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Chapter 2:


By 1799 Sitka Sound was a favored trading spot for Euro American traders. The Russians considered the predominantly British and American traders to be intruders in their domain. After a visit to the Sitka Sound area in 1795, Alexander Baranov, Chief Manager of the Shelikhov-Golikov Company, one of the companies organized into the Russian American Company in 1799, determined to build a trading post at the site. On July 7, 1799, Baranov returned to Sitka Sound with several other Russians and a number of Aleut hunters. Baranov negotiated with the local Tlingit chief for the right to occupy a tract of land at the mouth of Starrigavan Creek, four miles north of the large permanent Sheeatika village at Castle Hill. Construction of Archangel Saint Michael's Redoubt began immediately. The Russians built a large warehouse, stockade, blockhouse, blacksmith shop, residence for Baranov, quarters for the hunters, and a men's house. During the winter the Tlingits unsuccessfully attacked the post several times. Business called Baranov to Kodiak in 1800. [70 Baranov left written instructions for Vasilii G. Medvednikov, whom he left in charge, discussing treatment of area Natives and construction of the fort. In the instructions, Baranov also pointed out the need to strengthen the company's economic and political position in southeast Alaska. It is clear from the instructions that the Russians feared the local Tlingits. After Baranov's departure, 25 Russians and 55 Aleuts staffed the post. In spring 1802, the population of the post was 29 Russians, 3 British deserters, 200 Aleuts, and some Kodiak women. [71]

Materialistic and militant, the Tlingits were shrewd traders and fierce enemies. The Russian traders had protested foreign competition for furs to their government and had appealed to the British, Spanish, French, and United States traders not to trade guns and ammunition for furs. By the late 1790s the fur trade competition in the North Pacific was keen, and few traders cooperated with the request of the Russians.

The Sitka-area Tlingits were divided among themselves in their feelings toward the Russian settlers. In June, 1802, a group of hostile Tlingits from Indian River and nearby Crab Apple Island led by a chief named Katlean attacked the redoubt. They looted and burned the barracks, storehouses, and fur warehouses. They more than 4,000 sea otter pelts and burned a ship being built. Most of the Russian and Aleut workers were killed. The dead numbered 20 Russians and up to 130 Aleuts. A few Russians and Aleuts who had been away from the post hunting or who fled into the forest later reached British and American trading ships that arrived in the harbor and relayed the news. Capt. James Barber of the British ship Unicorn held a Tlingit chief and several other Indians captive until the Russian and 18 Aleuts captured during the attack were turned over to him. Barber delivered the survivors and the news of the attack to Baranov at Kodiak on June 24. [72]

In late September, 1804, Baranov returned to Sitka Sound with a large Russian and Aleut force to re-establish the redoubt. The 1,150 men were supported by four ships with cannon. One of the ships, Neva, had recently arrived in Russian America. Its commander, Urey Lisiansky, later wrote an account of the battle that ensued. The Sitkans permanent winter village was clustered around Castle Hill. When the Russian ships sailed into sight, the Tlingits abandoned the village in favor of a stronger fortification to the east by Indian River, Shish-Kee-Nu, or "Sapling Fort." The Kiksadi Tlingits fortified the site in anticipation of the Russians' return. Fourteen buildings enclosed by a thick log wall stood at the site. The Tlingits reportedly numbered 750. The site provided fresh water and a potential route of escape. Further, the gravel shoals extending from the river's mouth prevented close approach by large vessels. [73]

On September 29, the Russians went ashore at the winter village. Lisiansky named the site New Archangel. That evening a Tlingit ambassador came from the Indian River fort. The Russians asked that the chiefs come to visit. The ambassadors returned several times. Baranov asked that the Russians be permitted to occupy Castle Hill. When negotiations broke down, the Russians advised the Tlingits that they planned to begin firing at the Indian River fort. The Russians returned to their ships, moved them close to the fort, and began firing on October 1.

The Russians bombarded the Tlingit camp with 16 guns for several days. Then a number of Russians went ashore and battle ensued at Indian River. Baranov led the Russians. Chief Katlean led the Kiksadi Tlingits. A few men were killed and some wounded, including Baranov. The Russians were forced to return to their ships. They renewed their bombardment. Because their supply of gunpowder was exhausted and because they were afraid of the treatment they would receive from the Russians if captured, the Tlingits chose to abandon the fort and flee across the mountains to the north. After the Tlingits fled, the Russians burned the fort. [74]

The Russians were not sure where the Tlingits had gone. For a long time, all Russian hunting parties were on constant guard against attack. A few days after the battle, eight Aleuts were killed in Jamestown Bay and another was shot in the woods near the Russians' new fort. [75]

The Tlingits escaped by following Indian River to its head and crossing the mountains to Katlean Bay. There they constructed canoes and moved to "Olga Point" where they lived for a year before moving to "Deadman's Reach" and finally to Sitkoh Bay on Peril Straits. At Sitkoh Bay they built a new village called Choch-Kanu, Halibut Fort. [76]

The Russians built a new settlement, called Novo Archangelsk or New Archangel although generally known as Sitka, at the site of the Tlingit village at Castle Hill. The Russians named the hill Castle Hill, because it was the site for the Russian American Company governor's home. Although Baranov had his house on the hill, the first structure known as Baranov's Castle was built on the site in 1837, long after the first governor's death.

Around the kekur or hill, the Russians built a high, wooden stockade with three blockhouses, all armed with cannon and muskets. Almost a thousand trees were cut for the stockade. Inside the stockade, warehouses, barracks, and workshops stood. By summer 1805, 8 buildings had been finished and 15 gardens had been planted. As late as 1858, Tlingit warriors sporadically attacked the town and groups who were away from the post. [77]

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Last Updated: 04-Nov-2000