Fort Ross: We Did It Together!

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Even before California became a state of the USA, Russians, Americans and Native people lived and worked together, planting seeds of future peace and prosperity.

In 200 years of it’s existence, Fort Ross reflected many chapters of American history – from early days of exploration of Northern America by European civilization, followed by establishment of the worlds’ industrial superpower, to recent decline of California’s economy.

In June, 2010, when Russian President Dmitri Medvedev visited California, the time was calling for an immediate intervention. Due to the budget deficit, California was no longer able to fund the very existence of the Historic Landmark.

A member of Russian President’s delegation, billionaire Vekselberg, signed an agreement with the State of California, which will provide critically needed funding – up to 1 million dollars per year.

Why does this place have so much significance?

Fort Ross is more than an symbol of Russian-American relations. It is an important landmark in the history of expansion of European civilization.

The Spanish expansion went west across the Atlantic Ocean and the Russian expansion went east across Siberia and the Pacific Ocean. In the early nineteenth century, the two waves of expansion met on the opposite side of the world along the Pacific Coast of California, Russia arriving from the north, and Spain from the south. The dividing line was the famous San Francisco Bay. The United States of America arrived in 1846 from the east.

The Russian managers were the first to introduce many European refinements such as glass windows, stoves, and all-wood housing into Alta California. Together with the surrounding settlement, Fort Ross was home to Russians (during the 19th and early 20th century Russian subjects included Poles, Finns, Ukrainians, Estonians, and numerous other nationalities and ethnic groups of the Russian Empire), as well as North Pacific Natives, Aleuts, Kashaya (Pomo), and Creoles. The native populations of the Sonoma and Napa County regions were affected by smallpox, measles and other European diseases, one instance that can be traced to the settlement of Fort Ross. However, the first vaccination in California history was carried out by the crew of the KUTUZOV, a Russian-American Company vessel which brought vaccine from Peru to Monterey in 1818, sparing the capital from disease.

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. 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.”

Last Saturday of every month, Fort Ross becomes a site of a spectacular outdoor celebration of Russian-American culture and history.

Among many exciting activities, there is a liturgy in St. Nicholas Cathedral, Russian Music performed by Slavyanka Choir, Russian Folk Music and Dance, Musket and cannon demonstration.

Fort Ross can tell a lot of amazing stories. It is a place, where Native people, Russians and Americans lived and worked together in peace. The seeds of future prosperity, cooperation and multicultural existence where planted. Modern day California is a beautiful fruit-bearing tree in many ways because of the choices and sacrifices made by our ancestors, who found more reasons to love and respect each other, than being at war with each other.

It is from this lessons of history that we know – Russian American relations have strong foundation of peace and stability, dating back to the very first days of exploration of Pacific Coast by European civilizations.

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Danesh Oleshko

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