As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.

History 383 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer

Fort Ross - Imperialism meets north and south in California

Fort Ross, located in what is now Sonoma County, California, is a landmark in the history of European imperialism. Beginning in the 1600s, the Russians moved east across Siberia and the Pacific Ocean and by 1812, First painting of Fort Rosshad pushed south into California. During the same time period, the Spanish moved north up into California. By the early nineteenth century, the two waves of expansion met along the Pacific Coast of what was then known as Alta California.

Dedicated "Ross" to honor its connection with imperial Russia - Rossiia - was strategically placed due to its relative inaccessibilty from Spanish territory to the south. The goals for the 25 Russians and 80 Native Alaskans who arrived in Alta California were straightforward: build a fort, establish a colony to grow wheat and other crops to be sent to Russians living in Alaska, to hunt marine mammals - especially the valuable otter - and to establish trade with the Spanish.

Fort Ross was a "first" in California history in several ways:

So, what brought the settlement to an end just 30 years after their arrival? In short, it was no longer economically viable or politically feasible for the Russian-America Company and the Tsar was not willing to subsidize it. By 1841...

In December 1841, the Russian-American Company sold to the Fort Ross settlement to John Sutter, a Mexican citizen of Swiss origin. After the sale, Sutter sent his assistant to gather all the animals, equipment, and hardware at the Fort and transfer it all to his fort in Sacramento. Consequently, very little of the original Fort exists today. There is only one surviving house, built in 1836 and renovated in 1838, that is still standing. The remainder of the Fort has been rebuilt using at least three reliable sources:

Today, it is a California Historical Landmark, a National Historical Landmark, a California Historic Park, a State Historic Park, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The photograph below is of Fort Ross as it looks today.

Current Photo of Fort Ross