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Semen Dezhnev: Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Semen Dezhnev

E. Olkhine.


Semen Dezhnev (1608?-1673) , the Russian c C ossack who, in 1648, circumnavig–
ated the northeastern tip of Siberia and, sailing from the Arctic
Ocean Sea into the Pacific, was the first to prove the existence of a
strait between Asia and America, i.e. , of the Strait of Anian (qv)
shown on ancient maps.
Dezhnev's reports on his voyage remained unheeded in the Aarch–
ives of the town of Yakutsk for almost 100 years until the historian
G.F. Müller (qv) , member of the Bering Expedition (qv) , discovered
them in 1736 and gave the first account of them in his work entitled
"Description of sea voyages in the Arctic and Eastern Seas carried
out from the Russian side" (Opisanie morskikh puteshestvii po Ledo–
vitomu i Vostochnomu moriu s rossiiskoi storony uchinennykh), pub–
lished in St. Petersburg in 1759. Nonetheless, some scholars
expressed doubts that such a feat could have been accomplished with
the poor sea craft available in Siberia at that time. But this was
definitely confirmed after the discovery, by the histor ian N.
Ogloblin, of 17th century documents from the Siberian Department
of old Muscovy.
Semen Ivanov Dezhnev, a native of Ustiug Velikii, a city in
the upper reaches of Severnaia Dvina River (qv) , must have been
born about 160 0 8 , but the exact date of his birth remains unknown.
Driven by his adventurous spirit, he set out eastward early in his
youth, first moving to Tobolsk, then capital of Siberia, thence to
Yeniseisk (qv) , and in 1638 he reached Yakutsk (qv) , founded but
a few years previously. He then enrolled in the newly established
unit of "Yakutsk cossacks," who were entrusted with the arduous but
profitable task of collecting tribute ( iassak qv iassak ) from the Siberian natives. Thereafter, biographical data on Dezhnev grows
more complete thanks to his two famours reports to the Voevoda of
Yakutsk and his four petitions to Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich, discov–
ered by Ogloblin and published in 1890.
In 1639, Dezhnev carried out a successful tribute-collecting
expedition among Yakut tribes. This resulted in delivery to the
Treasury of 140 sable pelts.
Next, in 1640, Voevoda Poiarkov (qv) despatched Dezhnev together
with Dmitri Zyrian to collect tribute and subjugate natives on the
newly discovered Iana River (qv). The expedition, consisting of 15
men, negotiated the land route between Zhigansk on the Lena (qv) and
Verkhoiansk on the Iana in winter, by sled and ski. On his way back
with two other cossacks and 340 sable pelts, Dezhnev was wounded in
the leg during an encounter with native Tungus (qv), but nonetheless
reached Yakutsk in 1641 with the entire booty.
In 1642, together with Mikhail Stadukhin (qv) and a company of
15 cossacks, Dezhnev set pout to collect tribute on Oimekon River (qv)
in the upper reaches of Indigirka River (qv). Dezhnev and Stadukhin
then dispatched some of their men with the sable pelts to Yakutsk,
but themselves remained on the Indigirka and, building a "Koch" (qv),
salled down the river, right to its mouth. Here, Dezhnev joined
forces with Dmitri Zyrian and proceeded eastward to collect tribute
along Alazeia River (qv). Still moving eastward, they reached
Kolyma River (qv) mouth, where they found Mikhailo Stadukhin, who
had reached it by sea from Indigirka River mouth, and had founded
Nizhne-Kolymsk (qv) in 1644.
On Kolyma River, Dezhnev, Stadukhin and Zyrian joined forces
in order to withstand the warlike Iukagir (qv), who besieged their stockade, but whom they finally defeated. Until 1648, Dezhnev rem–
ained under the command of Dmitri Zyrian, who had been appointed to
head the Ostrog (qv) . His task was to collect tribute from yet un–
subjugated tribes, many of whom offered stuboorn resistance. Dezhhev
proved a valiant fighter and suffered numerous injuries.
About that time, the agent of a wealthy merchant from Ustiug
Velikii, one Fedot Alekseev popov, appeared on Kolyma River. A
native of Kholmogory (qv), he was one of those sturdy, fearless
" pomory" (natives of the northern shores) whose adventurous spirit
is responsible for most of the early Russian arctic exploration.
From Isaia Ignatiev (qv) who, sailing from the Kolyma, had reached
Chaun Bay (qv) in 1646, he had heard of the abundance of walrus tusks
to eastward, and had decided to sail to Anadyr River, of which the
rRussians had but a vague idea from what they had heard from natives..
In 1647, Popov equipped 4 "kochi" kochi , and sailed eastward with an exped–
ition in which Dezhnev is said to have taken part. That summer, how–
ever, the sea was so ice-ridden, that the party was induced to return.
Undaunted by this failure, popov set about preparing a second
expedition, on a large scale, and invited Dezhnev and a number of
cCossacks, whose armed help was needed in the event of native resist–
ance. Moreover, the presence of Dezhnev, a Treasury agent entrusted
with the collection of tribute from newly s i u bjugated tribes, lent an
official character to the expedition. It would seem that Popov and
Dezhnev headed it jointly.
Dezhnev states that the expedition consisted of 6 kochi (single–
deck boats), carrying 70 crew and cCossacks, and 20 "promyshlenniki"
(qv). Food supplies, weapons and ammunition were taken in large
quantities. Other sources have mentioned 7 kochi kochi , and some have mentioned A nk udinov's koch koch and his men separately from the rest,
as having "joined" Popov and Dezhnev. This may explain why Dezhnev,
who was on bad terms with Ankudinov, mentioned only the 6 kochi kochi
under his and Popov's command.
