One of my readers asked me to look into Alaska‘s history — specifically, did it once belong to Canada or the Russians. Here’s what my brief research told me.
The Russians did indeed own the territory of Alaska. Until they sold it to the United States in 1867.
Russia major role in Alaska was mainly hunting for furs and missionary work. However, Russia was also having financial difficulties and they did not want to go to war against the British, which they had done in the Crimean War (1853-1856).
Russia, it seems, was in so much financial trouble with Alaska’s land owners after its emancipation reform of 1861. As a result, they borrowed £15 million from Rothchilds, a banking dynasty, at 5% annually. When payment was due, they were short on money. So instead, they offered to sell something they thought useless. They also thought that by selling the territory to the Americans, they were in fact hurting the British power, because it would essentially mean that the U.S. would be surrounding the British land there.
Alaska attracted little interest, but the population of nearby British Columbia was rising rapidly, partly because of the gold rush.
At the beginning of March 1867, the Tsar instructed the Russian minister to the U.S., Edward de Stoeckl, to enter into negotiation with United States Secretary of States, William H. Seward. After a particularly long all-nighter, the treaty was signed on March 30, 1867 at 4 a.m. The deal’s purchase price was set at $7.2 million — that means at roughly two cents per acre (or $4.74 per square km).
Americans had mixed reactions. Some supported the purchase, but some called it “Seward’s Folly.” Most agreed that it was important to maintain a friendship with Russians. Others thought that it would facilitate the acquisition of British Columbia.
Regardless, the deal was a great gamble, as it more than paid off the purchase amount because the land turned out to be rich in resources like gold, copper and oil.
I’m a little confused on this next part, because I don’t know exactly how important these dates are to either Americans or Russians. However, I did read about Alaska Day. This marks the formal transfer which took place in October 1867.
Alaska Day was signed on October 18, 1867 — according to the Gregorian calendar. Alaska Day was signed on October 7, 1867 — according to the Julian calendar. I’m really not sure what day either country celebrate the day. But if I read what I think I did, the Russians celebrate Alaska Day by schools releasing children early, some businesses closing for the day, and even have parades.
If you do a Google search, keywords “Alaska Purchase 1867” you will find quite a few more resources! Enjoy!
- Fiscal Cliff Solution: Sell Alaska (outsider-trading.com)
- GREATEST HITS 2012: Obama State Department set to cede oil-rich Alaska islands to Russia (worldtribune.com)
- Donated documents illuminate life in pre-territorial Alaska (oregonlive.com)
- Donation helps illuminate daily life in 19th century Alaska (juneauempire.com)