Alexander Andreyevich Baranov

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Alexander Andreyevich Baranov
Tikhanov - Alexandr Andreyevich Baranov (1818).png
1st Governor of Russian America
In office
July 9, 1799 – January 11, 1818
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Ludwig von Hagemeister
Personal details
Born 1747
Kargopol, St. Petersburg Governorate, Russian Empire
Died April 16, 1819(1819-04-16)
Sunda Strait, Dutch East Indies
Nationality Russian
Religion Russian Orthodox

Alexander Andreyevich Baranov (Russian: Алекса́ндр Андре́евич Бара́нов) (1747–1819), sometimes spelled Aleksandr or Alexandr and Baranof, was a Russian trader and merchant, appointed as the first governor of Russian America in the early colonial period of expansion of settlements. He oversaw the founding of more colonies and the expansion of the lucrative fur trade with Alaska Natives.

Early life and work[edit]

Alexander Andreyevich Baranov was born in 1747 in Kargopol, in St. Petersburg Governorate of the Russian Empire. He was the son of Andrey Baranov, a lower class merchant, or "mestchanin" in the Russian stratified order of classes. Baranov ran away from home at the age of fifteen to Moscow, where he became a clerk before returning home.

After marrying and the birth of a daughter, Baranov took his young family to Siberia for its frontier opportunities. In Irkutsk, he became a trader and tax collector with his brother. Eventually, his wife separated from Baranov and returned to Kargopol with their daughter and two young adopted children. Baranov supported them all from afar.

Establishment of Russian America[edit]

Due to business reverses that had left Baranov nearly bankrupt, he was lured to Russian America by Grigory Ivanovich Shelikhov, who had established a settlement on Kodiak Island to enhance the growing Maritime Fur Trade there. Baranov accepted a contract starting in the fall of 1790 to be the chief manager of the Shelikhov Company for five years, to establish and manage additional trading posts in the Kodiak Island region.[1]:154-157

En route in 1790 from Okhotsk in Siberia to Kodiak Island of Russian America, Baranov suffered the wreck of his ship in October on Unalaska Island, an Aleutian Island close to the Alaska Peninsula and about 600 miles from Kodiak. With help from the local Aleut, Baranov and his shipmates survived the winter. They continued their journey via Native sea-going boats in the spring of 1791 and reached Kodiak Island.

In 1792, Baranov moved the Russian settlement from Three Saints Bay, which had too constrained an area to succeed, to what they called Pavlovsk (later renamed as Kodiak). In 1793, he founded the port of Voskresensk in Chugach Bay. In 1794, under the direction of a British sea captain working for the Russian American Company, a sea-going sailing ship was built at Resurrection Bay. This was important for the colonies in fulfilling their transportation needs. Shortly after, a group of Russian Orthodox clergy arrived in Russian America. Their views were often at odds with Baranov's methods of management.

He founded a settlement in Yakutat Bay in 1795 for 30 serf farming families from Russia. By 1797, Baranov was two years overdue to be replaced, and he had no word of relief. That year, Baranov's Native mistress gave birth to a son, Antipatr. He had two more mixed-race Aleut-Russian children from this relationship, whom he named Irina and Ekaterina.

In Saint Petersburg, then capital of Russia, Nikolai Rezanov was a high official. He was Chamberlain to the Tsar. He was also Chairman of the Russian American Company, successor of the Shelikhof Company, through which Russia occupied and ruled Alaska. Due to Rezanov's influence at the royal court, in 1799 Baranov was assigned to manage all of the Russian American Company's interests in the field, including the Aleutian and Kuril Islands. However, due to the one-year travel time each way between St. Petersburg and Alaska, it was late 1800 before Baranov learned of his expanded responsibilities.

Communication with the government in St. Petersburg was so difficult that Baranov was left almost entirely on his own to decide any pressing issues. For all practical matters, he was the government of Alaska. Meanwhile in 1799, Baranov decided that British pressure on Russia's holdings in southeastern Alaska had made it necessary for him to build a defensive fort in that area. He bought land from the Tlingit Indians and built a fort and settlement on Sitka Island overlooking Sitka Sound. He believed it was important in order to push back British efforts to take over southeastern Alaska and annex it to Canada.