On June 20, 1648, the expedition left Kolyma River mouth and
sailed eastward along the coast. Weather conditions were favorable
and no ice was encountered. By the second half of s S eptember, three
kochi kochi reached Bering strait, but nothing is known about the other
three three, or four.
A landing was apparently made in the area where the "Bolshoi
Kamennyi Nos", the great stone cape, "swings round towards Anadyr
river", and a fight with the natives ensued, [: ] during which
popov was wounded. Then, Ankudinov's vessel suffered shipwreck, but
the crew was rescued and transferred to Dezhnov's and popov's craft.
The two remaining kochi kochi continued the voyage.
In the Pacific, the two kochi kochi battled against a severe storm,
[: ] and were separated, never to meet again.
For several years Dezhnev believed that Popov and his party had per–
ished in the storm until, in 1654, during a battle with a Koriak (qv)
tribe,he took a number of prisoners among whom he found a Yakut woman
who had accompanied Popov on the voyage. Her story was that their
boat had been wrecked, that Popov and Ankudinov and most of the others
had died of scurvy, or had been killed, while the remaining few had
set out on a boat, she knew not whereto. It is presumed that this
boat landed on Kamchatka, because when Vladimir Atlasov (qv) first
explored Kamchatka in 1697, he was told by the natives that many
years ago, several r R ussians lived at Nikula river mouth on the
eastern shore. The ruins of a Russian log cabin were still in evidence at that spot at the time of Krasheninnikov's (qv) exploration
of Kamchatka. G.F. Muiler, historian of the Bering Expedition, has
stated that Popov's men were the first men to settle in Kamchatka.
Dezhnev's craft, badly battered, was carried by winds and waves
for a number of days and finally wrecked on the Siberian shore, pres–
umably somewhere in the region of Oliutorski Peninsula (qv). Hungry,
poorly clad and barefoot, the 25 survivors Dezhnev among them, set out northward along
the coast until, 10 weeks later, they reached what turned out to
be Anadyr River mouth (qv). Twelve of the men continued upstream
along the river bank, hoping to come across natives. Twenty days
after their departure, two of them returned, famished and exhausted –
the rest had died.
Dezhnev and his men, reduced to twelve, survived a hard winter.
In the spring, they built a boat and started up Anadyr river. Sal–
vation came when they ran into natives, from whom they seized not
only food, but also tribute. Although fighting developed, and Dezh–
nev was again wounded, resistance was short. In the middle reaches
of the Anadyr, Dezhnev then built a wintering, (1649) the future Anadyr
Ostrog, [: ] which remained his headquarters until 1656.
Meantime, in the spring of 1650, an expedition headed by Mikhailo
Stadukhin and Semen Motora had set out from Kolyma River mouth in–
tending to reach Anadyr River overland. As they proceeded sailed downstream,
they ran into Dezhnov's wintering. Dezhnev and Motora then joined
forces, and in the course of the next two years (1650-51) carried
out a number of short expeditions subjugating the surrounding tribes
and collecting tribute from them, while Stadukhin, who was on bad
terms with Dezhnev, proceeded on his own.
In the summer of 1652, Dezhnev sailed down Anadyr River and, near its estuary, discovered the so-called "Korga" (bank or shoal),
swarming with walrus. From that time on, while still collecting
tribute in pelts from the natives, Dezhnev devote s d much time to
visiting the Korga, which he consider s ed his own preserve. In the
four years which followed, 1652-55, he collected for the government
close to 1,000 lbs of walrus tusk, and it may be presumed that he
put some aside for himself.
In the summer of 1653, Dezhnev built a number of "kochi" kochi at
Anadyr River mouth with the intention of sending his 5-years ' spoil
by sea to Kolyma and Yakutsk, but he gave up the idea on account of
the stormy sea, the strong currents, and the danger of floating ice.
It should be added that the craft built at Anadyr River mouth were
most primitive, lacking either good sails or anchors, or [: ] sailing
gearg [: ] such as he had when leaving the Kolyma in 1848. On the other
hand it was dangerous to dispatch all the wealth accumulated in pelts
and walrus tusk overland across the territory of still unsubjugated
and warlike tribes.
Dezhnev experienced difficulty in fighting off a Koriak tribe,
which had appeared in the vicinity of his Korga, and had started kill–
ing off the walrus. Finally, in a pitched battle, he and his men
virtually exterminated the entire tribe and seized all women and
In the spring of 1654 a new party of c C ossacks, headed by one Iuri
Selivestrov, arrived by land from the Kolyma. Although Dozhnev states
that he never interfered with Selivestrov's hunting and collecting of
walrus tusk on the now famous Korga, Selivestrov sent reports to
Yakutsk, complaining that Dezhnev and his men would not let him
[: ] "collect walrus tusk for the Treasury on the Korga."
In 1656, an envoy from Yakutsk arrived with the order to Dezh–
nev and his assistant Semenov, and also to Selivestrov, to proceed
to Yakutsk to deliver the Treasury's share of pelts and walrus tusk.
The spoil was apparently dispatched, and Semenov and Selivestrov left,
but Dezhnev remained in his Anadyr stockade.
He mentions drawing up a map of Anadyr river, "up to its source,
with indication of all its tributaries, and reaching down to the
Korga, where the walrus congregate." Unfortunately, this has not
come down to us. In his 1655 report he also describes the vegetation
of the river area, animal life, and gives numerous details about the
