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    Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

    001      |      Vol_XV-0636                                                                                                                  

    (Hector Chevigny)


            Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov, (1764-1807), Russian courtier, designer

    of the Russian American Company. Few figures of historical significance

    have been so much the victim of faulty scholarship and the vagaries of

    romantic writers. The title of "Counts," usually credited to him, stems

    from inaccurate translating of the title page to von Longsdorff's Travels .

    G. Atherton, without giving authority, has called him, "One of the ten

    barons of Holy Russia," a statement embalmed in the Britannica . The mass

    of documents in the Bancroft collection at Berkeley, California, often used

    as source material, are faulty translations of the Russian sources. General

    ignorance of the Russian system of titled and untitled nobility and of rank

    has further contributed to the confusion. Rezanov's rank, granted him in

    1803, was that of high chamberlain.

            Rezanov was one of the determinants in the history of the Pacific; his

    plans envisaged control of the American west coast and even of Hawaii by

    Imperial Russia, and, although his death and other factors curbed his schemes,

    the impulse they directly gave to the possession of Alaska and the Aleutians

    by the United States places him in a position of primary significance.

            His family belonged to the untitled nobility, a class of ancient lineage,

    but that usually had neither wealth nor land. The family coat-of-arms was

    designed in 1556. His father, Pyotr Gavrilovich, was an attorney who, at one

    time, was president of the Equity Court in Irkutsk under the unusually honest

    002      |      Vol_XV-0637                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Chevigny: Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov

    and upright Governor-General Chicherin. At his son's birth he seems to

    have been registrar in the Imperial Senate in St. Petersburg, where Rezanov

    was born, June 8, 1764. The record mentions no brothers or sisters. At

    this time, Empress Catherine II, the Great, having become enamoured of

    French learning and culture, French almost superseded Russian in intellectual

    circles, and it was the fashion to sneer at the native culture. Rezanov re–

    ceived his entire primary education at the hands of French tutors who swarmed

    to Russia in answer to the demand. Rezanov acquired facility also in German

    and English, and had some knowledge of Spanish. He was proficient in music,

    fancying the violin. His subsequent history would seem to show, and the

    family influence to make probable, that he prepared for a legal career.

    His contemporaries, obviously subjectively, have described his bearing as

    either pleasant and gracious, or cold and arrogant. He was tall, and good

    looking, but he had a constitutional weakness in later life which, in the

    light of modern knowledge, would seem to indicate gastric ulcers.

            At fourteen he began the military service demanded of his class. At

    eighteen he entered the Imperial Guard, choosing the Izmailovski regiment,

    in which he rose to a captaincy. He then resigned to enter Civil Service,

    his first post apparently being that of Assessor to the court at Pskov.

    December 1791, he received the appointment which really began his career.

    Gabriel Derzhavine was named by the Empress director of her Bureau of Petitions;

    Rezanov was made secretary to Derzhavine.

            Two friendships in Rezanov's life show his intellectual convictions

    as well as the fact that, unlike others exposed to the French influence, he

    did not come to feel like a man without a country. One was Nikolai, later

    Count, Rumiantzov, great exponent of Russianism in literature, who founded

    the Rumiantzov Library, Russia's first great public collection, which, a

    003      |      Vol_XV-0638                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Chevigny: Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov

    century later, became the nucleus of the Lenin National Library. The other

    friendship was with Derzhavine, Russia's greatest poet of that day, and

    powerful protester against the engulfing French literary influence.

