Three Saints Harbor through the Lens of History
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When Grigorii Shelikhov landed with two shiploads of men on the outer coast of Kodiak Island in August 1784, his mission was audacious and thoroughly commercial–to explore and conquer the coastal regions of southern Alaska, establish a permanent and self-sustaining Russian colony, systematize the exploitation of Alaska Native labor, harvest large quantities of sea otter pelts, and reap profits from the lucrative fur trade with China. Prospects for the success of this effort were far from certain. Russian traders had probed the Kodiak region for 20 years, but had been repeatedly discouraged by the wariness of the Qikertarmiut and their readiness to take the upper hand through surprise attacks. The relatively large Native population of the Kodiak archipelago, probably more than 8000 at the time of first Russian contact, contributed to both the attraction of the island group for trade, and the difficulties of bringing it under control. Qikertarmiut proficiency in warfare had been honed by centuries of seaborne raids and skirmishes against neighboring societies from the eastern Aleutian Islands to Prince William Sound. Shelikhov’s plan to conquer and colonize the island would require an unprecedented level of military force, as well as a skilled hand at coercion and political persuasion, if Native leaders were to be brought into alliance with a new Russian regime.
KeywordsCook Inlet Alaska Peninsula Kenai Peninsula Russian Settlement Russian Trader
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