Alexander Andreyevich Baranov

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
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 born in 1747 in Kargopol, in St. Petersburg Governorate of the Russian Empire. He was the son of a lower class merchant, or "mestchanin" in the Russian stratified order of classes. Alexander 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, he left with his family for Siberia. 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, all of whom Baranov diligently continued to support from afar.

Establishment of Russian America[edit]

Due to business reverses that had left Baranov nearly bankrupt, he was then lured to Russian America, by Grigory Ivanovich Shelikhov, and the growing Maritime Fur Trade there. Baranov accepted a contract to be the chief manager of the Shelikhov Company for five years, to further establish and manage trading posts in the Kodiak Island region starting in the fall of 1790.[1]:154-157 En route in 1790 from Okhotsk in Siberia to Kodiak Island of Russian America, his ship was wrecked in October on Unalaska Island, one of the Aleutian Islands close to the Alaska Peninsula and about 600 miles from Kodiak. With help from local Aleuts, Baranov and his shipmates survived the winter until they could continue their journey successfully via Native sea-going boats in the spring of 1791.

In 1792, he moved the Kodiak Island settlement from Three Saints Bay to Pavlovsk. 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, establishing a degree of independence for the colonies in fulfilling their transportation needs. Shortly after, a group of Russian Orthodox clergy arrived, and their views were often at odds with Baranov's methods of management. A settlement in Yakutat Bay for thirty serf farming families from Russia was established in 1795. In 1797,Baranov was two years overdue to be replaced, and no relief was yet expected. That year, Baranov's Native mistress gave birth to a son, Antipatr. Two more children would result from this relationship, Irina and Ekaterina.

In Saint Petersburg, capital of Russia then, Nikolai Rezanov was a high official. He was Chamberlain to the Tsar, and 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 had been 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 would be late 1800 before Baranov would learn 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 southeastern Alaska had made it necessary for him to build a defensive fort in that area. He bought land from the Tlingit Indians where he built a fort and settlement on Sitka Island next to Sitka Sound. He felt this was important in order to push back British moves 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 they wanted the Russians to leave. The Russians at Sitka ignored the Tlingit warnings to evacuate, and so the Tlingit, let by War Chief Katlian, attacked and massacred nearly everyone at the Russian's 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. His aim was to push the Tlingit off of Sitka Island temporarily in order to build an impregnable Russian fort at the most strategic location 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 that 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 commenced, most of the Tlingit gunpowder (acquired from the British and Americans) exploded, hit by Russian gunfire as the gunpowder was being moved by Tlingit warriors in a war canoe to their main fort from a small island used for storage. This loss greatly weakened the Tlingit defenses. The Russian ground forces attempted an unsuccessful frontal attack on the Tlingit fort at Indian River. Thereafter, the Russians concentrated their efforts 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. So Baranov sent a fifty foot sailboat under the command of his able deputy, Ivan Kuskov, 2800 miles to Hawaii to get urgently needed food supplies from King Kamehameha, a long time friend of Baranov. This mission succeeded, and starvation at Sitka was narrowly averted.

In 1805, disaster struck again when Tlingit warriors attacked and massacred the Russian settlement at Yakutat, which Baranov decided not to try to retake and rebuild. Late that year, the Tsar's Chamberlain and Chairman of the Russian American Company, Nikolai Rezanov, arrived in Russian America for an inspection trip and to investigate rumors of Baranov's malfeasance. Rezanov's resulting reports to the Tsar lauded Baranov's management and attibuted the rumors against Baranov to malcontents. But Baranov asked to be relieved so he could see his Russian family again. Rezanov, seeing how indispensable Baranov was to the success of the colonies, avoided a definite answer.

In the spring of 1806, Rezanov sailed from Sitka to San Francisco to obtain urgently needed food supplies in exchange for otter furs, and to attempt to establish an alliance with the Spanish against the threatening British and American interests. During this visit with the Spanish of Northern California, he became enamored of the famously beautiful daughter of the commander of the Spanish garrison at San Francisco, Maria Concepcion "Conchita" Arguello. They became engaged to be married, subject to religious approvals, and Rezanov saw this potential union as a boon to Russian/Spanish cooperation in North America. He returned to Sitka with the needed food, and then sailed off for Siberia to head overland to St. Petersburg in quest of the necessary religious approvals. But during a 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, upon receiving news of his Russian wife's death, Baranov married his Native mistress in the Russian 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. And in 1810, he even faced an assassination attempt from some of his own disgruntled Russian soldiers. Fortunately, he was tipped off 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 Native languages and inoculated Natives against smallpox.[2]:96

In 1812, Baranov established Fort Ross in California about 50 miles north of San Francisco, principally to engage in farming 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. Unfortunately, Schaffer got involved with Hawaiian politics to the displeasure of King Kamahameha, and so he was shipped off to China and the Russian forts on Kauai were abandoned. This 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 of his malfeasance from 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 then replace Baranov 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 malfeasance. Baranov was replaced as chief manager and governor in January, 1818, by Hagemeister. 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. Not only was there no evidence of malfeasance by Baranov, but 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 just less than a month. It came with a navy artist assigned to document the voyage, Mikhail Tikhanov. In August, 1818, Tikhanof painted an oil portrait of Baranov and a watercolor of 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 just 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, if studied closely, 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 around the Cape of Good Hope. En route, the ship made an extended stopover in the Dutch settlement of Batavia, on the island of Java, then part of the colonial Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia), in March, 1819. Alexander Andreyevich Baranov became ill there, and soon after the ship resumed its journey he died on 16 April, and was buried at sea in the Sundra Strait off Prince Island.[2]:96-100


Baranof Island in Alaska is named after Baranov as is a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter and a US Liberty ship.


  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, original Russian publication in 1835, English translation 1973 edited by Richard A. Pierce; The Limestone Press; Kingston, Ontario.
  • 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