewed interest in sealing, but whether inspired only by the improved
condition of the Commander Island herd or by the postwar return of her
former seal islands, is not yet certain.
Sea Protection Today . After 29 years of amnesty for the seals at sea,
Japan served notice on October 23, 1942 of withdrawal from the Convention
on the ground that Pribilof seals were destroying her fisheries. Although
aware of Japan's political manipulation of fisheries on other occasions,
the State Department asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to investigate.
Congress appropriated funds to study routes and feeding habits of migrating
seals. Scientists branded and tagged 10,000 St. Paul seals in 1941 for

EA-Alaska: History. Martin: Fur Seal

identification in other localities. Before the Black Douglas could begin
pursuit of traveling seals, the year expired and Japan announced that
pelagic sealing under government auspices would begin shortly. But the
aggressive intent behind her withdrawal was demonstrated six weeks later at
Pearl Harbor. It was 1942 before the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture and
Forestry authorized a company to begin sealing for furs for soldiers'
clothing, oil, and meat for food.
In December, 1942, the United States and Canada ratified a provisional
treaty, adhering as closely as possible to the original Convention but
increasing Canada's share of Pribilof proceeds to 20%. It provided that
in an emergency (such as Japan's seizure of the Pribilof Islands) the two
governments, after consultation, might re-enter pelagic sealing, either
together or separately or by sharing skins of separate ventures. Fortunately
no crisis forced them to resort to sea hunting, and the Pribilof herd sur–
vived the war without damage.
Fredericka I. Martin

The Alaska Commercial Company (1868-1940)

EA- Alaska: History
(Alyce Finnie)

THE ALASKA COMMERCIAL COMPANY (1868-1940)

On October 18, 1867, a Baltimore merchant named Hayward M. Hutchinson
stepped ashore from the steamer John L. Stephens at Sitka, Alaska. This was
the day of the transfer of ownership of Alaska from Russia to the United States,
and when the ceremony was over Hutchinson had already purchased from the Russian
American Company, through Prince Maksutouff, its general manager, its ships,
houses, and all its property on the Pribilof Islands.
Returning to San Francisco, Hutchinson brought about the organization
of a group of men and the necessary capital to develop this enterprise. The
Alaska Commercial Company was formed on January 31, 1868, and comprised: Louis
Sloss, president; Lewis Gerstle, vice president; Simon Greenewald, Hayward M.
Hutchinson, Albert Boscowitz, William Kohl, A. Wasserman, Gustave Niebaum, and
John F. Miller.
In 1870 the company obtained a twenty-year lease from the United States,
giving it the exclusive right to take seals on the Pribilof Islands. It also
took over the assets of the original company, Hutchinson, Kohl & Company, for
$1,729,000. These assets consisted of merchandise in Sitka, Kodiak, Karluk,
Nushagak, St. Paul Island, St. George Island, Unalaska, Unga, and other stations,
$200,000; furs on hand in different places, $870,000; buildings, $80,000; wharves,
boats and fixtures, $20,000; coal and salt, $34,000; goodwill, $300,000; steamers
Alexander , Constantine and Fideliter , $195,000; fishing vessels and barges,
$30,000. With this equipment, stores and other property, and the government

EA-Alaska: History. Finnie: The Alaska Commercial Company

lease, the Alaska Commercial Company was ready for business.
The lease provided for taking 100,000 seals a year, and the payment as
follows: annual rental, $55,000; tax on each seal taken, $2.62-1/2; tax on seal oil,
55 cents a gallon (none was ever taken). The lease also provided that the com–
pany should maintain a school for natives eight months in the year; supply the
natives employed in their operations 25,000 dried salmon, 60 cords of firewood,
salt and barrels for preserving seal meat. The natives were paid $350 to $450
a year and worked under their chiefs. Widows and orphans of the native commun–
ity were supported at the expense of the company, and free medical care was
given. These conditions gave to the Pribilof natives advantages unequalled by
any other native group employed commercially at that time.
On February 18, 1871, Hutchinson, Kohl & Company, an affiliate of the
Alaska Commercial Company. leased the Behring, Copper and Robben islands of the
Komandorekie group for 20 years, with the exclusive privilege of taking fur
seals. For this they were to pay the Russian Government 5,000 r o ubles annually,
and an additional payment of two roubles for every skin taken, while a payment
of 50 copecks in silver per skin had to be made to the natives. The number of
skins to be taken was fixed by the local Russian authorities, but a minimum of
1,000 skins per annum was established. A Russian vessel carrying the Russian
flag had to take the skins away from the islands. At least one Russian partner
was necessary and his name had to be included in the firm. This eventually be–
came the Hutchinson, Kohl, Philippeus (the St. Petersburg representative) & Co.,
and the Alaska Commercial Company became its sole and exclusive agent.
The Alaska Commercial Company operated the following trading posts and
stations in Alaska and the Yukon Territory: Afognak, Akutan, Andreafsky, Anvik,
Atka, Attu, Belkofsky, Bergman, Bethel, Battles, Biorka, Chandalar, Chernofsky,

EA-Alaska: History. Finnie: The Alaska Commercial Company

Chignik, Circle City, Cleary, Coldfoot, Dawson, Dikoman, Douglae, Dutch Harbor,
Eagle City, Fairbanks, Fort Hamlin, Fort Yukon, Forty Mile, Georgetown, Golorin,
Hamilton, Holy Cross, Hope, Hot Springs, Homer, Iditarod, Iliamna, Katniak,
Kaltag, Karluk, Kashega, Katmai, Kenai, Khik, Kodiak, Kokrines, Kotlik, Kuekokwim
River, Kusiloff, Nakushan, Marshal, McGrath, Morzhovoi, Nelson Island, Nenana,
Nome, Nulato, Nushagak, Nutchik, Fort Graham, Rampart, Red Wing, Richardson,
Ruby, Russian Mission, St. George Island, St. Michael, St. Paul Island, Sanak,
Seldovia, Selkirk, Sixty Mile, Sunrise, Susitna, Takotna, Talkeetna, Tanana,
Togiak, Turnagain Arm, Tyoonik, Umnak, Unalakleet, Unalaska, Unga, Uyak, Wise–
man, Woenezineki, Yukon River.
The Company operated posts in Siberia as well, at: Petropavlovsk, Bhering
Island, Copper Island, Robben Island, and Vladivostok.
In 1901 competition among the various business organizations along the
Yukon Valley became so severe that profit had become impossible. Therefore,
a merger was formed consisting of the Alaska Commercial Company, the Internation–
al Mercantile Marine Company, and the Alaska Goldfields, Ltd. These were the
principal companies doing both a mercantile and transportation business on the
Yukon. The only large company not included was the North American Trading and
Transportation Company, controlled by the Cudahy family of Chicago.
Two corporations were organized, the Northern Commercial Company, to conduct
all mercantile activities; and the Northern Navigation Company, which was pure–
ly a transportation company. The assets, including land, merchandise and floating
property, were turned over to these new corporations. Each had the same incor–
porators; Leon Sloss, Isaac Liebes, George H. Higbee and William Thomas, all of
San Francisco.
Subsequently the Northern Navigation Company was sold to the White Pass &
Yukon Railway; and the Northern Commercial Company was sold to former employees,
headed by Volney Richmond, and known as the Northern Commercial Company of Seattle.
Alyce Finnie

H. Liebes Company

EA-Alaska: History
(Alyce Finnie)

H. LIEBES COMPANY

H. Liebes Company was founded in San Francisco by Herman Liebes, who
came there from Germany in 1863. San Francisco was still booming because of
gold mining, and the town was jammed with men wanting to spend their newly–
found wealth. Herman Liebes met Charles Behlow, also from Germany, and, both
having had some experience with the fur business, they opened a little fur
store 12 x 15 feet in size, the front part of which was occupied by a restaur–
ant. The little fur business prospered, and everyone in San Francisco wanted
a sealskin coat and muff.
This naturally led the Liebes interests to Alaska. They had an interest
in the Alaska Commercial Company, which had a license as exclusive agent for
the collection of the fur seals on the Pribilof Islands. This lease lasted for
twenty years, from 1870 to 1890.
Besides the seal interests, H. Liebes entered the trading field in Alaska,
outfitting ships in San Francisco, grub-staking fur trappers and Eskimos through–
out Alaska, and shipping back quantities of furs, the first pick of which were
manufactured in San Francisco, the balance being sold to the central fur markets
such as Leipzig and London.
In 1893, H. Liebes formed the Cape Smyth Whaling and Trading Company in
partnership with Charles Brower, who had established himself at Barrow, Alaska.
This company dealt mostly in trading for whalebone until 1908, when the revolu–
tion in sorsets and the disappearance of buggy whips made whalebone obsolete,

