Talk:Politkofsky (steam tug)

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Chronicle of the Politkofsky 26 Chapter 6: A Russian Gunboat In 1862, construction of a new steam tugboat began in New Archangel. The ship was built of Alaska yellow cedar. This wood was chosen because it was a local tree that was very strong, durable, and resisted decay. The ship’s boiler and the spikes that held the planking to the hull were said to be made of copper that was mined locally. The copper boiler was ½- ¾ in. thick and the copper spikes were pounded by hand to secure the planks. This vessel was named the Politkofsky. She was named after the Russian- American-Company chairman, Vladimir Gavrilovich Politkofskiy, who was married to Aleksandra Shelikhov, Grigorii Shelikhov’s daughter. V.G. Politkofskiy became chairman of the Russian American Company in 1848 after spending four years as a member on the board of directors and became a military general in 1850. V.G. Politkofskiy was chairman of the Russian-American Company for the next 15 years (Marine Digest 1986, By Capt. Kevin Hekrdle). The Politkofsky was a sidewheel paddle steamer, 125.5 ft. long, 21.3 ft. wide, 8.9 ft. deep and weighing 152 tons. She was built to take the place of the ship Imperator Nikolai I. The engine was salvaged from the Nikolai and put into the Politkofsky. The “Polly,” as she was later called, used a crosshead steam engine until 1896, making it the oldest running steam engine and the last of its kind on the West Coast. Her old fashioned steam engine only produced 15-30 lbs. of steam pressure, while more modern steam engines produced 200 lbs or more. Although the engine was outdated and slow, the Politkofsky was so successful in towing and hauling, that she competed well with “modern” ships. Fig. 6.1: The Politkofsky It was once believed that the Politkofsky was built as a “gunboat” for precaution against the unruly Natives, against illegal trading between the Hudson’s Bay Co. and the French, and against the British fleet threatening New Archangel. But further evidence proves that Chronicle of the Politkofsky 27 although there were guns on board, she was mainly a working boat, used as a tug, towing and trading vessel. Or was she? In October 1865, the Politkofsky was placed into service. She was not fast or fit for the open sea so she was stationed in the port of New Archangel. The steamer visited many Native villages on trading expeditions, transported barges and rafts filled with wood and coal, and towed sailing ships into the harbor of New Archangel and out to sea. She was a popular and usual sight to see among the local waters and was used faithfully until her boiler sustained extensive damage after towing the ship Kamchatka out to sea in November 1866. She was then docked and another boiler was ordered from Victoria, BC for delivery by the fall of 1867. But something more important was about to take place and efforts to repair her were postponed. Chapter 7: The Transfer of Russian America to the U.S. The sole purpose of the Russians coming to the new territory and establishing permanent settlements was because of the fur trade. Fur trading was a great resource for quick and large sums of money and Russia had a market for furs in China. Fur-bearing animals, such as the sea otter, were plentiful when the Russians arrived in Alaska and for many years they hunted and killed these animals only for their fur. Soon the animals could not reproduce fast enough and the animals became scarce. It didn’t help that the Hudson’s Bay Company competed in the fur market. Russians in Russian America never numbered more than four hundred at any given time (Chevigny, 1965). Russian America was a fur producing colony and the Russian government never wanted to over commit valuable resources to its development. The Russians gradually lost control in America. Profits from the furs were declining and the cost of maintaining the posts in Alaska was too high. Also, Russia became more interested in developing territories north of China, as they would be easier to develop and maintain because they were on the same continent. Eventually, the Russian government became open to the idea of selling Russian America. Although the Hudson’s Bay Company was a strong candidate for taking over the New Land, the Russians were firmly opposed to Great Britain, their adversary in the Crimean War. Meanwhile, hearing of the possibility that Russia might sell, and wanting to extend U.S. borders further to the West, United States Secretary of State, William Seward swiftly negotiated a deal with Russian Minister, Edouard de Stoeckl for an original $5 million sale. It was finally negotiated and agreed upon by the U.S. government to offer $7.2 million. In May 1867, the sale of Alaska to the United States was official, and since Alaska has roughly 586,412 square miles, the purchase came to less than 2 cents/acre. Some members of the U.S. Congress opposed this purchase because of the large undertaking of manpower to control the land, and its seeming lack of resources. To William Seward, the sale of Alaska seemed profitable. Seward saw in Alaska vast forests for lumber, rivers and streams for producing an abundance of fish, numerous mineral deposits, and of course fur-bearing animals. DID YOU KNOW? Members of the U.S. Congress called Alaska: “Seward’s Folly,” “Seward’s Icebox,” “Land of Icebergs,” and “Walrussia.” They thought of Alaska as “worthless” and “barren.” Chronicle of the Politkofsky 30 Fig. 7.1: Cancelled check used to pay for Alaska At 3:30pm on October 18, 1867, the Politkofsky was likely witness to the ceremony which transferred Russian America to the United States. Russian troops