fishes. This is the first accurate description of the Anadyr, and
shows how keen an observer Dezhnev was.
Little is known about the last years Dezhnev spent on the Anadyr.
He remained at the head of the garrison until 1659, when he handed
his official duties over to Kurbat Ivanov. However, he remained in
his "ostrog" another two years, hunting and collecting walrus tusk
f i o r himself, and thereafter turning up in Yakutsk in 1662. It was
from there that he sent his first petition to the Tsar, reporting on
his 20-years' work, and asking for back-pay for all the years he had
been collecting tribute for the Treasury and bringing new territories
and tribes into the Tsar's realm.
Apparently warmly welcomed in Yakutsk, he was entrusted with
what was considered the high responsibility and honor of bringing
to Moscow the Treasury's share of walrus tusk, then held in high
esteem. He left Yakutsk in the early winter of 1662, and arrived
in Moscow in 1664.
Upon reaching the capital, Dezhnev se [: ] n t his second petition to
the Tsar, again applying for back-pay and stating that he had great debts, still unpaid. He also asked to be granted the rank of
" sotnik sotnik " ( c C ossack rank equivalent to captain).
According to the figuring of the time, for 19 years' service,
Dezhnev was entitled to 126 rubles 20 1/2 kopeks: The authorities
issued the order to pay him one third in money, and two thirds in
cloth. Thus, he received 38 rubles 67 1/2 kopeks in cash, and 97
"arshin" (about 100 y e ards) of cloth. He sold to the Treasury his
own wairus tusk for 500 rubles. Considering that the walrus tusk
which he had collected for the Treasury was valued at 17,340 rubles
- nd there is no mention of the sable pelts he had collected as
tribute - his pay seems disproportionately small. The only compens–
ation was that, instead of being given the rank of " sotnik sotnik " he had
asked for, he was elevated to the rank of " ataman ataman " (commander), with
a yearly salary of 9 rubles, 7 quarters" of rye, 4 "quarters" of
oats, and 90 lbs of salt.
Dezhnev left Moscow in march 1665, entrusted with carrying gov–
ernment funds to Yakutsk, which meant that he enjoyed the full con–
fidence of [: th ] e authorities. On his way east, he stopped in his native
city of Ustiug Velikii to pick up his nephew and the latter's wife,
whom he took along with him to Yakutsk.
Nothing is known of the years 1666 to 1670 which [: ] ezhnev spent
in Yakutsk, occupying the post of "ataman" ataman . In the summer of 1670
he was again dispatched to Moscow with the "tribute in sables", and
various documents. He was accompanied by aides and a convoy. He
reached Moscow on d D ecember 25, 1671, where he remained until his
death in 1673, presumably at the age of 65. This we know from the
only mention thereof, found in a Yakutsk account book: "Semen
Dezhnev died in Moscow in 1673, his salary appropriation is being
Despite the scant biographical material available on Dezhnev,
it seems clear that he possessed all the qualities of an explorer.
Adventurous and bold, he was of the " c C ossack" species, incessantly
driven towards lands unknown, and yearning for a free life unhamper–
ed by the shackles of authority. From his own, simple, unadorned
accounts, and also from the results he achieved, we can assess his
tenacity and fearlessness in the face of constant danger and untold
hardships. Apparently, nothing could deter him from the pursuance of
his goal. In kindliness and generosity he seems to have favorably
differed from his contemporaries and fellow-explorers, for he did not
share their ruthlessness and unbridled greed. This is apparent from
his differences with other c C ossack leaders, such as Stadukhin or Seli–
vestrov, whom, for example, he begged "not to kill natives indiscrim–
inately, for that is not good."
The American historian F.A. Golder, in his book "Russian Ex–
pansion in the Pacific 1641-1850", published in 1914, contends that
Dezhnev never circumnavigated Chukotsk Peninsula (qv), and that he
made up the entire sat story of his sailing from the Kolyma to the
Anadyr. But it should be remembered that Dezhnev was not aware of
the great geographical significance of his voyage, and neither were
his immediate superiors, and he therefore had no reason to write a
false report. Indeed, so little did he think of his feat, that he
delayed reporting on it until 1655, when other reasons prompted him
to send a message to the Voevoda of Yakutsk. He invariably stresses
his activities on land, and not his voyage, the description of which
takes up much less space than the enumeration of battles with the
natives, of his subjugating them and collecting tribute for the
Treasury. Most of all was he interested in the "Korga", where he had discivered the walrus rookery, and that was the one and only
thing he laid claim to. This being his prime concern, he was int–
erested in the shortest route to the Anadyr, regardless of whether
it was by land or sea. Had he abandoned his "kochi" kochi already at
Chaun Bay, as Golder asserts, he would doubtless have told the story
of the overlan d trek, and the route followed would have been ident–
ified, as have been all his other routes.
In his first report Dezhnev writes: "..... the Bolshoi
Kamennyi Nos (Great Stone Cape). This NOS extends far seaward, and
on it live many Chukchi, and opposite the NOS, on the islands, live
people called 'zubati' (an adjective meaning 'having big teeth'),
because they thrust through their lips two pieces of tusk, and this
o i s not the first"Sviatoi"Nos from the Kolyma, and this Great NOS, we
Semen and comrades we know it well, for there it was that Ankudinov's
