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Russian-American Company
Founded 8 July 1799[1]
Headquarters Saint Petersburg
Key people Nikolay Petrovich Rezanov and Grigory Ivanovich Shelekhov

The Russian-American Company (officially: Russian-American Company Under His Imperial Majesty's Highest Protection (patronage)[2])[3] was a state-sponsored chartered company formed largely on the basis of the so-called Shelekhov–Golikov Company of Grigory Shelekhov and Ivan Larionovich Golikov (after Shelekhov's death managed by his widow Natalia Shelekhova, with heavy involvement from Shelekhov’s son-in-law Nikolai Rezanov until the latter’s death in 1807).[4]

Chartered by Tsar Paul I in 1799,[1] it was Russia's first joint stock company, and came under the direct authority of the Ministry of Commerce of Imperial Russia. The Minister of Commerce (later, Minister of Foreign Affairs) Nikolai Petrovich Rumyantsev was a pivotal influence upon the early Company's affairs. In 1801 the Company's headquarters were moved from Irkutsk to St.Petersburg and the merchants who were initially the major stockholders were soon replaced by Russia's nobility and aristocracy. Count Rumyantsev funded Russia's first naval circumnavigation under the joint command of Adam Johann von Krusenstern and Nikolai Rezanov in 1803-1806, and later funded and directed the voyage of the Riurik's circumnavigation of 1814–16, which provided substantial scientific information on Alaska's and California's flora and fauna, and important ethnographic information on Alaskan and Californian (among others) natives. Rumyantsev ( Bodega) Bay in northern California was named in his honour during the Russian-California period (1812–42) of Fort Ross.


The 20-year renewable charter and accompanying ukase (edict) granted the company monopoly over trade in Russian America, which included the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, and the territory down to 55° N latitude. Under the charter, one-third of all profits were to go to the emperor. A further ukase (edict or proclamation) by the Tsar in 1821, asserted its domain to 51° N latitude but this was challenged by the British and the United States, which ultimately resulted in the Russo-American Treaty of 1824 and the Russo-British Treaty of 1825 which established 54°40′ as the ostensible southward limit of Russian interests.[5] The only attempt at enforcement of the ukase of 1821 was the seizure of the U.S. brig Pearl in 1822, by the Russian sloop Apollon. The Pearl, a vessel of the maritime fur trade, was sailing from Boston to Sitka. On a protest from the US government the vessel was released and compensation paid.[6] A later lease to the Hudson's Bay Company of the southeastern sector of what is now the Alaska Panhandle, as far north as 56° 30' N, followed in 1838 as part of a damages settlement due to treaty violations by the Company's governor, Baron Ferdinand von Wrangel, in 1833. Under Alexandr Baranov, who governed the region between 1790 and 1818, a permanent settlement was established in 1804 at Novo-Arkhangelsk (today's Sitka, Alaska), and a thriving maritime trade was organized.

The Company's capital at New Archangel (present day Sitka, Alaska) in 1837

The company constructed settlements in what is today Alaska, Hawaii, and California. Colony, or Settlement Ross (Fort Ross) on the California coast in Sonoma County just north of San Francisco, was the southernmost outpost of the Russian-American Company. In addition to the fortified settlement (Fortress Ross) there was a port (Port Rumiantsev) Bodega Bay, and several Plantations (Ranchos) south of the Russian River valley. Though on supposed Spanish and then subsequently Mexican territory, the legitimacy of these claims was contested by both the Company and the Russian Government until the sale of the settlement in 1841, basing the legitimacy of their claims on prior English (New Albion) claims of territorial discovery.[7] It is now partially reconstructed and an open-air museum. The Rotchev House is the last remaining original building. Fort Elizabeth was built in Hawaii by an agent of the company.