            The simple basis of tsarist rule was petition, followed by granting

    or refusal be decree. The Bureau of Petitions was, therefore, the empire's

    nerve center. Greatly complicating the situation, however, the aging

    Catherine had chosen as her last lover the 23-year-old army corporal, Plato

    Zoubov, and the newly elevated Prince Zoubov proceeded to control the granting

    of decrees to his own enrichment. Among Zoubov's relatives were the Shelekhovs

    of Irkutsk, merchants deeply concerned with the fur trade on the Aleutian

    Islands. The tea trade with China, on which rested a large part of the

    economy of Siberia, was carried on through the medium of these furs. Grigorii

    Shelekhov (q.v.) had planted a permanent colony on Kodiak Island, in the twin

    hopes of enriching himself and holding the country for Russia. Catherine had

    never extended her sway over the North Pacific, despite the discoveries and

    claims of the Bering Expeditions, and the fact that Russian fur hunters had

    ventured as far as the Alaska Peninsula. Her view was that Siberia itself

    was too unsettled to allow her to expand to foreign shores; in 1769, by

    decree, she deliberately renounced "all possessions in America." Shelekhov

    came to St. Petersburg with a plea to her to reconsider this decision and to

    grant him, in return for his patriotic service in founding a colony, a monopoly

    of the fur trade, a sibsidy, and naval protection. These were refused, but

    one concession was given, the privilege of exclusively occupying such other

    sites as he might colonize, which made further expansion attractive to the

    Golikov-Shelekhov company.

            The extent to which Rezanov was involved in these important intrigues

    cannot now be unravelled with dependable accuracy, for the records have been

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    EA-Biog. Chevigny: Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov

    destroyed; but that it must have been considerable is shown by the fact

    he journeyed to Irkutsk in 1793 and to Okhotsk to superintend the trans–

    portation of missionary priests and serfs whom Shelekhov had secured for

    his colony. His involvement became complete on his betrot hal and marriage

    to Shelekhov's daughter, Anna. The dowry, of shares in the family company,

    tied up his fortunes with the fate of trade in the Pacific. Perhaps this

    was his entire motivation for what would otherwise have been something of

    a misalliance for his class; as will be shown, however, Rezanov perceived

    in the Pacific what the merchants saw and the St. Petersburg court missed.

            Russia's front doors, the Baltic and the Dardanelles, were guarded by

    her enemies but there existed an altogether unguarded back door. The whole

    west coast of America down to Spanish California, which began at San Fran–

    cisco, lay untouched. Japan was a hermit kingdom, trading only with the

    Dutch, and awaiting reopening by others who might persuade her. Over the

    incredibly rich Hawaiian Islands ruled a king who desired contact with the

    world. Ships of many countries, however, were coming with increasing fre–

    quency in search of the furs by which tea was bought of the Chinese. They

    could enter Canton — but the Russians could not, for by ancient treaty

    Russians could trade only along the Siberian border. This situation had

    to be remedied, Japan opened, Russian colonies posted along America, even

    California penetrated, Hawaii cultivated. It was a gigantic dream but a

    possible one — if Russia acted quickly.

            There was little hope of interesting Catherine in any of this. She

    was German, not Russian, and her eyes were on Europe. Hope centered in her

    grandson, Alexander, with whom Rezanov was acquainted. The belief was that

    Catherine had written a will disinheriting her strange and unstable son,

    Paul, in favor of Alexander. But on her death in 1796 [ ?] the will could not

    005      |      Vol_XV-0640                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Chevigny: Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov

    be found. It was a blow to have Paul become tsar. He hated merchants,

    declared their activities in the Pacific were at the price of the natives'

    blood, more than once threatened to recall them home by decree. Business

    initiative throughout Russia was paralyzed, for his decisions were arbi–

    trary and unpredictable. The death of Shelekhov further complicated matters,

    but his brilliant widow, Natalya, effected a reorganization, and in Peters–

    burg Rezanov patiently cultivated the erratic tsar.

            Obviously, Rezanov studied such models as the British East India and

    Hudson's Bay companies in the formation of his plans for the great corpora–

    tion to supersede the Golikov-Shelekhov company. He called it the Russian–

    American Company, and it was to be a commercial instrument for imperial

    expansion. It was to have a charter and be governed by elaborate by-laws.