EA-Alaska: History. Finnie: H. Liebes Company

so the Cape Smyth Whaling and Trading Company turned to fur exclusively. In
the early decades of the century the company's post at Barrow was host to the
many exploration parties that made the Arctic Coast of North America familiar
to the rest of the world. Among them were Stefansson, Amundsen, Rasmussen,
and Wilkins.
In 1923 the company sent north its largest trading vessel to date, the
schooner Arctic of 570 tons, the first commercial vessel to carry radio and
an operator in Alaskan waters.
H. Liebes retained an interest in the Cape Smyth Whaling and Trading
Company until 1933, when it was taken over by Arnold Liebes until 1943, when
he in turn sold out to Charles Brower.
In 1898, when gold was struck in the Klondike, H. Liebes Company establish–
ed a number of trading stations in the Yukon and Alaska, beginning with Dawson
and extending through 7,000 miles of the Yukon River and its tributaries. These
trading posts were owned and operated by a corporation called the Alaska Explor–
ation Company, a British corporation with headquarters in San Francisco. The
Alaska Exploration Company was finally merged with the Northern Commercial
Company.
Alyce Finnie

The Alaska Boundary

EA-Alaska: History
(D. M. LeBourdais)

THE ALASKA BOUNDARY

The Alaska Panhandle is a long, narrow coastal strip entirely exclud–
ing Canada's Yukon Territory and the Province of British Columbia north
of 54° 40′ north latitude from access to the sea. The presence of this
barrier still causes some irritation and a considerable amount of incon–
venience to Canadians; but before the boundary between Canadian and
American territory was finally determined in 1903, it constituted a situa–
tion that might at any time have burst into open violence. Indeed, it is
probable that only the long tradition of peace between the two countries
prevented the Alaska Boundary controversy from resulting in armed conflict;
certainly, feeling was strong on both sides. Even yet, many Canadians have
not quite reconciled themselves to what they believe to have been an unfair
deal when the final settlement was made.
The first European to sight the shores of Alaska was Vitus Bering, a
Dane in the employ of Russia, who, on July 17, 1741, caught sight of the
volcanic cone of Mount St. Elias, rising more than 19,000 feet above the
sea. He had previously — 1728 — sailed through the strait that now bears
his name, but, because of fog, had failed to see any land to the eastward.
Bering died in 1741 on one of the Shumagin Islands; and late in the same
year, Cherikoff, his second-in-command, made the first landfall in South–
eastern Alaska, when he landed at Sitka, on Baranof Island. Out of these

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

voyages grow the Russian fur trade along the Alaskan coast and Russian
claims to territory in North America.
In 1778, Captain James Cook explored the coast of Northwest America
from about 44° north latitude to Prince William Sound and the inlet in
latitude 60° now named after him, surveying considerable portions of it,
and taking formal possession in the name of the British sovereign. Follow–
ing Cook came other British navigators — Hanna in 1785, Portlock and
Dixon in 1786, Meares in 1787, 1788 and 1789, and Vancouver in 1793 and
1794. These expeditions, as well as the overland journey of Alexander
Mackenzie in 1793 and the activities of other fur traders, established
the British claim to the coast of Northwest America.
Of all the explorers, none has left such an enduring mark on the maps
as Captain George Vancouver, R.N. Following two years' work surveying the
southern part of the coast along what is now the State of Washington and
the Province of British Columbia, he continued northward in 1793, survey–
ing the channels and indentations as far as 56° 31′ north latitude; while
the following year he proceeded as far as Cook's Inlet, which he proved
beyond doubt could not be part of a possible northwest passage. No signs
of Russian occupation were seen on the mainland south of Prince William Sound.
In 1799, Emperor Paul I of Russia granted a monopoly for twenty years
to the Russian American Company of the trade, hunting and fishing on all
the coastal territory claimed by Russia in Northwest America, setting as
the southern limit thereof the 55th parallel of north latitude, and on
"the chain of islands extending from Kamschatka to the north, to America
and southward to Japan." Like his royal cousin Charles II of England, who
in 1670 granted similar rights including, in addition, actual ownership

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

of the country, over an area the nature and extent of which was not only
unknown to him but to anyone else, Paul was not averse to making a present
to court favorites of territory to which his title, to say the least, was
quite shadowy.
Paul's successor, Alexander I, followed this on September 4, 1831, with
an imperial ukase renewing the monopoly of the Russian American Company,
and for its greater protection prohibited foreign vessels from approaching
the coast of Northwest America nearer than 100 Italian miles, and at the same
time extended the southern limit of Russian territorial claims to 51° north
latitude. Ships of several countries, especially British and America, had
continued to trade along the coast despite the monopoly of the Russian
American Company. They sold their furs in the Port of Canton, China, from
which Russians, whose only alternative was the long overland journey to
St. Petersburg and Moscow, were excluded.
Although no government had seen fit to challenge the right of the Russian
government to grant a monopoly to the Russian American Company, the ukase of
1821 was taken more seriously: the British government considered it an attempt
to interfere with the right of its subjects to roam the seas in pursuit of
trade wherever they wished to go; it would in effect convert the North Pacific
into Russian territorial waters. British diplomatic machinery was immediately
set in motion; and the United States government also took action.
The United States and Russia came to an agreement on April 5-17, 1824.
Articles III and IV of the treaty are the only ones having a direct bearing
on the matter under discussion:

EA-Alaska: History. LeBroudais: Alaska Boundary

ARTICLE III
It is moreover agreed that, hereafter, there shall not be formed
by the citizens of the United States, any establishment upon the
northwest coast of America, nor in any of the islands adjacent,
to the north of fifty-four degrees forty minutes of north lati–
tude; and that, in the same manner, there shall be none formed
by Russian subjects, or under the authority of Russia, south of
the said parallel.
ARTICLE IV
It is nevertheless, understood that during a term of ten years,
counting from the signature of the present convention, the ships
of both powers, or which belong to their citizens or subjects,
respectively, may reciprocally frequent, without any hindrance
whatever, the interior seas, gulfs, harbors, and creeks, upon
the coast mentioned in the preceding article for the purpose of
fishing and trading with the natives of the country.
The Russians did very well by the treaty. For the first time they
secured official recognition from one of the countries possibly concerned
of their claim to the coast as far south as 54° 40′ north latitude, a
limit which they were later to get Great Britain likewise to accept; but,
also, by agreeing to a period of ten years beyond which her citizens
could not trade in territorial waters claimed by Russia, the United States
acknowledged the right of Russia to place a check upon the activities of
American citizens.
George Canning, who at the time was British Foreign Secretary, was most
anxious to have it definitely understood that Great Britain could not recog–
nize Russia's claim to jurisdiction over any part of the ocean; but he was
also interested in providing a face-saving formula for the Emperor. Conse–
quently, in the negotiations, emphasis was laid upon the need for arriving
at a determination of the territorial limits of the respective countries on
the Northwest coast of America. The negotiations continued from November 1821
to February 16-28, 1925, varying from time to time as to details and descrip–
tive terms, but holding fairly closely to one central idea — that Russia

EA-Alaska; History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

should have a coastal strip beginning at 54° 40′ north latitude.
So concerned were the British negotiators to have the freedom of the seas
established that they failed to press their claim to territory far beyond
the southern limit stipulated by the Russians, thus nullifying the work of
Cook, Vancouver, and other British navigators. It is true that maps of the
region varied considerably — although it is evident that Vancouver's
charts were considerably relied upon — and there was a great dearth of
information in high diplomatic circles both in London and St. Petersburg
concerning the locale. Furthermore, there was probably a greater dearth
of appreciation on the part, at least, of the British negotiators, of the
value, then or in the future, of the lands whose boundaries they were deter–
mining. Count Nesselrode, the Russian Foreign Minister, and M. de Poletica,
formerly Russian Ambassador at Washington, were the principal Russian nego–
tiators; while the British case was presented by Sir Charles Bagot, British
Ambassador at St. Petersburg, and his successor, Mr. (later Sir) Stratford
Canning. Having made what at this distance would seem to be an unnecessary
concession in the acceptance of 54° 40′ north latitude as Russia's southern
limit, including all of Vancouver's Prince of Wales Island, these two
diplomats carried on the most protracted negotiations, producing in the
end a treaty the terms of which were so indefinite as to result later in
serious differences of opinion.
This treaty, establishing, as was intended, for all time the boundary
between Alaska and British North America, merely added to the uncertainties
that had previously existed. These uncertainties, however, did not become
evident for many years, since no development or settlement was undertaken
on the mainland by either country. By the time the question had become a