But from the 1820s onwards the profits from the fur trade began to decline. Already in 1818 the Russian government had taken control of the Russian-American Company from the merchants who held the charter. The explorer and Naval Officer, Baron Wrangel, who had been administrator of Russian government interests in Russian America a decade before, was the first president of the company during the government period. The company ceased its commercial activities in 1881. In 1867, the Alaska Purchase transferred control of Alaska to the United States and the commercial interests of the Russian American Company were sold to Hutchinson, Kohl & Company of San Francisco, California, who then renamed their company to the Alaska Commercial Company.

Russian-American Company flag

Between 1799 and 1867 Russian America was governed by the Russian-American Company. The flag flown between 1799 and 1806 by the Company's ships and their shore establishments was Russia's commercial flag (civil ensign). On September 28, (October 10, new style) 1806, Aleksander I, Emperor of Russia made a notation on the design submitted to him of a new Russian-American Company flag; "So be it",[8] and added his cypher, thereby approving the first flag in Russia's history to be used by an Imperial chartered company." After Imperial confirmation the ukaz was heard in the Senate and on 19 October 1806 was sent for execution to the main office of the Russian-American Company, (RAC) and also to the Admiralty and Commerce colleges" The new Company flag design of 1806 placed the Imperial eagle in the upper left quarter of Russia's commercial flag. In order that the State symbol remain unobstructed and more visible the width of the white stripe was enlarged to cover roughly one half of the flag's width. The normal width proportions of Russia's commercial flag were equal thirds. The Imperial eagle carried a scroll which dipped into the blue stripe, also for more visibility, which read, in abbreviated form "Russian American Company's". The symbolism of the scroll beneath the Imperial eagle compliments the official version of the Company's name "Russian-American Company Under His Imperial Majesty's Protection" Later variations of the Company's flag can be found in two governmental albums, both printed in St.Petersburg, one in 1828,and one in 1835[8]

Flag of the Russian-American Company, 1828

Flag of the Russian-American Company 1835

In these later versions the golden eagle has been moved to the centre of the white stripe (1828).In the 1835 version the eagle's colour has reverted to black as in the 1806 version. Depictions of the Company's flag until the 1850s show the flag being used in Alaska having the eagle placed both in the centre of the white stripe (von Bartram, 1845) and in the upper quarter, (Mikhailov,1827; Olgin,1837) as in the original 1806 version.[8]

The flag flew over the company's holdings in California until January 1, 1842, and over Alaska until October 18th, 1867, when all Russian-American Company holdings in Alaska were sold to the United States. The flag continued to represent the Company until its Russian holdings were liquidated in 1881.[8]

Chief managers of the Shelikhov-Golikov Company

Prior to 1799, the Shelekhov-Golikov Company held a charter in Alaska and were founded by Grigory Shelikhov (1747–1795) and Ivan Golikov (1729–1805). Baranov served both under the Shelekhov-Golikov Company and the Russian-American Company, but he is not generally called a governor, as that title began to be used by foreigners only after the company was transferred to the rule of the Russian Navy on January 11, 1818.

No. Name Term
1 Grigory Ivanovich Shelekhov (1747–95) 1784–86
2 Konstantin Alekseevich Samoilov (fl. 1780’s) 1786–87
3 Evstratii Ivanovich Delarov (ca. 1740–1806) 1787–91
4 Aleksandr Andreyevich Baranov (1746–1819) 1791–99
  • Sources:
    • Piotr A. Tikhmenev: A History of the Russian-American Company (1978).
    • Richard A. Pierce: Russian America: A Biographical Dictionary. Alaska History no. 33, The Limestone Press, Kingston Ont. & Fairbanks Alaska.
    • Lydia T. Black: Russians in Alaska, 1732–1867 (2004).

Chief managers of the Russian American Company

Below is a list of the general managers (or chief managers, usually known in English as governors) of the Russian-American Company. Many of their names occur as place names in Southeast Alaska. Note that the English spelling of the names varies between sources.