In 1802, after Baranov had returned to Kodiak to tend to matters there, the Tlingit tribe on Sitka Island decided to expel the Russians. The latter disregarded the Tlingit warnings to evacuate. Led by War Chief Katlian, the Tlingit attacked and massacred nearly everyone at the Sitka settlement. Baranov responded by gathering naval forces and an army (about 700 Aleuts) to attack Katlian's formidable new fort on Sitka at Indian River. He intended to push the Tlingit off Sitka Island temporarily in order to build an impregnable Russian fort at the most strategic site on Sitka Sound. This would be at a place previously occupied by the Tlingit.

To Baranov's great surprise and satisfaction, as he prepared for battle, a decree arrived from Tsar Alexander I promoting him to the rank of Collegiate Counselor -- a rank in the middle of the Russian ranks of nobility. From the lowly class of mestchannin far below nobility, he had been elevated to a rank equal or superior to the Russian Navy ship captains who had despised him because of his low social rank.

In September of 1804, Baranov sailed into Sitka Sound with his forces, including a powerful Russian Navy frigate, Neva. Baranov met with Katlian and other Native chiefs and tried to negotiate a peaceful resolution, without success. Just before the Battle of Sitka began, most of the Tlingit gunpowder (acquired from the British and Americans) exploded. It was hit by Russian gunfire while being moved by Tlingit warriors in a war canoe to their main fort from storage on a small island. This loss greatly weakened the Tlingit defenses.

The Russian ground forces unsuccessfully launched a frontal attack on the Tlingit fort at Indian River. Thereafter, they concentrated on naval bombardment from the big guns of the frigate Neva. After several days, the Tlingit abandoned their fort and escaped in a "survival march" to the adjoining Chichagof Island to the north. Baranov immediately began construction of a new fort on top of a rock outcropping at the eastern edge of Sitka Sound. Food soon became scarce for the Russians. Baranov sent a 50-foot sailboat, under the command of his deputy Ivan Kuskov, the 2800 miles to Hawaii to get urgently needed food supplies from King Kamehameha, a long-time trading friend. Kuskov returned on time with the supplies, and starvation of the Russians at Sitka was narrowly averted.

In 1805, Tlingit warriors attacked and massacred the Russian settlement at Yakutat, which Baranov decided not to try to retake and rebuild. Late that year, Nikolai Rezanov, the Tsar's Chamberlain and Chairman of the Russian American Company, arrived in Russian America for an inspection trip. He had been told rumors that Baranov was mismanaging affairs. Instead, Rezanov's resulting reports to the Tsar lauded Baranov's management and attributed the rumors against the governor to malcontents. Baranov asked to be relieved of his position so that he could return to Russia and see his family again. Seeing how indispensable Baranov was to the success of the colonies, Rezanov avoided a definite answer.

In the spring of 1806, Rezanov sailed from Sitka to San Francisco in Spanish-held California to obtain urgently needed food supplies in exchange for otter furs. He also tried to establish an alliance with the Spanish against the threatening British and United States interests. During this visit with the Spanish of Northern California, he became enamored of Maria Concepcion "Conchita" Arguello, the famously beautiful daughter of the commander of the Spanish garrison at San Francisco. They became engaged to be married, subject to religious approvals, as she was Roman Catholic and he was Russian Orthodox. Rezanov thought this potential match would be a boon to Russian/Spanish cooperation in North America. He returned to Sitka with the needed food, and sailed to Siberia in order to travel overland thousands of miles to St. Petersburg in quest of the necessary religious approvals from Russian Orthodox clergy. But during an unforgiving winter trek on horseback across Siberia, Rezanov became ill and died. There ended his great dream of a joint Russian-Spanish empire of the Pacific, over which he had envisioned placing Baranov as general manager.

In 1807 Baranov was awarded the Order of St. Anna, 2nd class for his successful perseverance and leadership. That year he received news that his Russian wife had died. Baranov married his Native mistress in the Russian Orthodox church and had their children legitimized. Despite his success in reestablishing a solid presence at Sitka, to which Baranov had moved the capital of Russian America from Kodiak, there was local unrest with his rule.

He wore a shirt of iron mail beneath his outer shirt to protect himself from Native arrows. The Tlingit made several unsuccessful attempts at assassination, and were amazed by his survival due to his secret armor. In 1810, Baranov was threatened with assassination from some of his own disgruntled Russian soldiers but was warned and the attempt was thwarted. Meanwhile, men appointed to relieve Baranov died en route to Alaska, to his great disappointment.

