The coast of British Columbia, next below, was discovered by George Vancouver, in 1790, and that of Oregon, still farther down, by Robert Gray, who, sailing from Boston in 1789, entered the Columbian River in 1790; so that the title of Russia is the earliest on the northwestern coast.
Continuing The Alaska Purchase,
our selection from Charles Sumner’s Speech to the Senate During the Alaskan Treaty Ratification Debate in 1867. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Alaska Purchase.
Place: Washington, D.C.
During this time, Bering was driven, like Ulysses, on the uncertain waves. A single tempest raged for seventeen days. Scurvy came with its disheartening horrors, and the Commodore himself was a sufferer. Rigging broke, cables snapped. Anchors were lost. At last the tempest-tossed vessel was cast upon a desert island, where the Commodore, sheltered in a ditch and half covered with sand as a protection against cold, died, December 8, 1741. His body after his decease was “scraped out of the ground” and buried on this island, which is called by his name, and constitutes an outpost of the Asiatic continent.
For some time after these expeditions, by which Russia achieved the palm of discovery, imperial enterprise slumbered in those seas. The knowledge already acquired was continued and conﬁrmed only by private individuals, who were led there in quest of furs. In 1745 the Aleutian Islands were discovered by an adventurer in search of sea otter. In successive voyages all these islands were visited for similar purposes. Among them was Oonalaska, the principal of the group of Fox Islands, which constitute a continuation of the Aleutian Islands, whose in habitants and productions were minutely described. In 1768 private enterprise was superseded by an expedition ordered by the Empress Catharine, which, leaving Kamchatka, explored this whole archipelago and the Peninsula of Alaska, which to the islanders stood for the whole continent. Shortly afterward all these discoveries, beginning with those of Bering and Tschirikoff, were veriﬁed by the great English navigator Captain James Cook. In 1778 he sailed along the northwestern coast, and his report shed a ﬂood of light upon the geography of that region.
Such from the beginning is the title of Russia, dating at least from 1741. The coast of British Columbia, next below, was discovered by George Vancouver, in 1790, and that of Oregon, still farther down, by Robert Gray, who, sailing from Boston in 1789, entered the Columbian River in 1790; so that the title of Russia is the earliest on the northwestern coast.
There were at least four other Russian expeditions by which this title was conﬁrmed, if it needed any conﬁrmation. The ﬁrst was ordered by the Empress Catharine in 1785. It was under the command of Commodore Billings, an Englishman in the service of Russia, and was narrated from the original papers by Martin Sauer, secretary of the expedition. In the instructions from the Admiralty at St. Petersburg the Commodore was directed to take possession of “such coasts and islands as he shall ﬁrst discover, whether inhabited or not, but cannot be disputed, and are not yet subject to any European Power, with consent of the inhabitants, if any,” and this was to be accomplished by setting up “ posts marked with the arms of Russia, with letters indicating the time of sovereignty, a short account of the people, and their voluntary submission to the Russian sovereignty; and that this was done under the glorious reign of the great Catharine the Second.” The next was in 1803, in the interest of the Russian American Company. There were two ships, one under the command of Captain Lisiansky, and the other of Captain Krusenstern, of the Russian navy. It was the ﬁrst voyage round the world ordered by the Russian Government, and it lasted three years. These ships visited separately the northwest coast of America, and especially Sitka and the island of Kodiak. Still another enterprise organized by the celebrated minister Count Romanzoff, and at his expense, left Russia, in 1815, under the command of Lieutenant Kotzebue, an ofﬁcer of the Russian navy, and son of the German dramatist whose assassination darkened the return of the son from his long voyage. There remains the enterprise of Luetke, at the time captain and afterward admiral in the Russian navy, which was a voyage round the world, embracing especially the Russian possessions, begun in 1826.
Turning from this question of title, which time and testimony have already settled, I meet the inquiry, Why does Russia part with possessions thus associated with the reign of her greatest emperor and ﬁlling an important chapter of geographical history? On this head I have no information that is not open to others. But I do not forget that the First Napoleon, in parting with Louisiana, was controlled by three considerations: First, he needed the purchase-money for his treasury; secondly, he was unwilling to leave this distant unregarded territory a prey to Great Britain in the event of hostilities which seemed at hand; and thirdly, he was glad, according to his own remarkable language, “to establish forever the power of the United States and give to England a maritime rival destined to humble her pride.”
Such is the record of history. Perhaps a similar record may be made hereafter with regard to the ﬁnancially poor, so that these few millions may not be unimportant to her.
These general considerations are reinforced when we call to mind the little inﬂuence which Russia has thus far been able to exercise in this region. Though possessing dominion over it for more than a century, this gigantic Power has not been more genial or productive there than the soil itself.
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