koch was wrecked, and we took the men on our kochi, and we saw the
big-toothed men on the island, and c f rom this NOS Anadyr River and the
Korga are very far .... "
And in his second report: "When sailing by sea from the Kolyma
to the Anadyr, there is a NOS extending far out to sea ..... and
opposite this NOS are two islands, and on these islands live Chukchi,
and their lips are split, and pieces of walrus tusk thrust through
them, and this NOS lies between north and northeast, and a river
flows out on the Russian side of the NOS, and here is a Chukchi
settlement, towers made of whalebone, and the NOS swings round
towards Anadyr River ....... "
Contrary to Golder's assertion that Dezhnev never rea ched
farther than Shelagski, he clearly states that "this is not the first
NOS" from the Kolyma, but the next one. There are no outstanding capes except Shelagski and Dezhnev. F ru ur thermore, "the NOS swings
round to Anadyr river." This clearly corresponds to the fact that
after sailing along the northern coast in a southeasterly direction,
doubling the cape constitutes a turn at a right angle, i.e. , swing–
ing to a southwesterly direction.
The location of the river on the side of the Cape is also accur–
ate, and Dezhnev's description of tower-like Chukchi dwellings made
of whale jaws and ribs is similar to the descriptions and drawings
by Luka Voronin of the Sarychev Expedition, 1785-92 (qv). Nowhere
but on Chukotka have such towers been seen.
The islands lying opposite the NOS are obviously the Diomedes
(qv), for upon nearing the extremity of the cape, a ship has the two
islands before her. This would not be true of any islands near Cape
Shelagski, for, upon nearing the latter, no islands are to be seen,
the only islands, Aion and Rautan, having been passed on the right.
The "tooth Chukchi" are clearly the American e E skimos wearing
labrets, and can be none other, for nowehere else could Dezhnev have
seen them.
Contrary to Golder's assertion, Dezhnev never stated that he
was wrecked October 1st. What he says is that he was hit by a storm
after October 1-st ("Pokrov") and was tossed about by wind and waves
for many days, and finally wrecked. From all evidence he was wrecked
south of Anadyr Bay and thereafter proceeded north. But Colder arbit–
rarily decides that after shipwreck he must have gone south. This,
because he allegedly was wrecked on the northern shore, and hence had
to go south in order to reach the Anadyr, and also, because, "it i [: ]
fair to assume that he would go in a s outherly direction so as to
have the cold north and northwest winds at his back."
Although Golder declares that"the statements of Dezhnev have
to be examined", which leads one to think he himself does so with
the greatest care, we find that, quoting a statement he finds sus–
picious, he misquotes his own translation. On p.78 we read: "The
Anaduir falls into the sea," whereas in the appendix (p.287) where
the entire document is given, the text runs: "the Anaduir falls
into a bay" ('guba' is more exactly estuary). Incidentally, this
makes a great difference in the context.
Golder often bases himself on erroneous interpretations of
Dezhnev's archaic and illiterate language, and also on the rather
loose paraphrasing of it by Muller. When it suits his theory,
Golder denounces some of Muller's paraphrasing, but fails to do so
when it denies him an extra argument. Thus he overlooks a document
discovered by Muller in 1736, and which bears evidence that rumors
of Dezhnev's voyage were widespread in Siberia around 1700. It is the
report of one Pe ë tr Popov who, in 1711, went on an expedition to the
Chukchi on the "Nos", where he was told that " r R ussians had already
visited them before, arriving by sea on kochi." Furthermore, a
colleague of Muller's, Lindenau (qv) of the Second Bering Exped–
ition, when visiting the Berin g Strait coast in 1741-43, reported
hearing from the Chukchi that "som e 70 or more years ago, 12 kochi
carying Russian merchants were scattered by a storm off the north–
eastern shores of Asia.... "
All experts who have thoroughly studied the Dezhnev question
concur in the opinion that Dezhnev actually circumnavigated the
northeast tip of Asia and sailed from the Arctic into the Pacific.
In addition to Muller, these are: the explorer F. Wrangel, the
historians N. N. Ogloblin and S.V. Bakhrushin, and,in our days, the oceanographer I.M. Shokalsky, the historians A.I.Andreev,
L.S.Berg, A.V.Efimov, and the expert on arctic matters V.I.Vize
In his work, "The Discovery of Kamchatka and the Bering Exped "
ition" (Otkrytie Kamchatki i Ekspeditsia Beringa), which appeared
in 1935, and in a new edition in 1946, L.S.Berg has made an extens–
ive and thorough analysis of the Dezhnev problem and has definite–
ly established that the "Great Stone Nos" or"Chukotski Nos" is with "
out doubt Cape Dezhnev (previously East Cape), that the two islands
opposite the Nos are the Diomedes, that the "big tooth Chukchi" are
the Ameican e E skimos.
The only Russian student of the question who concurs with Golder
in denying Dezhnev's discovery of Bering Strait, is the scientist
and historian P.A. Slovtsov. Or it should rather be said that Golder
borrowed the arg y u ments advanced by Slovtsov in his "Historical
Review of Siberia" (Istoricheskoe Obozrenie Sibiri) published in
1838, at a time when the numerous documents and old maps subsequent–
ly discovered, were not yet available.
In support of his point of view that Dezhnev neither accomplish–
ed nor claimed "the feat credited to him", Golder considers as a
strong argument the fact that "Dezhnev is totally ignored by his
contemporaries." This "stron g argument has now been fully refuted,