    It was to have exclusive monopoly of trade from Kamchatka to the American

    mainland and southward to an unnamed degree. It could maintain a navy, troops,

    have juridicial powers within its territory, make limited treaties. It

    would colonize and develop as well as exploit. Its charter was to be

    renewable each twenty years and, upon the completed development of its

    territory, all was to revert to the government. The destruction of the

    records of the Russian-American Company, on its dissolution in 1863, accounts

    for our loww of precise information of the manner in which Rezanov, in 1799,

    finally secured the consent of mad Tsar Paul to the formation of the company.

    That it was a masterstroke of diplomacy and a surprise to all is unquestion–

    able. It is perhaps significant that the approval was granted on Rezanov's

    birthday, June eighth. His success is particularly noteworthy in view of

    the fact that he had been identified with some, notably Zoubov, for whom

    Paul cherished an especially bitter hatred. Zoubov had been one of Catherine's

    lovers, and one of Paul's first acts had been to dishonor and disgrace him.

    006      |      Vol_XV-0641                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Chevigny: Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov

    At the same time Paul granted powers in the Company's charter, he was also

    persuaded to ennoble Shelekov's widow, and agreed to the stipulation that

    only a Shelekhov relative occupy the chairmanship of the company's board

    of directors.

            Still there was uncertainty. Paul could revoke the charter as easily

    as he had granted it. The air did not clear until March 1801, with Paul's

    assassination, and the ascension of Alexander. Alexander not only confirmed

    the charter, he and members of his imperial family bought stock. Rezanov

    he appointed to the post of High Procurator in the Senate.

            Events now moved swiftly. A Russian naval officer, Adam Krusenstern,

    while at Canton, had observed the sale by British and Yankee shipmasters of

    furs taken along the northern islands, and he had written a letter to the

    government setting forth his views on the advantage of negotiating the old

    Chinese treaty anew to allow Russians to trade at Canton, too. Krusenstern

    was summoned to court, ordered to purchase two of the finest frigates for

    sale in Europe. The vessels were bought, and renamed the Nadeshda and the Neva .

    It would seem, from the facts, that at first Rezanov had harbored no special

    intention of accompanying the cruise on which the vessels were to be sent.

    However, his wife, Anna, died in 1802 in bearing her second child, a girl;

    fifteen months earlier she had borne her first child, a boy, Pyotr. It seems

    to have been Rezanov's old friend, Count Rumiantzov, now Chancellor of the

    Empire, who urged him to head the mission that would go with the ships.

    Every day some new facet was added to the schemes about the frigates.

            They would make a world tour, carrying Russian colors around the world

    for the first time. The peace of Amiens, an interlude in the wars with

    Napoleon, made this possible. On the way, the vessels would call at many

    ports, making friends with the local governments. The trade routes that

    the Company hopes would some day be theirs, would form the course to be followed.

    007      |      Vol_XV-0642                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Chevigny: Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov

    As a brilliant climax the tour would end at Japan where Rezanov, as.ambassa–

    dor plenipotentiary from the.Tsar, would persuade the Mikado to agree to

    trade with Russia. A mission, traveling by land, would meanwhile proceed

    under Count Golovkin to the court of the Chinese Emperor to effect the

    needed new arrangement there.

            It is not clear whether, after Japan, Rezanov was to keep going to in–

    spect the Russian colonies on Kodiak and at Sitka or whether that came as a

    later decision. That, however, this was probably his intention is shown by

    his addition, to the already overburdened. Nadeshda , of a library with which he

    intended to found an institution.of higher learning on Kodiak Island. Besides

    books for the library, there were included as gifts, priceless works of

    painting, bookbinding, and miniature boat-building. In the holds, too, were

    300,000 rubles" worth of gifts from the Tsar to the Mikado. Many of the

    plans were seemingly made without consulting Krusenstern. Accompanying

    Rezanov would be a diplomatic suite of six, scientists such as Tilesius and

    Horner, and six Japanese who had been shipwrecked in Siberia and had been

    brought overland for personal delivery to their [ ?] homeland. On the

    eve of departure, a great banquet was given Rezanov, attended by the Tsar"s

    privy council and distinguished representatives of the Admiralty, at which

    Rezanov was toasted as "the Russian Columbus." They sailed August 7, 1803.