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

crucial one, Russia had disappeared from the picture and the United States
had taken her place through the purchase of Alaska in 1867.
In 1867, The Dominion of Canada had just been formed, consisting of
four provinces along the eastern seaboard, extending westward to the Great
Lakes. The vast area beyond the lakes to the Rocky Mountains was still the
hunting and trading preserve of the Hudson's Bay Company, under charter from
King Charles II in 1670, while the company also held under lease trading
rights (to expire in 1859) beyond the mountains to the western limits of
British territory. Not till 1869, was the Hudson 's Bay 's Company's title
finally extinguished. British territory on the Pacific Coast, adjoining
the newly-purchased American Territory of Alaska, had become the Colony of
British Columbia in 1859, but did not become a province of Canada till 1871.
After its formation, the new province was mcuh more concerned with the
question of a railway to Eastern Canada than with its northwestern boundary;
but from time to time consideration was given to the need for arriving at
some definite understanding with the United States in that regard.
For the Province of British Columbia to make the necessary representations
to the United States required a long and round-about process. The matter must
in the first instance be taken up with the appropriate department of the
federal government at Ottawa; from there it would go to the Colonial Office
in London, to be passed on to the Foreign Office, which would discuss the
matter with the appropriate American officials. The reply would then follow a
reverse course, probably reaching the British Columbia government long after
some sort of tentative working arrangement with local American officials in
Alaska had become imperative. Nevertheless, the Canadian government made
repeated requests to have the boundary determined, but Congress as steadily

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

neglected to take the necessary action.
Occasions for conflict occurred in the early eighteen sixties, after
richer placer diggings had been discovered in the Caribou district of British
Columbia, attracting gold seekers from all over Canada, the United States,
and many places beyond the seas. These had overflowed into Omenica and
Cassiar. In the latter region, the nearest way in and out was by way of the
Stikine River, which reached the ocean through territory in dispute. When no
outstanding gold strike was made in Assiar, the number of prospectors dwindled
and with them went most of the tension over the location of the boundary. But
the undecided boundary was a source of embarrassment for other reasons.
On September 6, 1876, one Peter Martin, alias Bricktop, was convicted
at Laketown, in the Cassiar district of British Columbia, on two indictments,
one for an escape from custody, the other for an assault on an officer in
the execution of his duty, and sentenced to three months in prison and a
further term of one year. Since there was no suitable prison in the district,
the convicted man was taken in a canoe down the Stikine River to board ship
at Wrangel, Alaska, for transport to the jail at Victoria, B.C. there to
complete his sentence. On the way down river, the party landed for lunch and
while there Martin made a break for liberty, claiming that he was now in
United States territory and could not be legally held. He was at length
overpowered, but in the attempt to recapture him he assaulted one of the
constables, and at Victoria was tried on this further charge and given an
additional sentence of twenty-one months.
In due course, through diplomatic channels, a request came from the
United States government for Martin's release on the ground that he had been
illegally transported threugh United States territory and that the second

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

alleged offense had been comitted on United States territory and thus beyond
the jurisdiction of Canadian courts. The case was the subject of diplomatic
correspondence, back and forth, for more than a year, and in the end Martin
was released.
Article VI of the Treaty of 1825 provided that "the subjects of His
Britannic Majesty from whatever quarter they may arrive, whether from the
ocean or from the Interior of the Continent, shall forever enjoy the right
of navigating freely and without hindrance whatever, all the rivers, and
streams which in their course to the Pa [: ] ific Ocean, may cross the line of
demarcation upon the line of coast described in Article III of the present
Convention." But the rights granted under that article were impaired by
the Treaty of Washington in 1871 which stipulated only the right of navigation
for commercial purposes. The Canadian government therefore did not have the
right to transport prisoners down the Stikine River.
In 1897, gold was discovered on the Klondike River, a tributary of the
Yukon River, and thousands of prospectors and others flocked into the region.
The nearest and most convenient point of entry was by way of Skagway, an
American community at the head of Lynn Canal, in the area which, at the
ciplomatic level at least, was still in dispute between the Canadian and
United States governments. As a matter of convenience, however, and without
prejudice to existing claims, the boundary was tentatively established at the
summits of the Chilkoot and White passes, the principal routes into Yukon
Territory.
It now became imperative that the location of the Alaska Boundary be
definitely determined. Under the terms of a protocal signed May 30, 1898,
Great Britain and the United States appointed a commission, commonly referred
to as the High Joint Commission, which sat in Washington and Quebec from

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

July of that year until the following February without accomplishing
anything. The British commissioners proposed, however, that the matter
be submitted to three arbitrators, one appointed by each country and the
third appointed by these two, following the procedure adopted a few years
earlier in the Venezuela arbitration proceedings. The American commissioners
refused, suggesting in turn a board of "six impartial jurists of repute,"
three to be appointed by each country. This the British commissioners
declined for reasons that were, so many Canadians claim, amply justified
by subsequent events. The High Joint Commission then tossed the question
back to the diplomatic level.
Two years later the United States again suggested to Great Britain
that the Alaska boundary question be submitted to a commission of "six
impartial jurists of repute;" but the British government, while agreeing
to six arbitrators, objected to the even number on each side, and suggested
in turn that at least one of the arbitrators on each side should not be a
citizens or subject of the country concerned, or of any state or power
directly or indirectly under the protection of the United States or Great
Britain. However, finally, much against the inclination of the Canadian
government, a treaty was signed on January 24, 1903, between Great Britain
and the United States under which the interpretation of the Ango-Russian
treaty of 1825 should be left to a commission consisting of "six impartial
jurists of repute," three to be appointed by each country.
One reason given for the obduracy of the United States was that it
was claimed the Senate would refuse to ratify the treaty if, from the
composition of the commission, it should appear that there was any chance
at all that the United States case should not be upheld. As evidence of

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

of this, Secretary of State John Hay complained to the British Ambassador,
Sir Michael Herbert, that thirteen treaties signed by him had been turned
down by the Senate:
Of course, if the commissioners were indeed "impartial jurists," there
could be no saying as to what the verdict might be: certainly it could not
be guaranteed in advance. The difficulty was overcome by the appointment
by the President of commissioners who, except for one, were not jurists of
repute, none of whom was impartial. The commissioners were: Elihu Root,
Secretary for War, and Senators Henry Cabot Lodge, of Massachusetts, and
George Turner of Washington. Secretary Root was a member of the government
whose case he was asked to try; Senator Lodge was well known to be an uncom–
promising advocate of the undiminished American claim; while Senator Turner
represented the one state in the Union which, more than any other, claims
a direct interest in Alaskan affairs. Consequently, satisfied that the
United States case was in good hands, the Senate ratified the treaty without
further delay.
The Canadian people and government were indignant at the appointments.
Sir Wilfred Laurier, then Premier, strongly urged the British government
not to proceed with the case, but the latter was anxious to maintain
amicable relations with the United States and, of course, was less concerned
than the Canadian government. Lord Landsdown, the British Foreign Secretary
did, however, facetiously suggest that perhaps the British government might
retaliate by appointing, on its side, three County Court Judges!
Fi Finally the Canadian government grudgingly accepted the situation
and nominated Lord Alverstone, Lord Chief-Justice of England , Mr. Justice
Armour, of the Supreme Court of Canada, and Sir Louis Jette, Lieutenant–

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

Governor of Quebec, a former judge of the Superior Court in that province,
thus fulfilling the stipulation that they should be jurists of repute.
Before the Commission met, Mr. Justice Armour died and his place was taken
by Mr. (later Sir) B. Aylesworth, an outstanding member of the Ontario bar,
later to become Minister of Justice for Canada.
The commissioners were to act as judges. They were to decide upon
the evidence presented to them just what, in their opinion, was the intention
of the framers of the Anglo-Russian treaty as far as it was possible to do so.
They were not to set aside the wording [: of a ] of the treaty and substitute
something else. They were not given the power to compromise; and the conven–
tion under which they were appointed provided that each member should "sub–
scribe an oath that he will impartially consider the arguments and evidence
presented to the tribunal and will decide thereupon according to his true
judgment."
The pertinent sections of the treaty which the tribunal was called upon
to interpret were as follows (translation from the original French):
"III. The line of demarcation between the possessions of the
High Contracting Parties, upon the coast of the continent, and the
islands of America to the northwest, shall be drawn in the manner
following:
"Commencing from the southernmost point of the island called
Prince of Wales Island, which point lies in the parallel of 54° 40′
north latitude, and between the 131st and the 133d degrees of west
longitude (meridian of Greenwich), the said line shall ascend to
the north along the channel called Portland Channel, as far as the
point of the continent where it strikes the 56th degree of north
latitude; from the last-mentioned point, the line of demarcation
shall follow the summit of the mountains ( la crete des montagnes )
situated parallel to the coast, as far as the point of intersection
of the 141st degree of west longitude (of the same meridian); and,
finally, from the said point of intersection, the said meridian line
of the 141st degree, in its prolongation as far as the Frozen Ocean,
shall form the limit between the Russian and British possessions on
the continent of America to the northwest.
"IV. With reference to the line of demarcation laid down in the
preceding article, it is understood:

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

"First: That the Island called Prince of Wales Island shall
belong wholly to Russia.
"Second: That wherever the summit of the mountains ( la crete
des montagnes
) which extend in a direction parallel to the coast,
from the 56th degree of north latitude to the point of intersection
of the 141st degree of west longitude, shall prove to be at the
distance of more than ten marine leagues from the ocean, the limit
between the British possessions and the line of coast which is to
belong to Russia, as above mentioned, shall be formed by a line
parallel to the windings of the coast, and shall never exceed the
distance of ten marine leagues therefrom."
The section of the coast of North America covered by the treaty just
quoted is one of the most deeply indented in the world, and is studded with
islands. The wording of the treaty left several points open to question.
Did the boundary line out across the inlets, or did it follow the shorelines
round their heads? In a region of jumbled mountain masses, which ones were
"the mountains situated parallel to the coast?" What was meant by coast
and what by ocean ? What was meant by Portland Channel , and where did the
line run with respect to the four islands at the entrance to Portland Channel?
The convention setting up the tribunal submitted seven questions
for the decision of the commissioners:
1. What is intended as the point of commencement of the line?
2. What channel is the Portland Channel?
3. What course should the line take from the point of commencement to
the entrance to Portland Channel?
4. To what point on the 56th parallel is the line to be drawn from the
head of Portland Channel, and what course should it follow between these points?
5. In extending the line of demarcation northward from said point on
the parallel of the 56th degree of north latitude, following the crest of
the mountains situated parallel to the coast until its intersection with the
141st degree of longitude west of Greenwich, subject to the conditions that
if such line should anywhere exceed the distance of 10 marine leagues from
the ocean, then the boundary between the Russian and British territory should
be formed by a line parallel to the sinuosities of the coast and distance
therefrom not more than 10 marine leagues, was it the intention and meaning
of the said Convention of 1825 that there should remain in the exclusive

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

possession of Russia a continuous fringe, or strip, of coast on the mainland
not exceeding 10 marine leagues in width, separating the British possessions
from the bays, ports, inlets, havens, and waters of the ocean, and extending
from the said point on the 56th degree of latitude north to a point where such
line of demarcation should intersect the 141st degree of longitude west of the
meridian of Greenwich?
6. If the foregoing question should be answered in the negative and in
the event of the summit of such mountains proving to be in places more than
10 marine leagues from the coast should the width of the lisiere which was to
belong to Russia be measured (1) from the mainland coast of the ocean, strictly
so-called, along the line perpendicular thereto, or (2) was it the intention
and meaning of the said Convention that where the mainland coast is indented
by deep inlets forming part of the territorial waters of Russia, the width of the
lisiere was to be measured ( a ) from the line of the general direction of the
mainland coast, or ( b ) from the line separating the waters of the ocean from
the territorial waters of Russia, or ( c ) from the heads of the aforesaid inlets?
7. What, if any exist, are the mountains referred to as situated parallel
to the coast, which mountains, when within 10 marine leagues from the coast, are
declared to form the eastern boundary?
The tribunal sat in London, at the Foreign Office, from September 3 to
October 20, 1903. On the opening day, on motion of Mr. Root, Lord Alverstone
was elected president and thenceforth presided over the sessions. Reginald
Tower, British Minister-Resident at Munich and Stuttgart, was appointed secretary,
with J. R. Carter and Joseph Pope as associate secretary; while John W. Foster
and Clifford Sifton were recognized as official agents, respectively, of the
United States and Great Britain. Representing the United States as counsel,
were: Messrs. Jacob M. Dickinson, David T. Watson, Hannis Taylor and Chandler
P. Anderson; and representing Great Britain: Sir Robert Finlay, Sir Edward
Carson, Messrs. S.A.T. Rowlatt and J. A. Simon of the English bar; and Me [: ] srs.
C. Robinson, F. C. Wade, L. P. Duff and A. Geoffrion of the Canadian bar.
Arguments of counsel began on September 15 and continued till October
8. Both sides agreed concerning the first question: that the point of commence–
ment of the line was the southernmost point of Prince of Wales Island. With
respect to the second question, they were in agreement that the Portland

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

Channel of the treaty was the Portland Canal shown on Vancouver's and sub–
sequent maps; but they differed as to whether, at the entrance to the Canal,
the line ran to the north or to the south of the four islands — Kannaghunut,
Sitklan, Wales and Pearse — which separate the outlets of Portland Canal and
Observatory Inlet from each other. The British contention was that the line
should pass to the north of all four islands and proceed directly up that
part of the Canal which was not under dispute; while the United States held
that the line should pass to the south of the islands, along what the British
called the entrance to Observatory Inlet, passing at an oblique angle between
Pearse Island and that part of the mainland separating Portland Canal from
Observatory Inlet, which terminates in Ramsden Point, thence up that part of
Portland Canal upon which both were in agreement.
Question four was difficult to answer because the head of Portland Canal
falls some distance short of the 56th parallel and consequently could not
form a conjunction with it. The United States argued that "the line should
be drawn from the head of Portland Channel northeasterly along the same course
on which the said line touches the mainland at the head of Portland Channel
until it intersects the 56th parallel of north latitude." The British, how–
ever, held "that the point in the 56th parallel to which the line should be
drawn is the point from which it is possible to continue the line along the
crest of the mountains situated parallel to the coast, and, accordingly, that the
point at which the 56th parallel and the crest of the coast mountains coincide
is the point in question." The British admitted the difficulty of "bridging
the gap" between the head of the Canal and the point where the mountains
parallel to the coast intersected the 56th parallel, and submitted that the
most equitable means of doing so was to draw the line "direct on the arc of
a great circle to that point of coincidence." This suggestion was made, of

EA-Alaska; History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

course, with the reservation that where the mountains were farther than
10 marine leagues from the coast, the boundary line would be formed by a
line parallel to the windings of the coast, from which it should never be
more distant (though it might be less) than 10 marine leagues.
With respect to the fifth question, the United States held that it
was the intention and meaning of the treaty of 1825 that there should remain
in the exclusive possession of Russia a continuous fringe or strip of coast on
the mainland not exceeding ten marine leagues in width, "separating the British
possessions from the bays, ports, inlets, havens and waters of the ocean, and
extending from the said point on the 56th degree of north latitude to a point
where such line of demarcation should intersect the 141st degree of longitude
west of the meridian of Greenwich." The British contended that "the negotiators,
though they were consciously ignorant of the true position of the mountains,
had before them in Vancouver's map a representation of the continental shore
line which they knew had been explored by him." They insisted that it was as
patent to them as it is to us today that it would be impossible to trace a line
following at 10 marine leagues the convolutions of the line forming the edge
of salt water. On the other hand, it was as patent to them as it is to us
to-day that to draw a line following the waving character of the general coast,
neglecting the deep and narrow inlets, would be a perfectly feasible and
business-like arrangement."
With respect to the sixth question, the United States contended that
if the fifth question were answered, as requested, in the affirmative, no
answer was needed to this one; but in the event of a negative answer, the
United States then requested that the decision of the tribunal be "that in
the event of the summit of such mountains proving to be more than 10 marine

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

leagues from the coast, the width of the lisiere , which was to belong to
Russia, should not be measured from the mainland coast of the ocean, strictly
so-called, along a line perpendicular thereto; but that it was the intention
and meaning of the said convention that where the mainland coast is indented
by deep inlets, forming part of the territorial waters of Russia, the width
of the lisiere was to be measured from the heads of such inlets." On the
other hand, the British contended that the line would "be measured from the
line of the general direction of the mainland coast." It would "not be
measured from the heads of the inlets of the kind referred to . . . "
In dealing with the seventh question, the United States argued that
"such mountains do not exist within ten marine leagues from the coast." The
British contention was "that there are such mountains, and that they are to
be found fronting the general coast of the mainland along the whole coast
from latitude 56 degrees northwards."
The wording of the Treaty of 1825 made it possible for different persons
to interpret its meaning in different ways, depending largely upon individual
points of view. Did mountains parallel to the coast mean that the line
should run along the crest of the mountains nearest to the coast, as the
British contended, or did it mean that such mountains must constitute a
definite chain extending parallel to the sinuosities of the coast, as the
American contended? The British produced a chart showing a line running
from mountain peak to mountain peak, following the general trend of the
coast, cutting across the deepest inlets. The Americans, on their part,
contended that, although the whole region was a jumble of mountains, no
well-defined range ran parallel to the coast; and they submitted a chart
showing the boundary line at a uniform distance of 10 marine leagues from