for, in addition to the evidence already existing in Golder's,time
(and mentioned above), numerous documents and maps of the second
half of the 17th century and of the 18th century, confirm that
Dezhnev's voyage did affect his contemporaries and the geographical
concepts of his time.
For although Golder fully endorsed and circulated the opinion
that Dezhnev's discovery of the strait separating Asia from America remained unknown to e E uropeans until Muller discovered his reports,
there is ample evidence - both published and in manuscript - that
the momentous voyage of the Russian c C ossacks was known, although
Dezhnev's name remained unmentioned. Thus, in his "Noord en Oost
Tartarye", Amsterdam [: ] 1705 , Nicholas Witsen writes:
"This is the copy of a letter I received from Arkhangelsk in
1698: ..... a r R ussian here informed me that, visiting Moscow last
winter, he met cossacks who had been hunting sables in the farther–
most parts of Siberia. On a small vessel they circumnavigated
Ledianoi Mys (Ice Cape) that is the easternmost projection as shown
on your map, and it took them three days to get to the end of the
cape. There, the current was very swift, and they had to keep close
to shore; but they saw no ice for it was in midsummer. Thus they
sailed round the cape ....."
This tallies with Dezhnev's report, which mentions swift
currents, but no ice.
The Witsen map mentioned in this letter is his "Nieuwe Lant–
kaarte van het Noorder en Ooster deel van Asia en Europa," published
in Amsterdam in 1687.
And elsewhere in Witsen:
" I learned from a prominent Moscow merchant that some cossacks
told him it had taken them three days to reach the end of Ledianoi
Mys, or Ice Cape (later East Cape, then Cape Dezhnev). In some
places the strait is so narrow that one may see both shores. Those
cossacks or Moscow soldiers had been dispatched from Yakutsk to
collect tribute, and as is the custom, they proceeded in groups of
10 or 20 men... They also said they had eight small vessels, of
which four succeeded in sailing round Ice Cape. But finally they cam e across such cross-currents, where the northern current meets
the southern, that those four vessels were smashed to pieces and
all the men perished."
This again is very similar to Dezhnev's account of cross–
currents, and also of the wreck of Ankudinov's "koch" koch .
There does not seem to be any doubt that these were echoes of
De zh nev's voyage. It may be that Witsen's statements were still un '
known to Leibnitz in 1697 when he raised the question of whether
Asia and America were separated by a strait, although Witsen's first
edition had appeared in 1692, and his map in 1687. However, when
Leibnitz again raised this question in 1712, in his letter to Peter
the Great's adviser Bruce, he no dou n b t had read Witsen, and so had
Tsar Peter, who was personally acquainted with the Amsterdam burgo–
master. Both might have discounted Witsen's statements, knowing
they were but hearsay. They knew not then that this hearsay would
prove surprisingly similar to the reports of Dezhnev, which had not
yet been discovered.
Another instance of such hearsay is to be found in the "Historia
de Sibiria", written around 1680 by the Croatian Catholic priest Iurii Krizhanich,
who spent a number of years in exile in Tobolsk. Although his book,
written in Latin, w as not published at the time, Witsen seems to have
seen one of his manuscripts. On the question of whether the Arctic
Sea is connected with the "Eastern", i.e. , the Pacific, Krizhanich
writes that, "this has no t w been solved by Lena and Nerchinsk cossacks
who covered the entire country right to the ocean, and assert that
there is no land to eastward, and that the two seas are not separ–
ated by anything."
In addition to writings, old maps also show that the impact of Dezhnev's voyage was considerable even on European geographical
thought and that, particularly in Siberia, the strait between Asia
and America was taken for granted long before Bering.
Several versions of in the series of maps by Remezov and Peter
Godunov (qqv), drawn up at the end of the 17th century and around
1700, show Northeastern Siberia surrounded by the sea, and the
Arctic and Pacific connected by a strait. So does Witsen's map
mentioned above.
The hand-made sketch by the so-called "Yakut nobleman Ivan
Lvov", dated 1710, and handed over to Muller in Yakutsk in 1736
shows Chukotsk Peninsula surrounded by the sea and, opposite the
"Nos", two islands, and beyond them to eastward, part of a cont–
i nent. The Anadyr, its tributaries, and the surrounding mountain
ridges, are all shown in detail, and Anadyr Ostrog occupies an
important place. This sketch, or rather copies of it, must have
reached Europe, for the map of the Nurnberg geographer Johann
Baptist Homan, first published in 1725, follows Lvov's map very
closely in regard to Northeastern Siberia, the Bering Strait and
Anadyr areas. It clearly implies a free seaway from the Kolyma
to Kamchatka. This map was again published in the Homan atlas of
1759, although by then geography had undergone great changes, and
the Russian Academy of Science map giving the results of the Bering
Expedition, had already appeared in 1754.
Another map, the anonymous Leyden map dated 1726, ten years
prior to Muller's discovery of Dezhnev's reports, shows the north–
eastern tip of Siberia surrounded by the sea, islands off the
coast, and the inscription: "Les russes venants de la Lena et des
autres rivières à l'est de la Lena passent par ici avec leurs bâtiments pour aller négocier avec les Kamtschadahles," (The
r R ussians coming from the Lena and from the other rivers east of
the Lena, pass here with their vessels to go and trade with the