    Krusenstern had to stop at Copenbagen to lighten the ship by removing some

    of her stores. But Rezanov took on another passenger, a young German

    scientist who was also a physician, named Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff,

    who importuned so earnestly for the privilege of accompanying the expedition

    that he was accepted.

            Foreign governments everywhere had amiably given the vessels freedom-of-

    call; stops were made at numerous ports. [ ?] At Hawaii, a year out of Petersburg,

    008      |      Vol_XV-0643                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Chevigny: Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov

    learning that the Russian colony at Sitka had been destroyed by savages,

    Rezanov sent Captain Lisianski and the Neva to the assistance of Baran vo ov

    (q.v.), the colonial governor, and proceeded with only the Nadeshda to

    Kamchatka to get ready for the Japanese mission. There had been wrangling

    for precedence during the voyage. At Kamchatka, Count Fyodor Tolstoi and

    others of Rezanov's suite quite to return overland to Petersburg, and Rezanov

    commandeered officers resident at Petropavlovsk to complete his entourage.

    They entered Nagasaki Harbor October 8, 1804.

            The Russians were entirely confident of success. Anchoring in Nagasaki

    coincided with the observance of Alexander's coronation; there was much fest–

    ing, drinking, and speechmaking. Perhaps Rezanov counted unduly on his merited

    reputation for persuading and cajoling. In the fact of the facts of his dis–

    astrous failure to secure any thing of what he desired, it is forgotten, or

    seldom observed, that his visit caused much internal dissension in Japan. A

    minority rebelled against the tight cloture of the country by the Shoguns.

    The rift was to continue, and contribute eventually to the downfall of the

    Shogunate. The mission had influence in another direction; Perry, forty-five

    years later, could study the cuases of Rezanov's failure and avoid his mistakes.

            Curiously, Rezanov's mistakes boil down to undue democracy in his approach.

    He aroused the contempt of the Japanese by his agreement to see each delegation

    of officials that came aboard the. Nadeshda , however insignificant they were,

    and his patience with their interminable questionings. He would have been

    ordered away from the beginning, but for the document, which he carried, that

    had been granted Laxman in 1793, permitting one Russian vessel to visit Japan.

    Grudging permission was finally given Rezanov and his suite to live ashore,

    but the residence turned out to be virtually a cage in which they could be

    stared at by all the curious, and there was a maddening wait of months before

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    EA-Biog. Chevigny: Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov

    permission came for them to see an official of a calibre who could discuss

    their demands. Rezanov's health suffered. He whiled away the time compiling

    a Russian-Japanese dictionary. At length the interview with the Shogun was

    had, but under humiliating circumstances, and the answer was a flat No to

    everything. Japan's laws forbidding foreign intercourse were said to be

    irrevocable. The Tsar's gifts could not be accepted, for if they were, the

    Nikado would have to be equally generous, and for that Japan was too poor.

    Inasmuch as no Japanese could leave the empire to visit other lands, it was

    out of the question that an embassy could be sent to Petersburg to consider

    these questions further. The final interview the Russians concluded with

    pointed directions for leaving Nagasaki Harbor safely.

            The futile mission had taken six months. Rezanov returned to Petropavlovsk

    on Kamchatka in April 1805, sent the Nadeshda home, and prepared to go on to

    America to inspect the colonies. He retained as entourage, his valet-de-

    chambre, and Dr. von Langsdorff, who agreed to function as personal physician

    and observing scientist. Rezanov burned with rage at his humiliation by the

    Japanese, and meditated means of reprisal. In a letter to the Tsar he expressed

    his intention of sending a punitive force against Japan, perhaps, thereby, hoping

    to receive permission for it when he should be through with his American tour.

