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Fort Ross

Fort Ross

Fort Ross, located in Spanish California, marked the southernmost point of Russian expansion in North America. Beginning in the first decade of the nineteenth century, representatives of the Russian-American Company in Alaska visited Spanish Alta California in search of both grain for the Alaskan colonies and sea otters and fur seals. In 1811 the company's directors approved a plan to establish an agricultural colony north of the Spanish territory in Alta California. Accordingly, in March 1812, Ivan Kuskov established Fort Ross on the coast some eighteen miles north of Bodega Bay. By 1820, Fort Ross had a population of 273, including Russians, Aleuts from Alaska, people of mixed Russian-Aleut ancestry, and local Kashaya Pomo and Coast Miwok tribes.

The agricultural operation at Fort Ross and at several farms established in the Bodega Bay area proved disappointing, never reaching expected production levels, but the hunt for fur-bearing marine mammals was somewhat more successful. Between 1824 and 1834 the company exported 1,822 pelts from mature otters, 94 from pups, and 2,669 fur-seal pelts. In 1841 the company sold Fort Ross to John Sutter, a Swiss entrepreneur who in the mid-1830s established a farming and ranching operation at the confluence of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers. Sutter went on to gain notoriety when the initial gold deposits that sparked the 1848 Gold Rush were discovered at his mill.

See alsoCalifornia .


Petr A. Tikhmenev, A History of the Russian-American Company, edited and translated by Richard A. Pierce and Alton S. Donnelly (1977).

Glenn J. Farris, "The Russian Imprint on the Colonization of California," in David Hurst Thomas, ed., Columbian Consequences. Vol. 1, Archaeological and Historical Perspectives on the Spanish Borderlands West (1989), pp. 481-497.

Additional Bibliography

Bolkhovitinov, N. N. Istoriia Russkoi Ameriki: 1732–1867. Moskva: Mezhdunar, 1999.

Kalani, Lyn, and Sarah Sweedler. Fort Ross and the Sonoma Coast. Charleston: Arcadia Pub., 2004.

                                        Robert H. Jackson

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