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Baranov’s Outpost In 1869: An American Officer’s Impression.

July 2024
1min read

In the summer of 1869, two years after the United States purchased Alaska from the Russians and 63 years after John deWolf’s visit, a military expedition under the command of Major General George H. Thomas (“the Rock of Chickamauga”) came to survey the newest American possession. One of the places visited was Baranov’s old post at Sitka, or New Archangel. Thomas’ aide-de-camp. Captain Alfred Lacey Hough, left a diary, which was reprinted in 1949 by the Pacific Northwest Quarterly. In it he recorded the following impression of the settlement as the Russians had left it .

Sitka is situated on a little promontory on Baranoff Island, the promontory running out into the Bay of Sitka, amidst a group of small islands, all of which, when in a state of nature must have been very beautiful to look at, but now they are deformed by this town.

We land at some old stone steps leading onto a rotten wharf with holes in it that a man could easily fall through. Immediately in front is a large log warehouse fast going to decay. This was used by the Russian Fur Co.; now it is idle. On the right and left are old hulks of ships falling to pieces. These have also been used for houses. Passing these we reach the foot of the only street in town. … Facing the old warehouse at the foot, near the water, is the Greek Church. This is Oriental in style, with green cupolas, and has a chime of bells …

Houses are scattered about here and there, wherever they could be put. … All are old and falling to pieces. … The Governor’s house … is well finished with wainscoting, and painted floors. Every room has a Russian brick heating furnace with brass doors, mirrors are fastened into the walls in the grand hall, the furniture is heavy and solid. The Governor Princes have evidently lived here with all the style they could establish in this wilderness. … The church I have not been in yet, but the Greek priest I have seen on the street. He is not pleasant to look at, and is said to be a miserable drunkard. The population of the town consists of some dozen decent Russian families; more degraded and miserable Russians of both sexes, but most of women, a few adventurers of sundry nationalities, some tricky American traders, all of whom, the latter I mean, are candidates for Governor, Congress 8#38;c when Alaska shall be organized as a territory …

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