    He believed there were vessels at the colonies which could be armed for the

    purpose. He found other disturbing news. The Napoleonic wars had broken out

    afresh. Russia was deeply involved in the often-changing alliances and counter–

    alliances. It was a question whether Russia and Spain were enemies or the

    reverse — information of importance if a man of his station encountered foreign

    vessels. Sitka, he also heard, had been retaken with the. Neva's help, but

    conditions in the colonies were bad. Morale was low, good men hard to get

    for Company service, equipment deficient, and the value of Company shares,

    because of a small catch of furs for some years, had hit a new low.

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    EA-Biog. Chevigny: Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov

            With two naval officers, Khvostov and Davidov, navigating, he sailed on

    the wretched Company brig, Maria , in May 1805. He visited the Pribilofs, Una–

    laska, and Kodiak. In June he reached Sitka and met the great Baranov.

            The enormous discrepancy between Rezanov's dreams and the reality, the

    extent to which Shelekhov had lied to the world, was born in on him on that

    journey. Everywhere was poverty, misery, and want. Everyone greeted him with

    complaints and grievances. For as long as four years on end there had been

    neither ships nor supplies from Russia. At Kodiak the absurdity of his thought

    of founding a university was evident. The priests whom once, twelve years

    before, he had convoyed across Siberia, told him that the Company had fulfilled

    none of its promises to support and aid them [ ?] in their work. But they had

    done little for themselves, either, and Rezanov upbraided them, comparing them

    unfavorably with their Roman brethren under similar circumstances.

            Everywhere, in his journeys about the Pacific, Rezanov had heard the name

    of Baranov. It was clear that he alone had kept the colonial enterprise

    together during the previous sixteen years. His determination alone had made

    the retaking of Sitka possible. It is [ ?] probable that Rezanov came to

    America partly with the intention of investigating Baranov and, if necessary,

    deposing him as governor. Instead, and although Baranov declared his wish for

    relief, Rezanov urged that rank be asked for Baranov in order that the lowborn

    man might have the official class wherewith to defend himself against the

    insults of people of higher station sent to assist him.

            Quarters were temporary, danger constant, supplies low. The winter was

    spent in privation and hardship. On all sides the warlike Tlingits threatened

    another massacre and everyone was heavily armed. During that winter of 1805-06,

    the Tsar's Chamberlain had a taste of the kind of tragedy with which the colony

    had become familiar. At Yakutat, where the serfs he had once convoyed, together

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    EA-Biog. [ ?] hevigny: Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov

    with the priests, had formed a colony, there was another massacre with few


            Nevertheless, Rezanov did not forget his wish to revenge himself on

    Japan. He ordered the construction of a warship to be begun, and bought, of

    Captain John deWolfe, of Bristol, [R ?] .I., the schooner Juno , intending her for

    the same purpose. Her supplies, too, were needed for sustenance. Outwardly,

    to the world, he expressed satisfaction with every detail of colonial expansion.

            One factor in his earlier dreams had been confirmed by his observations,

    that foreign ports had to be opened to permit adequate food supplies to come

    to the colonies. Canton and San Francisco were closed. Count Golovkin had

    not been success f ul in his mission either. Only Hawaii was friendly. That

    was of value but it would be simpler if the Spanish in California, with their

    abundance of food, would trade. In February, events spurred Rezanov to another

    attempt at a diplomatic mission. Scurvy swept the Sitka garrison. He deter–

    mined to visit San Francisco.

            He ran the risk of possible cap ut tu re and knew it. The status of things

    between Spain and Russia was unknown. But he had his credentials, which had

    given him entr e é e to every port as the Tsar's envoy extraordinary, and he

    depended on it now to gain him entrance into the Golden Gate, and to see

    him through at least the opening negotiations with the Spanish. He sailed

    on the Juno in March, taking Langsdorff, Khvostov, and Davidov.

            Their crew consisted of the least able garrison members of the beleaguered

    post at Sitka. On the way Rezanov paused to try finding the Columbia River,

    using Vancouver's charts. His plan for expansion down the mainland called for

    the planting of a post at that place. The entrance to Gray's Harbor was inves–

    tigated as possibly the Columbia's mouth, but Langsdorff, on landing, discovered

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    this not to be the case. The conditions of the crew, however, made proceeding

    to a sure supply of fresh food imperative and there were no further delays

    before their entrance into the Golden Gate, March 22, 1806.