Of interest are Vitus Bering's words in a letter dated 1725
from Yeniseisk, while on his way east: ".... it is possible to
sail from Kolyma River mouth to the Anadyr, as testified by the
new asiatic maps, and as communicated by the inhabitants, that
this route has been used before."
Strahlenberg's (qv) map, also drawn up prior to the Bering
Expedition, bears this inscription at the mouth of the Indigirka
River: "From here the russians, crossing the ice-ridden sea - the
north wind drives it toward the shore and the south wind drives it
back - have, with great difficulty and danger for their lives,
reached Kamchatka."
As stated by the historian A.I. Andreev, the Russian sketch–
maps of the time testify that in Siberia, knowledge of the discovery
of the seaway through the strait was widespread. This could be
nought else but a consequence of the fact that the Dezhnev 's voyage
was known, and that the geographical data he had supplied - not
alone in his reports but also by word of mouth - was being taken
into consideration by seamen and mapmakers.
That this news had spread westward is further evidenced by
the fact that, as early as 1652, rumors were current among foreign
diplomats in Moscow, that the r R ussians had discovered America from
the W w est, and were preparing to dispatch an important force to the
American coast. These rumors were reported to q Q ueen Christina of
Sweden by her envoy in Russia , Johan de Rodes, who resided in Moscow from 1650 to 1655. His reports, preserved in the Stockholm State
Archives, were published in part in Russia in 1915 by B.G. Kurts
in a book entitled "The Condition of Russia in 1650-1655 from the
reports of Rodes."
Rodes was apparently greatly interested in developments in
Siberia, in the discovery of gold and silver, and in Russian rel–
ations with China. On April 28, 1652, he reported that 2,000
"strels i y " (fusiliers) had been dispatched do w n the Volga to
Kazan, whence they would proceed to Siberia to reinforce the
Voevoda of Yakutsk , Dmitri Fratsbekov, and added: "It is rumored
that they will be used for dispatching to America...." It would
appear that these rumors created great excitement in the foreign
colony in Moscow.
Frantsbekov had been appointed Voevoda of Yakutsk in 1648,
the very year Dezhnev set out on his expedition, and it may be
p resumed that by 1652 the Voevoda had been informed of Dezhnev's
settling on the Anadyr. We know that Dezhnev never reached Amer–
ica, but the rumor long persisted in Siberia that the three "kochi" kochi
which had first been separated from the Dezhnev-Popov party –
presumably upon entering the strait - had reached the American
coast, and that it was precisely then, that the first Russian
settlement was founded in the Western h H emisphere. The protagonists
of this version, however, have no factual evidence to support them,
except, perhaps, the presence of white-skinned and blond a A leuts
first encountered by Shelekhov (qv) in Yakutat Bay in 1788, and
the 1937 find on Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, of the remains of an
ancient settlement, which could have been only r R ussian (judging by
the method of building and the objects found), and which American experts estimated at being around 300 years old. It should be
added, however, that both the blond a A leuts and the builders of
the settlement, might rather have been the descendants of pilot
Dementiev and his 12 seamen who had been sent ashore by Chirikov
(qv) in 1741, and had never returned.
The conviction that Russian settlements existed in America
was current long before Shelekhov started colonizing Russian Amer–
ica in the 1780-ies. Thus the plenisner map ( c C olonel Plenisner, a
former member of the Second Bering Expedition, was head of the
Ostrog of Anadyrsk), drawn up on the basis of information supplied
by c C ossack Nikolai Daurkin (a chukcha by origin) in 1763, shows
Chukotsk Peninsula, the strait with its two islands, and the oppos–
ite shore named "Kygmyn" (the Ch u kchi name for America is Kyymyn).
At about where Cape Prince of Wales is, this map shows a river
flowing into the sea named "Khevuvren" and, slightly upstream, a
drawing shows a stockade, several men and a boat, and the inscript–
ion "fortress". This map is a hand-made colored sketch, and it
should be noted that all the men are dark-skinned except one, whose
skin is light pink with the apparent implication that he is a
r R ussian.
Information on r R ussians on the American coast is also to be
found in a document discovered not so long ago in the Central State
Archives in Moscow. It is a report by c C ossack Kobelev, who in 1779
visited Chukotsk Peninsula and the islands Imagli and Igellin
(Ratmanov and Krusenstern), where he heard that a year before two
vessels had visited the islands (apparently Cook), but that many
years ago, two other large vessels had been there (Bering's ships).
While on Igellin, Kobelev heard that, on the eastern shore, on "Khevuvren" river , is an "ostrog" (stockade), "where live Russian
people; who speak r R uss i an, read books, write and worship ikons,"
and that, contrary to the a A mericans who have scarce beards and
pluck them, "the r R ussians have large, bushy beards."
Kobelev begged the islander to take him to the other shore,
but the islander refused to do so lest harm come to him, but he
promised to send over a letter from Kobelev. Kobelev states that
in his message he called the American russians "blood-brothers",
and asked them whether they were the descendants of the "men of
the 4 kochi, which, in old days, had got separated from the 7 kochi,
sailing round Chukotski Nos."
Later, Kobelev reported that an American e E skimo had brought
