Nikolay Petrovich Rezanov (Russian: Николай Петрович Резанов) (1764 – 1807) was a Russian nobleman and statesman who promoted the project of Russian colonization of Alaska and California. Aleksander I commissioned him as Russian ambassador to Japan (1804) to conclude a commercial treaty. In order to get there he was appointed co-commander of the First Russian circumnavigation (1803-1806), led by Adam Johann von Krusenstern. Rezanov departed the expedition when it reached Kamchatka after visiting Japan where he was unsuccessful in his ambassadorial mission. He was also the author of a lexicon of the Japanese language and of several other works, which are preserved in the library of the Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences, of which he was a member. But Rezanov's monument for many years after his death was the great Russian American Company.
Rezanov was born in Saint Petersburg on March 28, 1764. He mastered five languages by the age of 14. He joined the Izmaylovsky Regiment at the same age and left five years later in 1784 as captain. Rezanov then spent five years as a court officer in Pskov. In 1791, he joined the staff of Gavrila Derzhavin in his capacity as the private secretary to the Empress Catherine. Platon Zubov took interest in Rezanov, hiring him as an aid within a year of his employment with Derzhavin. Zubov became interested in the fur trade activities of Irkutsk merchant Grigory Shelikhov. His influence with Catherine II was used to secure priests from the Valaam Monastery and colonists for Shelikov's settlements on Kodiak Islands.
Interest in fur trade
In the winter of 1793 Rezanov was appointed as Zubov's personal representative to oversee the fledging operations. Rezanov's carriage pulled into Irkutsk in August 1794, where his father Pyotr had severed a civil servant for several decades and the center of the Shelikhov-Golikov Company. He likely joined Shelikhov in visiting Kyakhta during the annual trading with the Qing Empire. Rezanov found the land routes to China "inefficient and archaic" when compared to the naval trade of the British in Guangzhou. In January 1795 he married Shelikhov's 13 year old daughter Anna, who died in childbirth seven years later, with a dowry in shares of Shelikhov's company. He became a partner in the company, rapidly developing into a keen and tireless man of business. At the death of Shelikhov later in 1795, he became the leading spirit of the wealthy and amalgamated but harassed company, and resolved to obtain for himself and his partners privileges analogous to those granted by Great Britain to the East India Company.
Rezanov had just succeeded in persuading Catherine II to sign his charter when she died (1796), and had to begin again with the ill-balanced and intractable Tsar Paul I. For a time the outlook appeared hopeless, but Rezanov's skill, subtlety and address prevailed, and shortly before the assassination of the Tsar obtained his signature to the Ukase of 1799. The Russian-American Company (RAC) for a term of twenty years was granted a monopoly over the Pacific Northwest coast of North America, from latitude 55 degrees northward; and over the chain of islands extending from Kamchatka northward to Alaska and southward to Japan. As a civil servant, Rezanov couldn't be directly named a director of the company, officially being employed as the RAC's "High Representative in the Capital." The majority of the shares owned by the Shelikhov family, though Rezanov, Tsar Paul, future Tsar Alexander I of Russia and Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich were among the shareholders. Initially the company turned a favorable profit until the first years of the 19th century, when mismanagement and scarcity of nourishing food threatened it with serious losses if not ultimate ruin.
The First Russian circumnavigation was supported by Rezanov, who was appointed as minister plenipotentiary in an attempt to open diplomatic relations with the isolationist Tokugawa Shogunate. En-route to Japan the Russians visited the Kingdom of Hawaii, where they learned of the destruction of Redoubt Saint Michael. The Neva, one of the two ships in the expedition, was dispatched north on 31 May 1804 and was critical in the Battle of Sitka later that year. Rezanov was impressed with the agricultural potential of the Hawaiian Islands, exclaiming that "All of Siberia might be supplied by sugar from Owhyhee". On board the Nadezhda, Rezanov and the remaining crew under Adam Johann von Krusenstern sailed for Petropavlovsk. Finally departing for Japan in the autumn of 1804, the Nadezhda entered Nagasaki Bay in September. Rezanov didn't endear himself with his hosts, a Japanese translator in particular said that "All of Japan is talking of you and saying that you are different from the Dutch, prouder, more heated and that you look down on the Japanese". The Russians left Nagasaki on 5 April 1805, efforts at opening trade ultimately an embarrassing failure.
The Nadezhda returned to Petropavlovsk on 24 May 1805, and found commands awaiting him to remain in the Russian colonies as Imperial inspector and plenipotentiary of the company, and to correct the abuses that were ruining the great enterprise. He departed on the Maria on 28 July for Novo-Arkhangelsk by way of the Aleutian islands. While touring the colonies, Rezanov established measures to protect the fur-bearing animals from reckless slaughter, especially on the Pribilof Islands, along with punishing or banishing the worst offenders against the company's laws. Additionally he promoted schools and libraries, most of the books being his personal gifts and established cooking schools that flourished briefly.