            Here begins what is usually considered the story of Nikolai Rezanov.

    San Francisco, then called Yerba Buena, consisted of little more than a sleepy

    presidio of some thirty-five soldiers and their families there to guard the

    Franciscans at the mission, but the Russians did not know this and approached

    with the utmost caution, and elaborate plans in the event anything went wrong.

    They were surprised to see no vessel anywhere, not even a skiff. At length

    soldiers appeared, disappearing again, then Spanish officers and Franciscans.

    Rezanov did not repeat his mistake with the Japanese. He sent his entourage

    ashore even though none knew Spanish. Langsdorff solved the difficulty by

    establishing communication with Father Jos e é Uria in Latin.

            The commander of the presidio, Jos e é Arguello, and the military governor,

    Jos e é Arillaga, proved to be absent in Monterey, but Lieutenant Luis Arguello,

    the commander's son, and the priests invited the Russians ashore with the

    utmost cordiality. Strangers came seldom, and these sounded exciting, par–

    ticularly to Lieutenant Arguello's sister, the sixteen-year-old naria de la

    Concepcion. A dance was given for the visitors that night, and the cordiality

    continued until the Commandante and the Governor arrived, in a hurry, on being

    told of the nature and calibre of their visitor.

            What happened thereafter has, on one side, a comic-opera quality and, on

    the other, the grander aspect of the Faustian legend. On the comic-opera side,

    Arillaga proved to know no more about the international situation than Rezanov

    and both men countered for hours on their first conversations to learn what

    the other man did not know. Arillaga understood French which made conversation

    easier. He was a simple man in an obscure provincial post, no match for

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    Rezanov's persuasiveness, but he was also stubborn, and faced with strict laws

    regarding foreign intercourse which better governors than he had regretted

    breaking. Clearly, the question of permanent trade with the Russian colonies

    was beyond his power to decide, he could only recommend, but he was puzzled

    by Reanov's insistence on at least one cargo of food. Rezanov, naturally,

    would not admit the dire want of his people in the north, for it was evident

    that the Spaniards live in a good deal of fear about the meaning of the Russian

    activities in the North Pacific. As both a hindrance and a help, the Franciscans

    intrigues in Rezanov's favor. On a visit to their mission he had made them several

    rich presentations from among the returned gifts from the Tsar to the Mikado,

    mostly items for church use, and they eagerly became converts to the doctrine

    that Spanish California would find its salvation in trade with the Russians.

            Rezanov had other allies, less embarrassing. As he wrote to Count

    Rumiantsov, "we play petticoat politics." The women importuned the Governor

    to have the cargo of cloth and other stuffs aboard the Juno which had come

    well loaded down with trade goods. Poor Arillaga would have liked to get

    rid of his visitor, and tried to send him on his way by darkly hinting he

    expected news of war to come from Mexico City, but Rezanov circumvented him

    by pointing out that if he would give his word not to arrest him while he

    thought there was peace, he would not, in conscience, have to arrest him later.

            Meanwhile, a passion of great intensity sprang up between Rezanov and

    Concepcion, the commandante's daughter. Langsdorff has left us a description

    of her appearance, and he concludes it with the observation that her type "occurs

    but seldom." After only six weeks, Rezanov asked for her hand. That the

    courtship had not seemed a serious one, is shown by the reaction of surprise

    on the part of the family. Apparently no one butRezanov and Concepcion dreamed

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    that more than a mild flirtation, if that, had taken place. The girl was

    rushed off to confession to the priests at the mission who, however, counseled

    calm. It soon became evident to both the father and the Governor that Rezenov

    was not a suitor who could peremptorily be ordered off the premises. If there

    was, indeed, peace between the two nations, Rezanov's rank and standing might

    make of a complete refusal and unpleasant diplomatic incident. There were,

    however, difficulties in the way, too. Rezanov was Orthodox by faith; although

    the provincial of the Franciscans had authority to act in a bishop's capacity

    in many matters, his authority here was questionable. Rezanov desired immediate

    marriage, advancing as his reason that he had to return soon to St. Petersburg,

    and wished to take his bride with him. The difficulties were decided by stipu–

    lating that he must secure the dispensation of the Vatican and the political

    permission of the King of Spain. Farther than this Rezanov could not budge them.

