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Our Russian Historical Heritage
California's Fort Ross

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ORIGINAL PAINTING OF FORT ROSS
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CLICK TO ENLARGE PHOTOS
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HOLY ORTHODOX CHURCH FORT ROSS
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THE ROAD TO THE FORT
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ORIGINAL ICONS FROM THE CHURCH
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      California's Fort Ross: A History


  The settlement of Ross, the name derived from the word for Russia (Rossiia) was established by the Russian - American Company, a commercial hunting and trading company chartered by the tsarist government, with shares held by the members of the Tsar’s family, court nobility and high officials. Trade was vital to Russian outposts in Alaska, where long winters exhausted supplies and the settlements could not grow enough food to support themselves. Baranov directed his chief deputy, Ivan Alexandrovich Kuskov, to establish a colony in California as a food source for Alaska and to hunt profitable sea otters. After several reconnaissance missions, Kuskov arrived at Ross in March of 1812 with a party of 25 Russians, many of them craftsmen, and 80 native Alaskans from Kodiak and the Aleutian Islands. After negotiating with the Kashaya Pomo people who inhabited the area, Kuskov began construction of the fort. The carpenters who accompanied Kuskov to Settlement Ross, along with their native Alaskan helpers, had worked on forts in Alaska, and the construction here followed models of the traditional stockade, blockhouses and log buildings found in Siberia and Alaska.

From 1812 to 1841 Russian American Company Settlement Ross was home to a unique blend of cultural groups—Russians, Creoles, Native Alaskans, and Kashaya and Coast Miwok Native Californians. On Cultural Heritage Day we celebrate this cultural diversity and the arts, crafts and traditional activities of the inhabitants of Fort Ross.

Historical Introduction 
The surrounding environment of Settlement Ross (1812-1841) was remarkably like it is today, but you would find cattle pens, agricultural fields and gardens, and many structures that no longer exist outside the stockade (two windmills to the west and north of the fort, and in Sandy Cove a shipyard, forge, blacksmith shop, tannery, cooperage and bathhouse). On the bluff in front of the fort there was a Native Alaskan village, and just west of the fort were the wooden houses where most of the Russian-American Company personnel lived with their families. There was a large warehouse in the fort located on the west wall, a barracks on the east wall, and a storehouse on the south wall.

   Population of the settlement varied over the years. The term “Creole” designated a social class comprised mainly of citizens descended from Russians married to Native Alaskans and Californians. This group formed a large part of the colony’s inhabitants.  In 1836 Father Ioann Veniaminov recorded: “Fort Ross contains 260 people: 154 male and 106 female. There are 120 Russians, 51 Creoles, 50 Kodiak Aleuts, and 39 baptized Indians.”

 Fort Ross in 1828 as it was represented in Duhant-Cilly's Voyage Autour du Monde.

This former Russian-American Company trading post, built on a shelf of land above the Pacific, 13 miles northwest of the mouth of the Russian River and 80 miles north of San Francisco, represented the farthest penetration south by the Russians. Fort Ross expressed the efforts of the company, a trade monopoly, with headquarters at Sitka, Alaska, to establish during the nineteenth century a base on the California coast for sea otter hunting and the development of agricultural supplies for Alaska.

In June 1812, a crew of 95 Russians and 40 Aleuts began to work on a stockaded redwood fort on an elevated coastal plateau overlooking a small harbor 30 miles north of Bodega Bay. The Russians now occupied a permanent trade base at Fort Ross and a harbor at Bodega Bay from which their needs in Alaska could he supplied. The fort was dedicated on August 13, 1812, as Rossiya, derived from the Russian word Rus. In 1821, the Czar issued an ukase closing the Pacific Coast north of San Francisco to all but Russian ships. The Russian government's attempt to control the region was responsible for that part of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 which stated that the New Would was no longer open to aggression by force and that European countries could not extend their holdings in it. 

With the virtual extermination by ruthless slaughter of the sea otters and fur seals by the Russians, Americans, and British; the Russians increased their efforts in agriculture and manufacturing in their California colony, but without any marked success. By the end of 1839, the officials of the Russian American Company ordered the colonists to sell out and return to Alaska. For several months, negotiations for the sale were carried on with both General Mariano G. Vallejo of Scnoma and Captain John A. Sutter of New Helvetia (Sacramento). Sutter's offer was finally accepted on December 12, 1841 1. He was to pay $30,000 in produce and gold for the movable property and other assets of the Russian colony. Between 1841 and 1844 Sutter's men took down a number of the buildings of the colony and removed the arms, equipment and livestock which the Russians had left.

After 1845, the fort area became the center of a large ranch, and the remaining buildings were used in various ways. The G. W. Call family purchased the fort and ranch in 1874. After the collapse of the Chapel of Fort Ross in the 1906 earthquake, the fort site was purchased by the California Historical Landmarks Committee of San Francisco and presented to the State of California in the same year. Restored in 1955-57, the stockade is built of hewn redwood timbers eight inches thick and 12 feet high. The maximum dimensions of the quadrangle it enclosed are 276 feet by 312 feet. The Russian Orthodox Chapel, built about 1828, was reassembeled about 1917, but extensive termite damage and the effects of the weather made it necessary to do considerable repairing of the building in 1955--57. There are two blockhouses-- a seven sided one at the north comer and an eight sided one at the south. Cannon ports on each of the walls of the two stories of each blockhouse could cover the walls of the fort and the landing on the beach below the fort. There were no musket ports. Both buildings have been restored.

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