to Imagli a "letter" from the bearded r R ussians on the other shore,
who had asked that it be sent to the r R ussians in Anadyrsk. The
"letter" was a board, with Russian script in red paint on one side,
and letters carved out and painted p b lack on the other side. The
writer said they had all they needed except iron, and begged that
some be sent to them. The e E skimo showed how those people cross
themselves, and said that they congregate in one large house for
prayer, and that, in a field, they set up poles with small boards
across them.
I.I.Lindenau, interpreter to the Second Bering Expedition,
who visited the Chukchi on the Strait in 1741-43, reported hearing
from them that, "some 70 or more years ago, 12 kochi carrying
Russian merchants were scattered by a storm off the northeastern
shores of Asia ..... some of them reached Kamchatka, and some land–
ed on the opposite shore called "Great Land".
The presence of r R ussians on the American mainland before colonizing by Shelekhov had begun, and particularly so far north –
it should be kept in mind that pilot Dementiev's party had landed
much farther south - poses the question as to who those settlers
were, and whence they had come, and this brings up the plausibil–
ity of the hypothesis that Dezhnev's missing kochi kochi had landed on
the American continent.
In support of his assertion that Dezhnev never passed Bering
Strait, and never could have done so in a primitive "koch" koch , Golder
states that, "A kotsh was a flat-bottomed decked vessel .... it
had a wooden mast and sails of deer skin, which are of little use
in damp weather. The chief motive power, therefore, was the
paddle. Anchors were made of wood and stone, and cables of leather."
This opinion on the unseaworthiness of Dezhnev's vessels indeed
prevailed until quite lately. The kochi kochi were believed to be most
primitive, flat-bottomed boats, using deer-skins for sails, and
lacking in western navigational gear.
The study of 17th century documents has now fully refuted this
viewpoint. The "koch" koch must have been a large seaworthy craft, with
deck and keel, with deck-canoes and iron anchors, of sturdy build,
and additionally reinforced to withstand the pressure of high seas
and ice. Judging by old shipbuilders' orders and specifications,
these vessels were about 60 ft long by some 15 ft wide, drawing,
however, no more than 5 - or 6 ft. Their capacity was 30 to 35 tons.
The size seems to have differed little from that of the English or
Dutch vessels plying the northern seas between London and Arkhang–
elsk, or Amsterdam and Arkhangelsk. The main difference was the
small draught, necessary for navigating along shore leads in arctic
waters. This difference was responsible for the failure of western seamen to negotiate the passage to the Ob and Yenis s ei despite
their eagerness to do so and trade direct with Siberian natives,
as evidenced by the accounts of English merchants who, in those
days, visited Arkhangelsk and Pustozersk - but never got farther
Equipped with a regular set of sails - a total surface of
some 1,000 sq ft - and given favorable winds, the koch koch could cover
from 120 to 150 miles a day at a speed of 5 to 6 knots.
It has now been ascertained that Dezhnev's expedition took
along no less than "13 compasses in bone frames." It may therefore
be presumed that Dezhnev and his seamen navigated with the help of
instruments and gear available at the time. This is confirmed by
Witsen's statement that, "when sailing to the Kolyma, the Lena
cossacks used compasses and deep-sounding logs." The elaborate
compass, sun-dial and navigational gear found on Taimyr Peninsula
(see Taimyr Pena., History), at the camp of the 17th century (ca.
1620) navigators, fully supports this opinion, and it may be presum ' -
ed that, taking place [: ] an odd 30 years later, Dezhnev's exped–
ition must have been still better equipped.
Nevertheless, Golder states: "Indeed, it is extremely doubt–
ful whether they had a compass or knew its use... Among the num–
erous 17th centur y documents examined, the author did not come
across the wo r d compass... the word appears in the early 18th cent–
ury." Had he only glanced at Witsen's book, he would have found the
statement quoted above. O[] f course, he may not have seen the docum " -
ent of the Yakutsk Archives, which is a receipt for "13 compasses
in bone frames", taken on the trip by just one of the parties of
"promyshlenniki" promyshlenniki who accompanied Dezhnev. [: ] It is true that what is used on the receipt is not the foreign word compass, but
the term used at the time by northern seafarers. In the days of
Peter the Great foreign words flocked into the Russian language,
particularly in regard to seafaring and military matters, so no
wonder Golder found the word "compass" in [: ] 18th century docum–
Following the suggestion of the Imperial Russian Geographic–
al Society and of the prominent oceanographer I.M.Shokalsky, East
Cape was officially named Cape Dezhnev in 1898.
The 300-th Anniversary of Semen Dezhnev's epoch-making voyage
through Bering Strait was celebrated in the USSR on October 26,
1948, in a special joint c s ession of the All-Union Geographical
Society and the Arctic Research Institute.
In connection with the Tricentenary, the Council of Ministers
of the USSR decreed the foundation of a 15,000 rubles Prize in
Memory of Semen Dezhnev, to be awarded by the Scientific Council
of the Geographical Society, once every three years, beg n inning in
1948, for the best work and research on the geography of North–
eastern Asia.
(attach copy of map opposite p. 580 in: Izvestia Vsesoiuznogo
Geograficheskogo Obshchestva, vol. 80, N°6, Nov.-Dec. 1948.)
Bibliography .

