Bering, Vitus Jonassen
BERING, VITUS JONASSEN
(1681–1741), Russian explorer of Danish descent.
Vitus Bering was the captain-commander of two expeditions exploring the relative positions of the coasts of Siberia and North America. Bringing back the valuable sea otter and other pelts from the islands of the North Pacific to Siberia, the second of these expeditions sparked the fur rush that resulted in the Russian conquest of the Commander and Aleutian Islands and, eventually, all of Alaska, which was claimed by the Russian Empire until it was sold to the United States in 1867.
On the first expedition, which sailed in 1728 from the coast of Kamchatka northward well into the Arctic Ocean, passed through what is now known as the Bering Strait, and discovered St. Lawrence Island and the Diomede Islands, Bering did not sight the coast of North America; but he was convinced that Asia and North America were not joined by land. However, when Bering arrived in St. Petersburg, his critics at the Admiralty found the results of his exploration inconclusive, and a second expedition was ordered.
On the second expedition, Bering, commanding the St. Peter, and his second officer, Alexei Chirikov, commanding the St. Paul, left the Kamchatka coast together; but their ships lost sight of each other in the Pacific Ocean. Consequently, Chirikov's party sighted the coast of southeast Alaska (apparently anchoring off of Cape Addington, around latitude 58º28´), and Bering's party sighted Mt. St. Elias several days later, both in July 1741. On the return voyage the two ships separately sighted and explored a few of the Aleutian Islands. Chirikov's party returned successfully to the Siberian shore, but Bering's wrecked on what today is known as Bering Island, where Bering and nineteen of his men died. The survivors built a small boat out of the wreckage and sailed successfully for Kamchatka the following year.
See also: alaska; chirikov, alexei ilich
Fisher, Raymond H. (1977). Bering's Voyages: Whither and Why. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Frost, O. W., ed. (1992). Bering and Chirikov: The American Voyages and Their Impact. Anchorage: Alaska Historical Society.