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

the shore, measuring from the heads of all inlets. They also produced
charts tending to show that many of the peaks in the British line were
in fact ends of ranges or spurs running at right-angles to the coast, in
some cases foothills of higher mountains lying farther inland.
Since the language of the treaty was so susceptible of double inter–
pretation, it became necessary to establish, if possible, what had been in
the minds of the negotiators. But this left much room for honest difference
of opinion. The negotiations had extended over four years, having been begun
by one British Ambassador and concluded by another, and demands on both sides
had shifted back and forth from time to time. Positions at one time tena–
ciously held had been withdrawn and others substituted. Sometimes the
differences hinged upon variations in the accepted meaning of a term or terms.
At one time the British had insisted that the line should run along the base
of the mountains lying parallel to the coast. When the Russians objected
that they might in some places be shut off from the land entirely, the British
reluctantly agreed to shift the line to the crest of the mountains; but
Secretary Canning explained to his Ambassador that in a previous attempt
to define a boundary by a line of mountains, it had later been found that
the mountains upon which reliance had been placed did not exist. In none
of the correspondence was the question concerning whether the line should
cross the inlets or go round them explicitly dealth with.
The commissioners were asked, further, to take into consideration the
subsequent actions of the parties to determine if possible whether such
action might have some bearing on what had been in their minds at the time
the convention was drawn. Here, too, there was much conflicting evidence.
Previous to the transfer to the United States, so little had been done by

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

either side in the way of use or occupation that not much could be deduced
as to the treaty-makers' intentions. One thing was evident; the Russians
had not made much actual use of the strip of territory for which they had
so tenaciously negotiated in 1825, although they were on the alert for any
trespass upon it. An incident of this nature occurred in 1834 which even–
tually led to the leasing of a section of the lisiere by the Russian
American Company to the Hudson's Bay Company.
An expedition of the latter which sought to reach British territory
back of the lisiere by way of the Stikine River, was forcibly prevented
from doing so by officers of the Russian American Company, and following
the negotiations which resulted from the Hudson's Bay Company's demand for
damages, an agreement was made in 1839 between the two companies under
which, for a period of ten years, a portion of the southern part of the
coastal strip was leased to the Hudson's Bay Company. The limits of the
strip were not defined otherwise than "the Coast exclusive of the Islands,
and the Interior Country belonging to His Majesty the Emperor of Russia,
situated between Cape Spencer forming the North West Headland of the
entrance of Cross Sound and Latitude 54° 40′ or thereabouts, say the
whole mainland coast and Interior Country belonging to Russia together
with the free navigation and trade of the Waters of that Coast, and Interior
Country situated to the Southward and Eastward of a supposed line to be
drawn from the said Cape Spencer to Mount Fair Weather with the sole and
entire trade or commerce thereof." The consideration was the delivery to
the Russian American Company by the Hudson's Bay Company annually of two
thousand seasoned land otter skins taken on the western side of the Rock t y
Mountains, and the further undertaking on the part of the Hudson's Bay

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

Company to sell, at a stipulated price, an additional two thousand land otter
skins taken west side of the Rockies and three thousand from the eastern side
of the mountains, as well as an undertaking to supply certain quantities of
wheat, also at tipulated prices. This agreement was renewed from time to
time up to the cession of Alaska by Russia to the United States. It is
worthy of note that during the Crimean War, when Russia and Great Britain
were at war in Europe, amicable relations subsisted upon the Pacific Coast
between the two companies.
After the sale to the United States, there was much to indicate that
many representatives of the United States, although not all of them, held
the view that the coastal strip consisted simply of an area thirty-five
miles in width, measured from the heads of the inlets. This, the British
argued, did not necessarily have any bearing upon what had been in the nego–
tiators' minds forty-odd years before the Americans took over from Russia.
The task of the commissioners was to determine, if they could, out of the
maze of conflicting evidence and argument, what the negotiators had intended.
If they could not do so they were not expected to render a decision. The
matter would then revert to the field of diplomacy and a new treaty would
have to be drafted — unless one of the parties should resort to a show of
force, which in the past has more often than not been the deciding factor
in such disputes.
Indeed, there is evidence that the United States had already considered
the possibility of such a solution. Previous to the sitting of the
tribunal, President Theodore Roosevelt had dispatched troops to Alaska
and in an undated letter to Secretary of State John Hay had declared:
"... if there is a disagreement, I wish it distinctly understood, not
only that there will be no arbitration of the matter, but that in my
message to Congress I shall take a position which will prevent any

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

possibility of arbitration hereafter, a position which will render
it necessary for Congress to give me the authority to run the line
as we claim it, by our own people, without any further regard to
the attitude of England and Canada."
He would follow the precedent set by Grover Cleveland in the Venezuela affair.
There is little reason to doubt that the commissioners appointed by
him were fully aware of his attitude; and there is evidence that the British
Government, if not Lord Alverstone, was also aware of what might happen if
the tribunal did not succeed in finding a verdict favorable to the United States.
On October 2, while the tribunal was in session, Mr. Henry White, Secretary
of the United States Embassy in London, under instructions from the Presi–
dent, paid a visit to the Prime Minister of England, Mr. Arthur Balfour, at
his home at Whittingehame, and made quite clear to him the President's de–
termination to have a favorable decision. His report on this visit was made
in a letter to Mr. Hay:
"... I left no doubt upon his mind as to the importance of a settle–
ment nor as to the result of a failure to agree.
..........
"I explained to him very fully the position of Alverstone, and
intimated that I thought it would be very desirable that he should
be told that the Government, without in any way wishing to influence
him, was very anxious for a decision.
..........
"Whenever things seemed to be approaching a deadlock — as they
did once or twice during the past week — I only attributed it to
Lord Alverstone's very natural and proper desire to do the best and
make all the fight possible for the Canadians on the question of the
width of the lisiere, and I never for a moment doubted that the under–
currents of diplomacy, and the force and quiet working of which you
and I can appreciate, would bring about a decision in the end."
When the decision of the tribunal was handed down on October 20, it
became evident that "the undercurrents of diplomacy" had not failed to operate
in the manner anticipated by Mr. Secretary White. With respect to the principal

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

question: whether the line should cut across the inlets or follow round them
into the hinterland, Lord Alverstone supported the United States contention,
the two Canadian members dissenting. With respect to the question concern–
ing the mountains parallel to the coast, the majority report effected a
compromise. After declaring that it was impossible to discern any mountains
parallel to the coast as contempated by the treaty, the United States com–
missioners, with the concurrence of Lord Alverstone, selected arbitrarily
certain mountain peaks farther inland than those the Canadians claimed were
meant by the treaty-makers, and nearer the coast than the thirty-five-mile
line argued for in the American brief. On the question of the outlet of
Portland Channel, the decision was also a compromise: of the four islands
in dispute the majority aware gave Pearse and Wales to Canada and Sitklan
and Kannaghunut to the United States.
Mr. Aylesworth and Sir Louis Jette, the two Canadians, refused to sign
the report. This was not an exhibition of poor sportsmanship. While natur–
ally sympathetic toward the Canadian case, they insisted that they had been
prepared to act as judges and to arrive, as nearly as possible, at a decision
based upon what they believed had been in the minds of the framers of the
treaty. In connection with whether the line out across the inlets or followed
the shore round their heads, Lord Alverstone had given his verdict in favor
of the United States contention; it was a complete acceptance of the United
States case, without modification or compromise. While they differed from
him, they did not accuse him of acting in bad faith; they admitted that it
was possible to arrive at such a conclusion from the evidence; he had exer–
cised his right as a judge and had found for one of the two points of view
presented to him.

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

But when it came to the second and third major points, the situation
was different. Here, they contended, he had not acted as a judge, he had
joined with the United States representatives arbitrarily to render a ver–
dict that supported neither case. The majority award not only ignored
the arguments of both sides, but also ignored the wording of the treaty.
There might have been some doubt, as, of course there was, concerning which
of the two contentions was more nearly in line with the spirit of the treaty;
but it was clear that the award with respect to these questions was tantamount
to a re-writing of the treaty itself. Furthermore, Lord Alverstone had at
first concurred with them as to the ownership of the islands and later,
presumably after pressure had been put upon him, changed his opinion. In
doing so, however, he had merely altered a few words in his previously-
written memorandum, reversing its conclusion while leaving as before the
arguments leading up to the conclusions. Consequently, the document, while
in the main supporting the British case, unaccountably ended in favor of the
position which its main arguments did not support. Moreover, the Canadian
commissioners were not told of their colleague's change of opinion till the
vote on the question was taken, when to their dismay, he cast the deciding
vote against the position supported by the memorandum he had himself written,
a copy of which was in their possession.
With respect to the mountains parallel to the coast, the majority
award established a new line following the crests of mountains other than
those advocated by the British, even though the United States had contended
that no such mountains existed. The British case had claimed that, unless
evidence was produced to the contrary, the judges were in duty bound to
accept either one contention or the other. No evidence whatever was adduced