    The betrothal, however, took place, and some of the gifts made by Rezanov to

    his betrothed on that occasion are still in the possession of descendants of

    the Arguello family in Los Angeles.

            It has been alleged by some writers that Rezanov did not intend to return

    for his bride, that it was all an expedient to gain one cargo of food — for

    which, in the subsequent expressions of friendship, he easily got permission.

    Quite aside from the consideration that Rezanov would scarcely have run this kind

    of risk for so little, there is also the rather plain fact that, had he lived, his

    failure to fulfill his promises would have been cause for much trouble for him.

    The record indicates little doubt of how seriously he was emotionally involved.

    Langsdorff makes this clear. In his letters to Rumiantzov, Rezanov takes a

    certain light tone about it, but it is not to be expected that he would become

    heavily romantic in correspondence of official standing. It is also equally

    certain that he viewed his marriage in an almost dynastic light. He writes

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    of the poor condition of defense in which he found California, pointing out

    how simple it would have been to take it during various European crises. He

    looked on the position of the California Spanish, isolated from Mexico City,

    with interest, and seemingly foresaw an amalgamation of the Spanish with the

    Russians, perhaps symbolized by his own marriage. He even meditated the bringing

    of Chinese coolies into California to solve the labor problem.

            In June 1806, after only two months among the Spanish, he departed with

    a well-fed crew, his new dreams of empire, and his ship's hold stuffed with

    food for the Sitka garrison. This time he did not tarry to explore. He reached

    Sitka, burried to complete preparations for returning home. He did, however,

    pause to put through his plans for reprisals on Japan. It is ironical that

    this, in the long run, was his undoing. [ ?] He sent the

    Juno on ahead, to have her armed at Okhotsk, then crossed the Pacific himself

    in the Avoss , a vessel that had been constructed at Sitka to help him attack

    Japan. She was a tub and slow. He reached Petropavlovsk in September. Already

    it was late to start the long and dangerous crossing of Siberia on horseback.

            He hoped to find, at Petropavlovsk, letters approving his sending of a

    force against Japan, but other news received there told him why official

    Petersburg was not paying much attention to events in the Pacific. The Russians

    had sustained crushing defeats at Napolean's hands, and Europe was engaged in

    a gigantic effort to expel the Corsican. There was, however, peace between

    Spain and Russia. He had to reach Petersburg while that was still a fact in

    order to secure his precious permission promptly for his marriage. He decided

    to order the Japanese expedition and trust to luck. The officers, Khvostov and

    Davidov were dubious about it, but he made his orders to proceed imperative.

            Von Langsdorff refused to accompany him further. The physician was dis–

    gruntled at what he considered slighting treatment at the hands of the chamberlain

    017      |      Vol_XV-0651                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Chevigny: Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov

    at San Francisco, and furthermore he had been warned to beware of Siberia

    during the rainy season. With only his valet left of the original group

    with whom he had left Petersburg three years before, a company of Cossacks,

    and a file of horses, Rezanov set out to cross the Stanovoi Mountains.

            He was ill when, five months later and after a journey that had justified

    all the gloomy predictions, he arrived in Irkutsk. If, as has been surmised,

    he had had a gastric hemorrhage, the end is not surprising. He remained abed

    only briefly, again refused to listen to advice not to proceed further until

    conditions were better. Again he mounted horse. Between Irkutsk and Krasnoy–

    arsk he suddenly pitched headlong as he and the Cossacks were going at break–

    neck speed. As he fell, a flying hoof struck him in the skull. Weeks later,

    as he lay in the house of Councillor Keller in Krasnoyarsk, he died. Langs–

    dorff, who followed more leisurely and lived to tell about it, wrote, "His

    stone was in the shape of an altar. There was no inscription on it."

