November 8, 2014 / by admin / American History / No Comments

Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America

Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America

Owen Matthews

Language: English

Pages: 400

ISBN: 1408833999

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The Russian Empire once extended deep into America: in 1818 Russia’s furthest outposts were in California and Hawaii. The dreamer behind this great Imperial vision was Nikolai Rezanov--diplomat, adventurer, courtier, millionaire and gambler. His quest to plant Russian colonies from Siberia to California led him to San Francisco, where he was captivated by Conchita, the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Spanish Governor, who embodied his dreams of both love and empire. From the glittering court of Catherine the Great to the wilds of the New World, Matthews conjures a brilliantly original portrait of one of Russia’s most eccentric Empire-builders.

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called California, very close to a side of the Earthly Paradise’ ruled by a Queen Calafia and ‘populated by black women, without any man existing there, because they lived in the way of the Amazons’. The invented name of California stuck to the coastal lands to the north of Mexico, even though it was not a Spaniard but the English privateer Sir Francis Drake who was the first to explore them. Drake reached Point Loma, near modern San Diego, in 1579 and named the land New Albion. He also explored

August 1803 and 26-27 January 1804. In addition an anecdote about missionaries in Nukakhiva has been erased (25/27 April 1804) as well as part of the passage about an argument between Rezanov and Shemelin. (16/28 December 1804). Perhaps these passages were considered too risqué for women readers, though scatological Russian words that Löwenstern does not translate are not erased. The diaries contain numerous illustrations, mainly in the form of watercolours and ink drawings. See Moessner, ‘The

introduced me to local historians and let me browse her archive – a fascinating collection of flotsam washed up after the disappearance of the Russian empire and the scattering of many of its brightest and best to California, in Rezanov’s footsteps. At Fort Ross, Sarah Sweedler and Marion MacDonald were incredibly generous with their time and Hank Birnbaum keeps the Russian language alive at the Fort by marching platoons of musket-bearing schoolchildren around the compound to the command of

the original sin of its bloody birth, and partly to extract funds from the government. There was, in Shelikhov’s view, much to civilize. He found the Aleuts even more backward than native Siberians. Incest and polyandry were widely practised, and a special caste of boys was brought up as girls for the sexual amusement of tribal leaders. The Aleuts had no wheeled vehicles or writing. They were amazed by the concept of letters, which they called talking papers, and were convinced they whispered

to its southwestern boundary near Sitka. If laid on top of the continental United States, the territory – which closely corresponds to the modern state of Alaska – would stretch from California to Florida. Moreover, unlike the British in India or China, the Russians did not face organized enemies, only belligerent natives and – if Vancouver was to be believed – indolent Spanish colonists. The Spanish settlements were ‘wide from each other and unprotected in themselves’, Vancouver reported,

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