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

by either side in favor of the line as established by the award, and no
explanation of the reasons for establishing it were given. If, as in the
case of the heads of the inlets, Lord Alverstone had supported the United
States contention, his action, while not concurred in by his colleagues,
could not have been attacked by them on the ground that it did not represent
his true opinion. They felt, however, that they were justified in their view
that he had been induced to compromise with the Americans in connection with
this question, although they had no direct evidence, by the fact that the
question of the ownership of the islands did have factual evidence.
The treaty stated that "Commencing from the southernmost point of the
island called Prince of Wales Island, ... the said line shall ascend to the
north along the channel called Portland Channel ..." From that one would
gather that the line ran from the southernmost tip of Prince of Wales Island
to the mouth of Portland Channel, thence up that channel to its intersection
with the 56th parallel. That was clear enough, aside from the fact that the
channel did not quite reach the parallel; but the dispute arose over what
constituted the entrance to the channel. The upper part of Portland Canal,
as it is properly called, and Observatory Inlet, parallel to it to the eastward,
both lead from a wide gulf or bay, the greater part of which is occupied
by the four islands already referred to, lying end to end.
Since the channel lying north of the islands was directly in line with
that part of Portland Canal about which there was no dispute, and for other
reasons, the British contention was that the boundary ran north of all four
and that they all belonged to Canada. The United States contention was
that the entrance to Portland Canal was that body of water termed by the
British the entrance to Observatory Inlet, and that just after passing

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

Pearse Island it turned sharply at right angles to pass between that island
and Rasden Point and thence into what both sides agreed was the upper part
of Portland Canal, thus giving the United States all four islands. Here
again were two quite distinct claims, either of which might be argued
as a fair interpretation of the treaty, but there was no evidence at all
to support the conclusion of the majority that the line turned abruptly
from one channel to the other between Wales and Sitklan islands.
In his dissenting opinion, Mr. Aylesworth wrote: "The whole truth of
the matter is simply this: that as to Portland Channel, the case of Great
Britain before us has been demonstrated to be unanswerable. By unanimous
vote of this Tribunal it has been so declared. It was therefore impossible
to avoid awarding to Great Britain the islands called Pearse and Wales. It
is equally impossible upon any intelligible principle for a Tribunal, acting
judicially, to hold that Portland Channel, immediately on passing Wales
Island, makes a turn at right angles to itself, and runs between the islands
of Wales and Sitklan. The sole question presented to us for decision on
this branch of the case was whether the Portland Channel of the Treaty lay
north of the four islands or south of the four, and until today it has been
uniformly admitted by everybody that all four of these islands belonged
all together, either to Great Britain or the United States. Instead of so
finding, the majority of the Tribunal have chosen to compromise with the
plain facts of the case, and, while awarding Pearse and Wales Islands to
Great Britain, have determined to make those islands valueless to Great
Britain or to Canada by giving to the United States the islands called
Sitklan and Kannaghunut. The latter islands are of the utmost consequence,
for they lie directly opposite to, and command the entrance to, the very

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

important harbor of Port Simpson, British Columbia.
"Upon such findings of fact as those above described, and after a
solemn adjudication that the Portland Channel of the Treaty lies to the
north of Pearse and Wales Islands, the taking of the two important islands,
Sitk l an and Hannaghunut, from Canada and giving them to the United States
by a proceeding said to be judicial is 'according to my true judgment,'
nothing less than a grotesque travesty of justice."
His comment on the decision concerning the mountains is, in part, as
follows:
"With reference to the seventh question, as the majority of the Tribunal
has decided that the mountains which shall form the eastern boundary of the
lisiere are to be sought inland at some place behind the head waters of
every inlet, it is idle to express my views at any length.
"Over and over again in the negotiations this 'lisiere de cote' which
Russia was asking and England giving was spoken of by the Russians as a mere
'point d'appui,' as extending inland only 'une tres petite distance,' as being
only 'une etroite lisiere sur la cote meme,' or 'une simple lisiere du
continent.'
"Consistently with this understanding of the width of the lisiere,
the mountains which were to form the inner boundary are always spoken of as
being very near the sea. The only knowledge of these mountains the negotia–
tors of the Treaty had was derived from Vancouver's travels, and Vancouver
had seen the mountains only from his ships as these explored the coast.
. . . . . . . . . .
"Under such circumstances, it is difficult for me to understand how
the Treaty, when it speaks of 'montagnes situees parallelement a la cote,'

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

can refer to mountains miles inland, invisible from the sea, which lie far
behind the seaward mountains, and which it is an admitted impossibility
that Vancouver ever sar or the negotiators of the Treaty ever knew the
existence of."
Sir Louis Jette wrote with respect to the award concerning the line
following round the heads of the inlets, "it seems to me impossible to
arrive at the conclusion that the intention of the parties to this Treaty
was that this strip of territory should be traced so as to run up the
source of all the rivers, and to the head of all the inlets, which passed through
this strip to reach the sea.
"This, however, is the meaning which a majority of the Tribunal has
given to this Treaty whereby the interpretation of the word coast which
appears to me to be forced and untenable under the circumstances, they are
led to say that Lynn Canal is the ocean, and that the coast of the ocean means
equally the coast of Lynn Canal: I cannot accept this interpretation. My
humble opinion, after having maturely considered the documents from which
I have taken the quotations made above is that those who prepared and drafted
this Treaty of 1825 never contemplated such a result. Consequently, leaving
aside the learned distinctions which were pressed upon us as to the meaning
of the word coast, to retain only what I believe was the intention of the
parties, I still say that even if we were to consider Lynn Canal as an
arm of the sea, the coast of Lynn Canal could not, even then, be considered
the coast of the ocean:
"There is in my country one of the largest rivers in the world, and
I have often heard it said by some of my compatriots, when contemplating with
pride the immense wheet of water at its mouth: 'Why, but this is the sea:'

EA-Alaska: History. LeBourdais: Alaska Boundary

"However, it has not yet entered the mind of anyone to say: 'This is
the ocean:'
"It has been reserved for Lynn Canal to be raised to that dignity:"
In a statement given to the London Times, the two Canadian commissioners
declared: "We have been compelled to witness the sacrifice of the interests
of Canada, powerless to prevent it."
In discussing the award in the Canadian House of Commons, Sir Wilfrid
Laurier expressed his regret that Canada did not herself posses the treaty–
making power. Since then that power has been attained.
Perhaps the most significant features of the whole dispute over the
Alaska Boundary is that, although one of the parties to such a dispute may
continue to feel that it has received less than justice in the settlement,
it is still possible for amicable relations to be maintained between the
winner and the loser.
D. M. LeBourdais

The University of Alaska

EA-Alaska: History
(Charles E. Bunnell)

THE UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA

The University of Alaska is a land-grant college, situated at 64° 51′ 21″
north latitude, approximately four miles west of Fairbanks, farther north than
any other institution of higher learning in the world. It is a small and
relatively young institution, distinctive in many ways, and serves a large
area through agricultural and mining extension work, in addition to its local
campus activities.
Historical : On May 3, 1917, the Territorial Legislature officially
accepted grants of land, authorized by Congress in 1915, and monies for the
benefit of State and Territorial Colleges of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts.
The Legislature created a corporation under the name of "The Alaska Agricul–
tural College and School of Mines," defined its duties and functions, and
empowered the Governor of the Territory to appoint a Board of Trustees con–
sisting of eight members in which was vested the government of the college.
On July 4, 1915, the cornerstone was laid. In 1921, Charles E. Bunnell
was elected as President of the college. The institution was opened on
September 18, 1922, and continued as the Alaska Agricultural College and School
of Mines until July 1, 1935, when by act of the Territorial Legislature, the
University of Alaska was established to succeed to all the rights, powers,
privileges, and duties of the college as above named.

EA-Alaska: History. Bunnell: University of Alaska

During the thirteen years, 1922-1935, the Alaska Agricultural College
and School of Mines awarded ninety-eight degrees, of which two were honorary
doctorates. From 1936 to 1946, the University of Alaska awarded two hundred
twenty-four degrees, including two honorary doctorates.
During World War II over 80% of the physical plant of the institution
(including its power plant, mess facilities) was rented to the Army for hos–
pital and barracks purposes. Dormitory facilities for only 49 campus resident
students were left available.
The Campus: "College Hill" is an elevation from which the surrounding
countryside presents a magnificent view. Across the broad Tanana Valley can
be seen the length of the main Alaska Range, including Mt. McKinley. The
main campus buildings consist of the original building, built in 1918, to
which an east and west wing were later added; the Eielson Memorial Building;
two frame dormitories for men; a reinforced concrete dormitory for women;
library-gymnasium building, and power plant. The Library contains over
20,000 bound volumes and 20,000 bulletins and pamphlets, and is by law con–
stituted a depository for government publications. A Museum is maintained,
which has approximately 75,000 catalogued specimens (an [: ] an estimated 70,000
additional specimens in storage) including anthropological, paleontological
material; also a great deal of historical material, in the form of old
publications and photographs of Alaska. As many specimens are on display
as the limited space allows.
Curricula; Curricula are offered which lead to degree in: Agriculture,
Arts and Letters, Business Administration, Chemistry, Civil Engineering,
Education, General Science, Home Economics, Mining (four or five-year curri–
culum with options in Geological, Mining, and Metallurgical Engineering).