No. Name Term
1 Alexander Andreyevich Baranov (1747–1819) July 9, 1799 – January 11, 1818
2 Captain Ludwig von Hagemeister (1780–1833) January 11, 1818 – October 24, 1818
3 Lieutenant Semyon Ivanovich Yanovsky (1788–1876) October 24, 1818 – September 15, 1820
4 Matvey Ivanovich Muravyev (1784–1826) September 15, 1820 – October 14, 1825
5 Pyotr Igorovich Chistyakov (1790–1862) October 14, 1825 – June 1, 1830
6 Baron Ferdinand Petrovich von Wrangel (1797–1870) June 1, 1830 – October 29, 1835
7 Ivan Antonovich Kupreianov (1800–57) October 29, 1835 – May 25, 1840
8 Arvid Adolf Etholén (1798–1876) May 25, 1840 – July 9, 1845
9 Vice Admiral Mikhail Dmitrievich Tebenkov (1802–72) July 9, 1845 – October 14, 1850
10 Captain Nikolay Yakovlevich Rosenberg (1807–57) October 14, 1850 – March 31, 1853
11 Aleksandr Ilich Rudakov (1817–75) March 31, 1853 – April 22, 1854
12 Captain Stepan Vasiliyevich Voyevodsky (1805–84) April 22, 1854 – June 22, 1859
13 Captain Ivan Vasiliyevich Furugelm (1821–1909) June 22, 1859 – December 2, 1863
14 Prince Dmitri Petrovich Maksutov (1832–89) December 2, 1863 – October 18, 1867


  • Unalaska, Alaska - 1774
  • Three Saints Bay, Alaska - 1784
  • Fort St. George in Kasilof, Alaska - 1786
  • St. Paul, Alaska - 1788
  • Fort St. Nicholas in Kenai, Alaska - 1791
  • Pavlovskaya, Alaska - 1791
  • Fort Saints Constantine and Helen on Nuchek Island, Alaska - 1793
  • Fort on Hinchinbrook Island, Alaska - 1793
  • New Russia near present-day Yakutat, Alaska - 1795
  • Redoubt St. Archangel Michael, Alaska near Sitka - 1799
  • New Archangel, Alaska - 1804
  • Fort Ross, California - 1812
  • Fort Elizabeth near Waimea, Hawaii - 1817
  • Fort Alexander near Hanalei, Hawaii - 1817
  • Fort Barclay-de-Tolly near Hanalei, Hawaii - 1817
  • Fort (New) Alexandrovsk at Bristol Bay, Alaska - 1819
  • Redoubt St. Michael, Alaska - 1833
  • Nulato, Alaska - 1834
  • Redoubt St. Dionysius in present-day Wrangell, Alaska - 1834
  • Pokrovskaya Mission, Alaska - 1837
  • Kolmakov Redoubt, Alaska - 1844


  • Aleksandr Nevskii, wrecked in 1813 at the Kurile Islands.
  • Aleaksei Chelovek Bozhii
  • Andrei Pervozvannyi
  • Andrian i Natal'ia
  • Avos, wrecked in 1808 at Icy Straight.
  • Bering, bought from a Boston skipper. Ran aground in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaiian Islands), date unknown.
  • Boris i Gleb
  • Chirikov, built in New Archangel.
  • Diana
  • Dmitrii
  • Ekaterina
  • Elizaveta
  • Evdokim
  • Evpl
  • Finliandiia, built in 1809.
  • Fish
  • Gavriil
  • Georgii
  • Grigorii Pobedonosets
  • Ieremiia
  • Il'mena, purchased from Americans.
  • Ioann
  • Ioann
  • Ioann
  • Ioann Bogoslov
  • Ioann Predtecha
  • Ioann Ryl'skii
  • Ioann Zlatoust
  • Iulian
  • Juno (Iunona), wrecked in 1811 at the Viliui River.
  • Kad'iak, a former English ship known as the Myrtle.
  • Kapiton
  • Kapiton (2nd)
  • Kapiton (Basov)
  • Kliment
  • Konstantin
  • Kutuvzov
  • Mariia Magdalina, wrecked in 1816 near the Okhota River.
  • Mikhail
  • Mikhail
  • Morekhod
  • Nadezhda
  • Natal'ia
  • Neva, wrecked in January 1813 at Sitkha Island.
  • Nikolai
  • Nikolai
  • Nikolai
  • Nikolai
  • Orel
  • Otkrytie, built in New Archangel.
  • Pavel (Ocheredin)
  • Pavel
  • Pavel
  • Petr i Pavel
  • Perkup i Zand
  • Phoenix
  • Perdpriiatie Sv. Aleksandry
  • Prokofii
  • Rostislav
  • Severnyi Orel
  • Sikurs
  • Simeon
  • Simeon i Ioann
  • Sitkha, built in New Archangel.
  • Suvorov
  • Trekh Ierarkhov
  • Trekh Sviatitelei
  • Truvor, purchased from Americans.
  • Vasilii
  • Vladimir
  • Zakhariia i Elizaveta
  • Zakhariia i Elizaveta
  • Zosima i Savatii