Activity in the region flourished as trading in sea otters and seals boomed. Baranov convinced Native hunters to expand their range to include the coasts of California.[2]:60 Baranov advocated more educational opportunities for the Alaska Native Americans. Under his leadership, schools were created and frontier communities became less isolated.[2]:112 During Baranov's rule, Russian Orthodox missionaries operated widely in Russian America. They translated the Bible into Tlingit and other Native languages, conducted mass in those languages, and inoculated Natives against smallpox.[2]:96

In 1812, Baranov established Fort Ross in California about 50 miles north of San Francisco. It was intended to develop farm products to feed the Alaskan communities. [2]:7,10,15,26,68,83-84

In 1815, Baranov sent Dr. Georg Schaffer, a physician, to Hawaii to establish a way station to accommodate Russian ships carrying furs from Alaska to the booming fur markets of Canton, China. Schaffer got involved with Hawaiian politics to the displeasure of King Kamahameha; he was forced to depart for China and leave the Russian forts on Kauai abandoned. The Hawaiian project was Baranov's greatest failure, at considerable expense to the Russian American Company. As a result of this failure, concern about Baranov's age (70), and allegations against him by navy officers returning from Alaska, the Russian American Company Board of Directors decided to commission Russian Navy Capt. Lt. Leontii Hagemeister to go to Alaska, investigate the charges against Baranov, and replace him as chief manager and governor.

Retirement and death[edit]

Hagemeister arrived at Sitka in November 1817 with an accountant, Kirill Khlebnikov (later Baranov's first biographer), to audit the financial records of Russian America for any evidence of Baranov's alleged wrongdoing. Hagemeister succeeded Baranov as chief manager and governor in January 1818. Kirill Khlebnikov was appointed Office Manager, receiving company capital totaling two and a half million rubles. Khlebnikov's audit showed that the books balanced to the ruble, with all income and disbursements accounted for. There was no evidence of malfeasance by Baranov. The audit showed that Baranov was personally almost insolvent because he had made it a practice to help others in financial distress with his own funds throughout his rule.

In late July 1818, a Russian navy ship sailing around the world arrived in Sitka for a brief visit of less than a month. On board was Mikhail Tikhanov, a navy artist assigned to document the voyage. In August 1818, Tikhanof painted an oil portrait of Baranov and a watercolor of Tlingit chief Katlian and his wife. These were the only likenesses ever made during their lifetimes of the two long-time antagonists who had finally made peace. Baranov's portrait is shown above, and was painted when he was 71, six months before he died. In the Katlian painting (which can be seen on the Internet), the chief is about age 45. He is shown with an "Allies of Russia" silver medal hanging on a light chain from his neck, and with Baranov's "Castle" fortress in the distance behind the chief. The two paintings together, by the same artist at the same time, offer a remarkable narrative on war and peace.

In October 1818, Hagemeister appointed Baranov's son-in-law Navy Lt. Semyon Ianovsky, husband of Irina, to replace Hagemeister as chief manager and governor. On 27 Nov., Baranov and Hagemeister left Alaska on the Navy ship Kutuzov for Russia. The ship headed south on a route that would take it west around the Cape of Good Hope at the foot of the African continent. En route, the ship made an extended stopover in March 1819 in the Dutch settlement of Batavia, on the island of Java, then part of the colonial Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia). Baranov became ill there, and soon after the ship resumed its journey he died on 16 April 1819. He was buried at sea in the Sundra Strait off Prince Island.[2]:96-100



  1. ^ Brown, S.R., 2009, Merchant Kings, New York: St. Martin's Press, ISBN 9780312616113
  2. ^ a b c d e Khlebnikov, K.T., 1973, Baranov, Chief Manager of the Russian Colonies in America, Kingston: The Limestone Press, ISBN 0919642500

See also[edit]

Additional reading[edit]

  • Khlebnikov, K.T.; Baranov - Chief Manager of the Russian Colonies in America, first Russian edition published in 1835, English translation 1973 edited by Richard A. Pierce; Kingston, Ontario: The Limestone Press.
  • Chevigny, Hector; Lord of Alaska - Baranov and the Russian Adventure, Portland, Oregon: Binfords & Mort, 1951, LIBRIS-id 2331138
  • Engstrom, Elton & Engstromn, Allan,; Alexander Baranov - a Pacific Empire, Juneau, Alaska: Elton Engstrom & Allan Engstrom, 2004, ISBN 0-9645701-3-0
  • Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Baranoff, Alexander Andrevitch". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 
Government offices
Preceded by
Evstratii Delarov
Chief Manager of the Shelikhov-Golikov Company
Succeeded by
himself as Governor of Russian Colonies in America
Preceded by
new post replacing the Governor of United American Company
Governor of Russian Colonies in America
Succeeded by
Ludwig von Hagemeister