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.
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
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
Population of the settlement varied over 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.”
Ross in 1828 as it was represented in Duhant-Cilly's Voyage
Autour du Monde.
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.
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.
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.