Pierce, Richard, ed. Documents on the history of the Russian-American Company. Kingston, Ont. : Limestone Press, c1976. pp. 23–26. OCLC: 2945773.
Tikhmenev, P. A. A history of the Russian-American Company. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1978. pp. 146–151. OCLC: 3089256.

See also

  • Russian american company flag
  • Awa'uq Massacre


  1. 1.0 1.1 Records of the Russian-American Company National Archives and Records Administration
  2. Russian: Под высочайшим Его Императорского Величества покровительством Российская-Американская Компания Pod vysochaĭshim Yego Imperatorskogo Velichestva pokrovitelʹstvom Rossiĭskaya-Amerikanskaya Kompaniya
  3. Pierce, Richard A.: The Russian-American Company: Correspondence of the Governors; Communications Sent: 1818.
  4. Piotr A. Tikhmenev: A History of the Russian-American Company (1978) (the original Russian work is from 1861).
  5. Haycox, Stephen W. (2002). Alaska: An American Colony. University of Washington Press. pp. 1118–1122. ISBN 978-0-295-98249-6. 
  6. Macmillan's magazine - Google Boeken. Retrieved 2012-07-25. 
  7. I.F. Kruzenstern, "Notes on ports and Ross and Franchesko" 4th October, 1825. Russia in California 2005.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Бытъ По Сему- So be it:200 years of the history and interpretation of "The flag granted by his Imperial Highness" The flag of the Russian-American Company. By John Middleton, September,2006. Fort Ross Conservancy web site

Further reading

  • Grinëv, Andrei V., “A Failed Monopoly: Management of the Russian-American Company, 1799–1867,” Alaska History, 27 (Spring–Fall 2012), 19–47.
  • A.I. Istomin, J.Gibson, V.A.Tishkov. Russia in California. Nauk, Moscow 2005
  • Tikhmenev, Piotr A.: A History of the Russian-American Company, translated and by Richard A. Pierce and Alton S. Donnelly, University of Washington Press, Seattle and London, 1978. (Original title in Russian: Istoricheskoe obozrenie obrazovaniia Rossiisko-Ameriskanskoi kompanii. Vol. 1 published in 1861 and vol. 2 in 1863.)
  • Black, Lydia T.: Russians in Alaska, 1732–1867. University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks, Alaska, 2004.
  • Middleton, John :Бытъ По Сему- So be it:200 years of the history and interpretation of "The flag granted by his Imperial Highness" The flag of the Russian-American Company. September,2006. Fort Ross Conservancy web site

Primary sources

  • Pierce, Richard A.:The Russian-American Company: Correspondence of the Governors; Communications Sent: 1818

The Limestone Press Kingston, Ontario, Canada 1984.

  • I.F. Kruzenstern: Notes on ports and Ross and Franchesko 4 October 1825.
  • Vorobyoff, Igor V., trans. (1973) "Adventures of Doctor Schäffer in Hawaii, 1815–1819," Hawaiian Journal of History 7:55–78 [1] (translation of Bolkhovitinov, N. N., "Avantyura Doktora Sheffera na Gavayyakh v 1815–1819 Godakh," Novaya i Noveyshaya Istoriya 1[1972]:121–137)

External links

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