EA-Alaska: History. Bunnell: University of Alaska

Pre-Medical and Pre-Nursing are offered. A Flight Training School has
been established, offering ground school and training for a private pilot's
license. Brief ten-week courses, "Short Courses," are offered on the campus
in Mining and in Home Economica. Summer session was held for the first time
in 1947.
Extension Work : Throughout the Territory, extension work is offered in
mining, agriculture, and home economics. From 1934 to 1939, extension work
was done with fur-bearing animals, an Extension Veterinarian was then located
at Juneau, who also inspected imported livestock, tested all dairy cattle for
tuberculosis and other diseases, and assisted fur farmers in improving their
mothods of production. Mining Extension courses cover five-week periods
and are designed to give preliminary training in various phases at of geology
and maining as a service to those who are unable to take up resident study
at the University. During the past nine years, over six thousand students
have been enrolled in these courses. Agriculture and Home Economics cooperative
extension, organized in 1930 for work throughout the territory, has its main
office at the University; district offices are maintained at Palmer for the
Matanuska Valley, Anchorage for the Kenai Peninsula, Fairbanks for the Tanana
Valley, and Petersburg for Southeastern Alaska. 4-H Club work for boys and
girls has been organized (present figures not available; in 1944 there were
86 clubs with membership of approximately 1,000). For adults, home demon–
stration work in foods and clothing, crafts, and gardening is carried on in
various towns and outlying villages.
Minerals and Ore Assaying: The Bureau of Mines, in order to extend
its work in Alaska, entered into a cooperative agreement with the college
in 1928 whereby the work formerly done in the Bureau's experiment station

EA-Alaska: History. Bunnell: University of Alaska

in Faribanks was carried on at the college. In 1935 the U.S. Geological
Survey established a field office on the campus, which supplanted the
Bureau of Mines functions, assisting miners in identifying minerals and
assaying ore samples. Paul Hopkins, Associated Analytical Chemist, was
in charge of the office, under the direction of Dr. Philip T. Smith,
Chief Alaskan Geologist. In 1937, B. D. Stewart, Commissioner of Mines
for the Territorial Department of Mines, established one of three offices
at the University, to carry on that work. This office continues at the
present time. Minerals are identified and samples of ore are assayed
free of charge.
History of Alaska Research: In May, 1936, the Rockefeller Foundation
made a grant of $17,000 to the University of Alaska for the purpose of
classifying and translating materials essential to the production of a
history of the Territory. The grant was for a period of two years, July 1936
to June 1938. Headquarters were established in Washington, D.C., where a
vast amount of material was available.
The staff of assistants was well-equipped for this assignment. Dr.
Tikhon I. Lavrischeff, educated in Russia and the University of California
(where his doctoral dissertation was "The History of Education in Alaska"),
had been a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church at Cordova, and later a
teacher. He was appointed as translator of Russian documents. The project
was supervised by Cecil F. Robe, Professor of History; staff members in–
cluded Warren R. Reid, Research Assistant, and Miss Hilja Reinikka, Secre–
tary. The University was the first to make use of the million or more pages
of records of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska. Other sources of
material used were the records of the Departments of War, Interior, Commerce,

EA-Alaska: History. Bunnell: University of Alaska

Treasury, and of the Coast Guard and Signal Corps. The untimely death of
Dr. Levrischeff on December 5, 1937, was unfortunate; however, the work
completed on the project has resulted in a valuable addition to the source
materials for use in Alaskan history. The translations are now bound in
fifteen volumes, 5807 pages of typing, awaiting opportunity and financing
for continuation of this important project.
Geophysical Research: Aurora Borealis: In 1929, the Rockefeller
Foundation granted $10,000 to establish a station for the study of scientific
observations of the Aurora. The photographic method, as devised by Dr. Carl
Stormer, of Norway, was used to determine heights and situations. Veryl R.
Fuller, Professor of Physics, supervised the project, constructed two
short-wave transmitting and receiving sets with which the operators of
two cameras, located about fifteen miles apart, were able to communicate
while taking simultaneous pictures. (Complete reports were published in
"Terrestrial Magnetism and Atmospheric Electricity" in December 1931 and
June 1932. (Also see "Auroral Research at the University of Alaska,"
Volume III of Miscellaneous Publications).
Seismology: Since 1935, in cooperation
with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, two tilt-compensated seismometes
have been installed in the Eielson Memorial Building on the University
Campus, recording horizontal components of g r ound motion (e.g., earthwuake).
This northernmost station in North America provides data regarding all
local seismic disturbances, and major ones all over the world.
Second Polar Year : Cooperating with the
Coast and Geodetic Survey, the Naval Research Laboratory, Weather Bureau of
the United States, and with the Carnegie Institution, the University took

EA-Alaska: History. Bunnell: University of Alaska

part in the second International Polar Year, conceived by the International
Meteorological Organization conference at Copenhagen in 1929, for the pur–
pose of magnetic auroral, radio phenomena, and meteorological observations
at a network of stations in the arctic and antarctic latitudes. Thirty–
four nations (120 stations) participated. $30,000 was appropriated for
an observatory, and a station was requested near Fairbanks. The University
of Alaska was already equipped for some phases of the research, and in the
fall of 1932 buildings were constructed for magnetic observation and atmos–
pheric and terrestrial electricity study. It was officially designated the
College-Fairbanks Station. Observations of the ionosphere were started at
that time. Prior to the closing of the program, arrangements were made
whereby the investigation of the ionosphere would be continued by the Univer–
sity, which work is still in progress.
Cooperative Research : By 1940, the United
States had launched a program of intensive scientific endeavor as a result
of the situation in Europe, which program included the field of radio propa–
gation Ionosphere apparatus had been in operation at Watheroo, Australia,
and at Huancayo, Peru, since 1933. A third unit had been completed by the
Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Washington;
and it was agreed by all government agencies interested in radio that the
unit be placed at the University of Alaska. This unit was fully automatic,
and operated continuously over a frequency range of 16.0 MC to 0.516 MC.
The Carnegie Institution appropriated $14,400 to set up the equipment.
The general objective of the research was the study and correlation of
solar-terrestrial relationships and the determination of diurnal and other
cyclic variations in the ionization of the upper atmosphere. Although the

EA-Alaska: History. Bunnell: University of Alaska

ionospheric program was considered of primary importance, the University
group undertook other work also in 1941: Four signal-intensity recorder
units were installed, to record the strength of signals from high-frequency
broadcast stations in various parts of the world; a magnetic observatory was
initiated; further auroral work was started. The basic staff, consisting
of Ervin H. Bramhall, Stuart L. Seaton, Ernest Wolff, and Pierre S. Amand,
maintained and operated the equipment, and tabulated and reduced results
for the various interested agencies.
During the summer of 1942, flumeters and search coils were installed
to record the rate of change of the earth's magnetic flux (and were in
operation until July 1946). In 1944 direction-finder equipment was in–
installed and a project was undertaken to determine the possibility of
finding bearing-error corrections.
At the end of the war, the Carnegie Institution prepared to terminate
its operation of field stations and observatories. The Central Radio Propa–
gation Laboratory was organized, under the National Bureau of Standards, to
continue the work, and contracted with the University of Alaska. The Carnegie
Institution agreed to leave its equipment at the University if the institu–
tion would accept the responsibility of operating the Observatory. Only
the ionospheric and signal intensity project was continued for C.R.P.L.
The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, however, desired that the continuity of
the magnetic observation not be broken, and arranged that the University
operate the magnetic observatory until such time as their own could be
built. Work is expected to be finished on a permanent U.S.C.G.S. magnetic
and seismological station on the campus by December 1947.
Close cooperation with the U.S. Army was maintained, in furnishing
aviators with radio propagation predictions and bearings.

