Two Cents an Acre!

30 Dec
With this check, the United States completed t...

With this check, the United States completed the purchase of almost 600,000 square miles of land from the Russian Government. This treasury warrant issued on August 1, 1868, at the Sub-Treasury Building at 26 Wal, New York, New York, transferred $7.2 million to Russian Minister to the United States Edouard de Stoeckl. The purchase price of the 49th state? Less than two cents an acre. Original located in the National Archives, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of Treasury. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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.


For more reading about this, you can visit Alaska Purchase on Wikipedia. You might also want to go to the United States Department of States’s web page Office of the Historian.


If you do a Google search, keywords “Alaska Purchase 1867” you will find quite a few more resources! Enjoy!




Posted by on December 30, 2012 in Longer Entries, March, October, Uncategorized


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6 responses to “Two Cents an Acre!

  1. alesiablogs

    December 30, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    I love history. I write about when I can in my own blog! On a trip to New York for historical purposes, I write about an interesting discussion of two women talking about their beloved New York’s history. It was so cute. was a story I wrote about an ancestor Thx Alesia

    • tkmorin

      December 31, 2012 at 1:34 pm

      Thank you, alesiablogs! What an exciting encounter you had … To be cherished indeed.

      • alesiablogs

        December 31, 2012 at 1:35 pm

        My sentiments exactly! My girlfriend and I just loved it!

  2. seeker

    December 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    TK, that means thank you. I am glad it was the Russians who owned them, otherwise, as a Canadian I will be so disheartened to have Alaska sold out for a 0.02 cents./acre. I guess this where the old saying of here’s my $0.02 cents comment. I salute you O’ Great One (not Gretzky) as a historian.

    • tkmorin

      December 30, 2012 at 4:57 pm

      Thank you so much … I’m glad to help. I too am a seeker, and am curious!
      Two cent’s worth, you say. I might have to research that one too 😉

      • tkmorin

        December 31, 2012 at 11:46 pm

        There are mentions in the bible, in the Gospel of Mark and in the Gospel of Luke: the story about several large donations to the temple, except for a poor widow who donated just two coins and Jesus found greater favour with her for giving all she had versus those who are rich and still have lots of money left over.
        There’s apparently an old 16th Century expression “my two pennies worth”, probably a sarcastic response to receiving more of a response than was wanted “I said a penny for your thoughts, but I got two pennies’ worth.”
        Or, it came from early postage in England, the “two penny post” , where two pennies was the normal cost to post a letter.
        Who knows … Had to check it out though ….


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