Administrative History
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Chapter 2:


In August 1808 New Archangel became the capital city of Russian America and the administrative center for the Russian American Company that had been chartered by the Russian government in 1799 to be its sole fur trader in North America. At that time, the Russians claimed land in North America that stretched along the coast from Norton Sound to California. Sitka became the cultural and commercial center for the Russians in North America. Officers and employees of the Russian American Company brought their families to Sitka. In 1833, 406 Russians lived at Sitka. With them were 307 Creoles (of Russian fathers and Native Alaskan mothers) and 134 Aleuts. [78]

Ships from many European countries and America that came to the North Pacific to trade for furs, hunt whales, or explore stopped at Sitka. A shipyard had been established shortly after the town was founded. Over the next fifty years many vessels were repaired at the shipyard. Others were built there, including several steam vessels including Nikolai I and Muir. The steam engine for the latter was built at Sitka as well. [79]

The community had brickyards, tanneries, and a foundry for casting brass, copper, and iron. At two sawmills near Sitka, Russians cut lumber for ships and buildings. Workers caught and salted fish for food and sale at several sites near the community. In the 1840s and 1850s, the Russians cut and shipped ice from the lakes at Sitka to California. For the ice industry they created Swan Lake, known to them as Labaishia Lake, from a low swamp. [80] An 1809 map of Sitka identifies a well in the center of town. An account in the 1840s identifies a cistern, thought to be at the same site, for water that was hauled about half a mile from a spring on a mountain-side. [81]

As part of the company charter, the Russian government required the Russian American Company to provide support for Russian Orthodox clergy in Russian America. In 1816, the Russians constructed the original Saint Michael's Russian Orthodox Church close to the ocean. In 1848 they replaced the church with a cathedral that was built in the center of town. In 1842-1843 the Russian-American Company built the Russian Bishop's House for the church. It is believed that Finnish ship builders constructed the two-story log building, which measured 63 feet long and 42 feet wide. Two frame additions, called galleries, were at the east and west ends of the building for stairways, latrines, and storage. They were to form an air space between the outdoors and indoors. Each gallery was 42 by 14 feet. The building became the center for the administration of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska. [82]

The Kiksadi Tlingits returned to Sitka in 1821 and settled out side of the stockade. The area where they lived was commonly referred to as the ranche. The Tlingits and Russians never lived completely in harmony. The Russians allowed the Tlingits inside the stockade only during specified hours each day and locked the gates at sundown. If a Native was selling fish or game to the company, the transaction was conducted at a small window at the gate by one of the blockhouses. [83]

By 1825, the community also had a hospital, an observatory, a library, and a museum. For outdoor recreation Sitka residents went boating, hunting, or on walks and picnics to the deep woods near Indian River. A route known as the Governor's Walk went from the wharf, through town, to Indian River. Cards, masquerades, theatricals, and dinners were common indoor recreation activities. The officers of the company had a club that Governor Adolf Etholin established in 1840. In general, the Russian settlement differed from most others in the New World in the 1700s and the 1800s because it was established by employees of a company who came to do a job instead of seeking religious freedom or to seek homes for themselves. [84]

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Last Updated: 04-Nov-2000