            Much nonsense has been written about the time at which Concepcion Arguello

    was told of her betrothed's death. Sir George Simpson helped perpetuate the

    fiction that she did not hear for forty years. There is reason to believe that

    Rezanov's valet returned to San Francisco with the news, bringing back the

    girl's gifts to Rezanov as he did so. The gifts are certainly again in pos–

    session of the family. Too, in 1812 the Russians established Fort Ross in

    California, and one of their first visitors was Concepcion's brother. Kuskov,

    who headed Fort Ross, certainly knew of Rezanov's death. But Concepcion's

    reaction is well known. She went into seclusion, emerging to become an unofficial

    nun who did private works of charity. She refused all offers of marriage, in–

    cluding another from a foreigner, a Yankee shipmaster. In 1851, on the estab–

    lishment of the Dominican convent at Monterey, she became the first native-born

    California Spaniard to take a nun's vows. She was then sixty.

    018      |      Vol_XV-0652                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Chevigny: Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov

            Rezanov represents one of the great might-have-beens in history. It

    is rather certain that, had he lived and effected his marriage, the history

    of California would have been quite different, and its eventual taking by

    the United States a different kind of thing then it was. Certainly there

    was never again anyone in Petersburg with his energy, his initiative, or

    his grasp of the problems in the Pacific from Russia's standpoint.

            The Russian-American Company existed sixty years, seeing two renewals

    of its charter, but on the death of Baranov in 1819, officialdom ruled it,

    and it became progressively less and less what its organizer had intended

    it to be, an instrument in commercial hands for imperial expansion.

            In 1858, after the Crimean War which showed the vulnerability of Russian

    America to British attack, the plan was laid to sell the country to the

    United States rather than let it fall into British hands, as seemed inevitable.

    Yet it was not for seventy years that another man, namely Captain William

    Mitchell, saw what Rezanov saw and paraphrased one of his remarks when he

    said, that they who control Alaska, control the Pacific.

    019      |      Vol_XV-0653                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Chevigny: Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov


    Langsdorff, G.H. Von. Bemerkungen auf Eine Reise um Die Welt (Notes on a

    journey round the world), Frankfort, 1812.

    Tikhmenyev, P. Istoricheskoye Obozrenye obrazovanya Rossiisko-Amerikanskoi

    (Historical review of the formation of the Russian-American

    Company), St. Petersburg, 1863.

    Krusenstren, A.J. Voyage Autour du Monde, Nadeshda et Neva, Paris, 1820.

    Lisianski, U., Voyage around the world, London, 1814.

    Politovski, N. Kratkoye Istoricheskoye Obozrenye Obrazovanya I deistvya

    Rossiisko-Amerikansko Kompani
    (Short Historical review of the

    formation and proceedings of the Russian-American Company),

    St. Petersburg, 1861.

    Grot, Y. Derzhavine , St. Petersburg, 1880.

    Shemelin, F. Zhurnal Pervavo puteshestvya Rosskikh vokrug zemnavo share

    (Journal of the first voyage of the Russians around the globe),

    St. Petersburg, 1816.

    Encyclopedic articles in Russian on Rezanov exist in Entsik l opedicheski Slovar,

    St. Petersburg, 1899; Slovar Russkikh Svetskikh Pisatelei , Moscow, 1845.

    Few important primary sources on Rezanov exist in English, an exception being

    D'Wolf, J., Voyage to the North Pacific and a journey through Siberia ,

    Cambridge, 1861.

    The National Archives, Washington, D.C., contain all documents taken from Sitka

    in 1867.

    Yarmolinski, A., has contributed secondarily but importantly with "Some

    Rambling Notes on the Russian Columbus," Bull . N. Y. Publ.Lib.,

    Sept., 1927.

    Chevigny, H. Lost Empire , is the only full-length English work on Rezanov

    (Macmillan, 1937).


    Hector Chevigny

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