EA-Alaska: History. Bunnell: University of Alaska

Professor E. F. George, head of the Physics Department at the University,
studied a supplementary problem, collisional frequency of free electrons
with neutral air molecules and atoms in the ionospheric regions, and arrived
at calculations important to the development of theories of radio wave pro–
pagation. Results are published in the March 1947 issue of Proceedings of
The Institute of Radio Engineering — "Electronic Collisonal Frequency in
the Upper Atmosphere." Two sets of collisional frequencies (one for day and
one for night) were computed by him.
Federal Commun i cations Commission : The Federal Communications Commission
selected the campus of the University as a suitable site for the erection
and operation of a radio monitoring station and a direction finder. This
station was in operation from 1941-1945.
Geophysical Institute: Delegate Bartlett's Bill to establish a Geophysical
Institute on the campus of the University was passed and signed by President
Truman on July 31, 1946. Congress has not yet (August 1947) made the authorized
appropriation available.
Paleontology: Since 1929, an important collection of material of the
Pleistocene period has been gathered, uncovered by the dredging operations
near Fairbanks. Mr. Chils Frick, of the American Museum of Natural History,
has underwritten the expense of the project, the work carried out in cooperation
with the University of Alaska and the Fairbanks Exploration Company (U.S.
Smelting, Refining, and Mining Company). Mr. Otto William Geist has been
the chief field man since 1936, and is now continuing the work which was
interrupted by the closing down of gold mining during World War II.
Material found of skeletal material of the Pleistocene fauna includes:
superbison, mammoth, mastodon, caribou, horse, camel, giant ground sloth,

EA-Alaska: History. Bunnell: Universit y of Alaska

saber-tooth tiger, lion, three species of muskox, new species of sheep,
Saiga antelope, and various species of small carnivores and rodents.
Bones, and occasionally hide and hair, are well preserved in the
frozen Pleistocene "muck." All important fossil specimens are shipped to
the American Museum of Natural History for studying, cataloguing, and pub–
lishing.
Anthropology : The University of Alaska, together with various
institutions as sponsors, has contributed in a major way to the scientific
knowledge of existing arctic cultures, and to prehistory in Alaska, as it
concerns the ancestors of present-day Eskimos and Indians, and some very
early arrivals to this continent was who differed greatly from either existing
group.
In 1928, Otto William Geist made a survey of the Bering Sea region, and
the area up to the Arctic Sea. Following this reconnaissance trip, Mr. Geist
has spent nine seasons in the St. Lawrence Island field where his, and other,
expeditions have been sponsored by the University. The ancient mound of
Kukulik was the site of successful excavations (See Miscellaneous Publica–
tions, Volume II). In 1931 collections of minerals, birds, mammals, petri–
fied wood of the giant sequoia trees, were made, besides many artifacts of
early Eskimo culture. Specimens were shipped to the American Museum of
Natural History or to interested scientists for study. Dog skulls were
described by Olaus J. Murie; human skeletal remains by Dr. Ales Hrdlicka;
the largest collection of birds (several hundred) were forwarded to the
Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California. Under a
Public Works Administration grant of the Department of the Interior, work
was carried on for the summers of 1934 and 1935 by an expedition of college

EA-Alaska: History. Bunnell: University of Alaska

graduates and students. In 1934, Otto William Geist and Ivar Skarland
made investigations on the Punuk Islands (see F.G. Rainey's "Eskimo Pre–
history: The Okvik Site on the Punuk Islands," Anthropological Papers
of the American Museum of Natural History). In 1937, Professors Froelich G.
Rainey (University of Alaska) and Raymond W. Murray (University of Notre Dame)
did further excavations at the Kukulik site, F. G. Rainey, Helge Larsen
(Curator of Ethnclogy of the Danish National Museum), and J. L. Giddings
spent the summer of 1930 at Point Hope (Ti ag ga ra) and began investigations
of the extensive Ipiutak site, probably the earliest Eskimo culture yet
discovered. F. G. Rainey spent the winter of 1940 at Tigara. In 1941-
1942, village ruins of considerable antiquity were found and investigated
by J. L. Giddings along the Kobuk River. In the summer of 1947, he returned
to complete excavations of three sites, with special emphasis on relating
dated Kobuk sites to the Christian calendar dates.
Archaeological work in the interior of Alaska was done during the
field seasons of 1936 and 1937 by F. G. Rainey, when he made surveys
through the upper Tanana River, upper Copper River, and middle Yukon River, with
the purpose of tracing migration routes through the interior, reported on
relatively recent village sites and sporadic finds of material which probably
antedates Athapaskan occupation.
Since 1937, tree-ring dating has been applied by J. L. Giddings,
Assistant Professor of Anthropology, in the fields of archaeology, geology, and
oceanography. Ivar Skarland, Professor of Anthropology, has completed
several summer's work in the field of physical anthropology, among the
interior Alaska Athapaskans. Investigations in both fields was interrupted
by World War II but is now being continued. In the summer of 1946, J. L.
Giddings went down the Mackenzie River drainage from Fort Nelson in Aklavik,

EA-Alaska: History. Bunnell: University of Alaska

for the purpose of collecting living tree samples. He then rounded the
coast as far as H [: ] rschel Island, where driftwood samples were taken and
ocean current study was made.
In June 1940, the first rock paintings in the interior of Alaska
were found at Moose Creek Bluff, near Fairbanks. They were recognized by
Thomas Campbell, Professor in Civil Engineering, and Ernie Lottsfeldt.
J. L. Giddings photographed and described them.
Biological Survey: In 1926 a reindeer station was established at
the College by the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey, which conducted
experimental work of the reindeer investigations initiated in Alaska in
1920 under authorization of an appropriation by Congress. Lawrence J.
Palmer, Senior Biologist, maintained headquarters on the campus. Pastures
and corrals were constructed. The project was particularly concerned with
reindeer breeding and range and forage management. Experiments in cross–
breeding were carried on with reindeer cows and caribou bulls, in an
attempt to improve the strain (resulting "carideer" were from fifty to
one hundred pounds heavier).
Experiments were conducted in the crossing of mountain sheep with
domesticated sheep. Research was discontinued when it was disclosed that
the male cross-breeds were strile. Whereas domestic sheep are seriously
affected, even blinded, by mosquitoes and gnats, the cross was apparently
immene.
Vilhjalmur Stefansson aroused interest in the idea of domesticating
the musk-ox for meat and clothing purposes, and assiting in preserving the
species of arctic ovibos from extinction. The few remaining herds were
then in Canada and Greenland. In 1927, Congress appropriated $40,000 for
the project. Thirty-four head of musk-oxen arrived in November 1930,
from Greenland, and were turned over to the Biological Survey at College,

EA-Alaska: History. Bunnell: University of Alaska

Alaska. After three years, calving was reported for the first time. The
herd remained here until the summer of 1936, when it was transferred to
Nunivak Island, where it was believed that food conditions were good and
that the numbers could increase.
The Home Economics Department of the University has tested the wool
of the musk-ox in making yarns and garments. It has been found to be easy
to card and spin, has the appearance of brushed wool, and its qualities are
superior to ordinary wool for many purposes.
Publications
A monthly publication, the Farthest North Collegian, is an official
publication of eight pages, printed in newspaper form, of general campus
news and articles of educational interest, contributed by members of the
student body and faculty. The Denali , yearbook of the University, is
published by the Associated Students of the University of Alaska.
A Bibliography of Alaskan Literature , 1724-1924. Volume I of
Miscellaneous Publications of the Alaska Agricu t l tural College and School
of Mines, by James Wickersham, 1927, published by the Cordova Daily Times
Print, Cordova, Alaska (635 pages)... This comprehensive volume contains
10,380 titles of histories, travels, voyages, newspapers, periodicals,
public documents, etc., Printed in English, Russian, German, French, Spanish,
etc., relating to, descriptive of, or published in Russian America or Alaska
from 1724 to and including 1924.
Archaeological Excavations at Kukulik...St. Lawrence Island, Alaska .
Volume II of Miscellaneous Publications of the University of Alaska, by
Otto William Geist and Froelich G. Rainey (301 pages) .... This volume was
prepared under the direction of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in

EA-Alaska: History. Bunnell: University of Alaska

cooperation with the University of Alaska, published by the U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1936....Investigations on St. Lawrence
Island, the ethnological and archaeological research conducted by the Uni–
versity from 1926-1935, analysis and description of some 50,000 specimens
obtained at the Kukulik site. Appendixes: The Punuk Island Group, Bering
Sea, Alaska (Otto William Geist); Notes on Geography and Geology of Western
St. Lawrence Island (Olaus J. Murie); Dog Skulls from St. Lawrence Island
(Olaus J. Murie); The Birds of St. Lawrence Island (Olaus J. Murie); Report
on the Mollusks of St. Lawrence Island (H. J. Roekelman); Analyses of
Mineralogical and Geological Specimens (Paul Hopkins and Maurice L. Sharp).
Auroral Research at the University of Alaska . Volume III of Miscellaneous
Publications
of the University of Alaska, by Veryl R. Fuller and Ervin H.
Bramhall (130 pages).... A report of the work done during the years 1930-1934,
in connection with the program of auroral research rendered possible through
the generosity of the Rockefeller Foundation, following the recommendations
of the American Geophysical Union, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, and
the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
Dendrochronology in Northern Alaska . Volume IV of the University of
Alaska Publications , by J. L. Giddings, Jr. Copyright, 1942, University
of Arizona (107 pages) .... A report of the research carried on by the
University of Alaska with the cooperation of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring
Research, University of Arizona, carried out during the years 1938-1941
for the University of Alaska under the sponsorship of Childs Frick, Honorary
Curator of Late Tertiary and Quaternary Mammals in the American Museum of
Natural History. The Douglass system of cross-dating applied to the
cone-bearing trees of Alaska and adjoining regions of the western arctic.
Charles E. Bunnell
HomeGeneral : Encyclopedia Arctica 12: Alaska, Geography and General
 Text Only
 Text & Inline Image
 Text & Image Viewer
 Image Viewer Only