Andreev, A.I., "Russkie Otkrytia v Tikhom Okeane v pervoi
polovine 18 veka" (Russian Discoveries in the Pacific Ocean
in the first half of the 18th century).
Izvestia Vsesoiuznogo Geograficheskogo Obschchestva,
vol. 75, N°3, 1943, p. 75.

Andreev, A.I., "Zametki po Istoricheskoi Geografii Sibiri"
(Notes on the Historical Geography ofSiberia)
Izvestia Vsezoiuznogo Geograficheskogo Obshchestva,
vol. 72, N°2, 1940, p.

Andreev, A.I., "Samoilov, Semen Dezhnev i ego Vremia"
(Samoilov, Semen Dezhnev and his Time, review of)
Sovetskaia Etnografia, N° 2, 1947, p. 248.

Belov, M.I., "Istoricheskoe Plavanie Semena Dezhneva"
(The Historical Voyage of Semen Dezhnev)
Izvestia Vsesoiuznogo Geograficheskogo Obshchestva
vol. 81, N°5, 1949, p. 459.

Berg, L.S., Otkrytie Kamchatki i Ekspeditsia Beringa
(The Discovery of Kamchatka and the Bering Expedition)
Academy of Sciences of the USSR, MoscowLeningrad 1946.

Berg, L.S., Ocherki Istorii Russkikh Geograficheskikh Itkrytii
(Essays on the History of Russian Geographical Discoveries)
Academy of Asiences of the USSR, Moscow Leningrad 1946.

Efimov, A.V., Iz Istorii Russkikh Ekspeditsii na Tikhom Okeane–
Pervaia Polovina 18-go veka
(From the History of Russian Exped–
itions in the Pacific Ocean - First half of the 18th cent.)
Ministry of Defence, Moscow 1948.

Efimov, A.V., Iz Istorii Velikikh Russkikh Geograficheskikh
(From the History of great Russian geogra f p hical
Discoveries), Ministry of Education of RFSSR, Moscow 1949.

Golder, F.A., Russian Expansion on the Pacific 1641-1850 .
The Arthur Clark Company, Cleveland 1914.

Lebedev, D.M., Geografia v Rossii XVII veka
(Geography in Russia in the 17-th century)
Institute of Geography, Academy of Sciences of the USSR
Moscow - Leningrad 1949.

Perevalov, V.A., "Semen Dezhnev i ego geograficheskie Otkrytia"
(Semen Dezhnev and his geographical Discoveries)
Nauka i Zhizn, N°4, 1949, p.20.

"Polozhenie o Premii im. S.I. Dezhneva"
(Ruling on the Award in Memory of S.I. Dezhnev)
Izvestia Vsesoiuznogo Geograficheskogo Obshchestva,
vol. 80, N°6, 1948, p. 621 & p. 663.

Samoilov, V.A., Semen Dezhnev i ego Vremia
(Semen Dezhnev and his Time)
Glavsevmorput, Moscow 1945.

Vize, V.Iu., Moria Sovetskoi Arktiki
(The Seas of the Soviet Arctic)
Glavsevmorput, Moscow-Leningrad 1948.

Vize, V.Iu., " Novye Svedenia o russkom ar kticheskom More–
plavanii v XVII veke" (New Data on Russian Arctic Voyages
in the XVII century)
Letopis Severa, vol. I, p. 78-93.
Glavsevmorput, Moscow-Leningrad 1949.

Vize, V.Iu., Russkie Poliarnye Morekhody 17 - 19 vv . (Russian Polar
Glavsevmorput, Moscow-Leningrad 1948. (Seafarers 17-19 cent.)

Vize, V.Iu., "Semen Dezhnev - K 300-oi godovshchine otkrytia
Beringova Proliva" (Semen Dezhnev - Tricentenary of the
Discovery of Bering Strait)
Izvestia Vsesoiuznogo Geograficheskogo Obshchestva,
VoL. 80, N°6, 1948, p. 565.

Vokrug Sveta, Nos. 5, 11, 12, 1948.

Atlas Istorii SSSR (Atlas of the History of the USSR), vol. I.
Department of Geodesy and Cartography, Council of Ministers of
USSR, Moscow 1950.

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