Mission to Alta California
After spending a winter at the company headquarters in Novo-Arkhangelsk (during which he and the others nearly starved), Rezanov bought a ship from American John DeWolf and sailed for New Spain. He planned to trade his tempting cargo of American and Russian wares for food-stuffs and to arrange a treaty by whose terms his colonies should be provisioned twice a year with the bountiful products of the Spanish missions and settlements in Alta California. A stormy voyage defeated his intention to take possession of the Columbia River in the name of Russia. He cast anchor in the harbor of Yerba Buena early in April 1806.
Although he was received with great courtesy and entertained night and day by the Californians, no time was lost in informing him that the laws of Spain forbade her colonies to trade with foreign powers, and that the governor of all the Californias was incorruptible. Rezanov began a love affair with the daughter of the comandante of San Francisco, Don José Darío Argüello, 15-year-old Concepción Argüello. The couple became engaged, causing a sensation in the tight knit Californio society. Rezanov's diplomatic skill won over the clergy and the budding ties with comandante Argüello meant the Juno's hold was filled of bread-stuffs and dried meats. The Juno sailed for Novo-Arkhangelsk six weeks after anchoring in Alta California. Rezanov had the promise of the perplexed governor to forward a copy of the treaty to Spain at once. He proceeded to Petropavlovsk, where he dispatched his ships to wrest the island Sakhalin of the lower Kuril group from Japan. Rezanov then began the overland trip to Saint Petersburg, hoping to obtain the tsar's approval for the treaty, and also personal letters to the pope and king of Spain that he might ask for the dispensation and the royal consent necessary for his marriage.
He died of fever and exhaustion in Krasny Yar (now Krasnoyarsk), Siberia, on March 8, 1807. His grave was destroyed by bolsheviks, but his remains were reburied. On October 28, 2000, at Rezanov’s grave in the Trinity churchyard of Krasnoyarsk (where according to one account his remains were moved in the late 1950s) there was a service for the dead and the dedication of a memorial to Rezanov. It is a white cross, bearing on one side the inscription “Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov 1764 — 1807. I will never forget you”, and on the other side — “Maria Concepcion de Arguelio 1791 — 1857. I will see you never more”.
The treaty with California, the bare suggestion of which made such a commotion in New Spain, was the least of Rezanov's projects. It was sincerely conceived, for he was deeply and humanely concerned for his employees and the wretched natives who were little more than the slaves of the company; but its very obviousness raised the necessary amount of dust.
His correspondence with the company betrays a clearly defined purpose to annex to Russia the entire western coast of North America, and to encourage immediate emigration from the parent country on a large scale. Had he lived, there is, all things considered, hardly a doubt that he would have accomplished his object. The treaty was never signed, the reforms of Rezanov died of discouragement, the fortunes of the colonies gradually collapsed, and the Spanish girl who had loved Rezanov became a nun.
Rezanov's romance with Concepción became the subject of Concepcion de Arguello, a ballad by the San Francisco author, Francis Bret Harte, and a 1937 novel, Rezánov and Doña Concha, by the largely forgotten San Francisco author Gertrude Atherton, who had also written a biography of Rezanov on the centennial of his romance with Concepcion.
In 1979, the composer Alexei Rybnikov and the poet Andrey Voznesensky wrote one of the first Russian rock operas, choosing the love affair of Rezanov and Concepcion as their subject and naming the opera after two of Rezanov's ships, Juno and Avos. The original production has enjoyed immense success in the Lenkom Theatre in the course of 25 years, and is still being performed to standing ovations as of 2007. The original actor playing Rezanov from 1979–2005, Nikolai Karachentsov, was seriously injured in a car crash in 2005, and has been replaced in the production by Dmitry Pevtsov and Viktor Rakov.
The High Mass for the two lovers was attended by Gary E. Brown, Police Chief of the city of Monterey, California. He was in Siberia as part of a Pointman Leadership Institute team to instruct the National Police in Ethical Based Leadership. Chief Brown scattered on Rezanov’s tomb some earth from Conchita’s grave, and at the suggestion of Monterey resident John Middleton, a rose from her burial site, and took some earth from Rezanov’s grave to scatter on the resting place of Concepcion de Arguello in Benicia, CA. “It will connect them forever in a symbolic way” said the chief. He went on to share that the love story which took place 200 years ago forever united the cities of Krasnoyarsk and Monterey.
- Matthews, Owen. Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America. New York City: Bloomsbury. 2013, pp. 37-39. ISBN 978-1-4088-2223-4 OCLC 827256838
- Owen (2013), p. 41.
- Owen (2013), p. 54.
- Owen (2013), p. 83.
- Owen (2013), p. 91.
- Owen (2013), pp. 98-101.
- Lensen, George A. Early Russo-Japanese Relations. The Far Eastern Quarterly 10, No. 1 (1950), pp. 2-37.
- Owen (2013), p. 118.
- Owens (2013), pp. 167-168.
- Owens (2013), pp. 200-201.
- http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21581967-when-tsarist-empire-reached-california-how-east-was-lost Russia’s American empire: How the east was lost
- Webpage on Rezanov
- Rezanov's mission in Japan
- Еrmolaev I. N. "Pskov. Nikolay Rezanov (1764-1807)"
- Bret Harte's poem "Concepcion De Arguello"