headed by Capt. Peshchurov, and U.S. troops headed by General Rousseau had recently arrived at New Archangel. The difference of the two nations was apparent as the cloudy, gray afternoon displayed the dark-uniformed Russians contrasting with the blue-uniformed Americans. The American soldiers outnumbered the Russians. With the majestic mountains and crisp waters adding to the scenic backdrop, the ceremony transferred Russian America to the United States. Three American ships, the Ossipee, the Jamestown, and the Resaca were present in the harbor. The flag exchange took place in front of Russian Governor Maksutov’s mansion. Alternating shots from Russian and American cannons were fired, as the Russian flag was lowered and the United States flag was raised. As the Russian flag was being lowered, the wind caught and tangled it, and it was mistakenly dropped from the pole; the American flag was swiftly raised. Some accounts say that the Politkofsky was even more involved in the transfer ceremony. The Seattle Post Intelligencer in a June 6, 1909 article stated that the ceremony took place on the deck of the Politkofsky, with her large bronze whistle loudly signaling the transfer. No one can prove this ever happened but it makes for a great story and enriches the narrative of the steamer. Chronicle of the Politkofsky 31 Fig. 7.2: 37-Star U.S. Flag in 1867 The sale of Russian America also led to the sale of the Russian-American Company. Its resources were purchased by Americans who eventually formed the Alaska Commercial Company which had a multiyear monopoly on fur seals skins in the Pribilof Islands and proved to be a very profitable enterprise. After the fur-trading industry dwindled, the “AC Company” moved into the retail business, and sold merchandise throughout Alaska. After the sale, many Russians who had transportation back to their homeland left, while those who stayed were promised U.S. citizenship. America’s Politkofsky The Russian-American Company wanted to liquidate as many of its assets as possible. They sold their incidentals, fort merchandise, and even ships, including the Politkofsky, for very low prices to American investors. The Politkofsky was sold to Hayward M. Hutchinson, an American contractor, who purchased a large part of the Russian- American Company merchandise and Abraham Hirsch, his partner. Hutchinson would later be recognized as was one of the founders of the Alaska Commercial Company. On January 15, 1868, the Politkofsky became an American vessel as authorized under the Transfer Treaty. On April 10, 1868, the Politkofsky was sold by Hutchinson and Hirsch to the newly formed American company called the Hutchinson, Kohl and Company, which later became the Alaska Commercial Company. Later that afternoon, the Politkofsky was loaded with cargo consisting of copper sheets and bolts and Russian iron and departed for San Francisco to be overhauled. Captain William Kohl was in command of the steamship. It took nine days to reach their first anticipated stop, Victoria, British Columbia. Her popularity became evident as the local paper, the Colonist, described her, as “one of the most magnificent specimens of home-made marine architecture…” After three weeks of temporary repairs, she sailed for San Francisco. Six days later, she arrived in San Francisco, her farthest travel yet. Chronicle of the Politkofsky 32 Upon arrival, her goods were unloaded and her heavy copper boilers were sold for an estimated $4400, which would turn out to be more than Hutchinson originally paid for her. There she sat until March 1869, when she was sold to George Meigs who ran a lumber mill in Port Madison on the Puget Sound. Her intended purpose was to be a towboat and to haul freight for the lumber mill. There she worked alongside the steamer Eliza Anderson and even assumed her duties when the Anderson was tied up for repairs. Steam power was still new technology on the West Coast and the Politkofsky’s small draft allowed her access to the mills on the Puget Sound. Thus, her long service on the Puget Sound began in April 1869. Although she had been through repairs and had some additions, she was not a sleeklooking ship. She was referred to as “snub-nosed” and clumsy. But no on really cared because the Polly was a very dependable, hard-working craft. She worked as a mail and passenger boat, tugboat, and freighter. Because she worked for so long on Puget Sound, her decks provided training quarters for many shipmen who would eventually run newer ships. She towed day in and day out, only resting for repairs. Because of George Meigs’ financial problems, the Polly went through two more owners until she was sold to Captain William Renton, owner of the Port Blakely Mill Company. He grew so fond of the Polly that he called the tug his “pet.” She spent her final thirteen years of labor at the Port Blakely Mill. During this time the Polly was part of a fleet that welcomed President Benjamin Harrison to Seattle in 1891. In 1896, the Polly was retired. Her engines and her cannons were taken off and she was cut down and made into a barge. She was beached at Port Blakely that same year. This was a new era of faster, sleeker vessels in Puget Sound and the Polly was outdated. But the legend of the Politkofsky was still in full swing. Her beginning as a Russian gunboat, her journeys between Alaska and California, and the dependable service she achieved in Puget Sound proved her tireless capabilities and helped to create her ongoing story. “Rocks can’t hurt the Old Polly….we never felt uneasy when she hit the beach.” - Martin Paup-engineer on the Polly for 16 years — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:28, 22 February 2012 (UTC)