Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Russian Colonization of Alaska and California

Interesting facts about Russian America - (Yunona i Avos)

After recently watching rock opera Yunona i Avos (Юнона и Авось) I thought it would be interesting to read in depth about the historical aspect of the story behind it and mainly about Explorers of Russian America.  It was interesting to learn that Rock Opera as a concept was prohibited in 1978 in Soviet Union and it was called Modern Opera when idea of Yunona & Avos was presented and executed a few years later.   
The story is about a historical figure Nikolay Petrovich Rezanov who was a Russian nobleman and statesman who promoted the project of Russian colonization of Alaska and California.  He sailed for the Spanish settlements in California, proposing to trade his tempting cargo of American and Russian wares for food-stuffs, and to arrange a treaty by whose terms his colonies should be provisioned twice a year with the bountiful products of New Spain. He cast anchor in the harbor of San Francisco early in April 1806, after a stormy voyage which had defeated his intention to take possession of the Columbia River in the name of Russia. 

Although he was received with great courtesy and entertained night and day by the Californians, no time was lost in informing him that the laws of Spain forbade the colonies to trade with foreign powers, and that the governor of all the Californias was incorruptible.  Had it not been for a love affair with Concepción Argüello (Conchita), the daughter of the comandante of San Francisco, Don José Darío Argüello, and for his diplomatic skill, with which he won over the clergy, Rezanov would have failed.

As it was, when he sailed for New Archangel six weeks after his arrival, the Juno's hold was full of bread-stuffs and dried meats, he had the promise of the perplexed governor to forward a copy of the treaty to Spain at once, and he was engaged to the most beautiful girl in California. Shortly after his arrival in New Archangel, he proceeded by water to Kamchatka, where he dispatched his ships to wrest the island Sakhalin of the lower Kuril group from Japan, then started overland for Saint Petersburg to obtain the Tsar's signature to the treaty, and also personal letters to the pope and king of Spain that he might ask for the dispensation and the royal consent necessary for his marriage. 

He died of fever and exhaustion in Krasny Yar (now Krasnoyarsk), Siberia, on March 8, 1807. On October 28, 2000, at Rezanov’s grave in the Trinity churchyard of Krasnoyarsk (where according to one account his remains were moved in the late 1950s) there was a service for the dead and the dedication of a memorial to Rezanov. It is a white cross, bearing on one side the inscription “Nickolai Petrovich Rezanov 1764 - 1807. I will never forget you”, and on the other side - “Maria Concepcion de Arguelio 1791 - 1857. I will see you never more”. 

This story became the subject of Concepcion de Arguello, a ballad by Francis Bret Harte, and a 1937 novel, Rezánov and Doña Concha, by the largely forgotten San Francisco author Gertrude Atherton, who had also written a biography of Rezanov on the centennial of his romance with Concepcion.

Count von Resanoff, the Russian, envoy of the mighty Czar,
Stood beside the deep embrasures, where the brazen cannon are. 

He with grave provincial magnates long had held serene debate
On the Treaty of Alliance and the high affairs of state; 

He from grave provincial magnates oft had turned to talk apart
With the Commandante's daughter on the questions of the heart, 

Until points of gravest import yielded slowly one by one,
And by Love was consummated what Diplomacy begun;

Historical Aspect: 
The treaty with California, the bare suggestion of which made such a commotion in New Spain, was the least of Rezanov's projects. It was sincerely conceived, for he was deeply and humanely concerned for his employees and the wretched natives who were little more than the slaves of the company; but its very obviousness raised the necessary amount of dust. 

His correspondence with the company betrays a clearly defined purpose to annex to Russia the entire western coast of North America, and to encourage immediate emigration from the parent country on a large scale. Had he lived, there is, all things considered, hardly a doubt that he would have accomplished his object. The treaty was never signed, the reforms of Rezanov died of discouragement, the fortunes of the colonies gradually collapsed, and the Spanish girl who had loved Rezanov became a nun.