"Meeting of Frontiers" Conference
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New Documents on the Russian-American Company
Russian Academy of Sciences
Tremendous progress has been made in the intensive study
of the history of the North Pacific. The efforts of scholars
from Russia, Canada, and the USA were gathered in the recent
3-volume publication, The History of Russian America.
The history of the North Pacific is also the subject of the
developing project Meeting of Frontiers, and was the
topic during an international conference hosted by the Russian
Academy of Sciences in 1999 dedicated to the bicentennial
of the formation of the Russian-American Company.
It has become obvious that up-to-date research in the field
is impossible without a vast complexity of different sources
taken from different repositories in Russia and abroad, together
with a profound exchange of ideas between scholars sharing
this area of expertise. A new understanding of Russian and
American colonization, revealing their differences and similarities,
is explored in the project Meeting of Frontiers, which
serves as an essential instrument for all who are interested
in the subject, scholars and laymen alike. It has been demonstrated
that the phenomenon of the Russian American Company can be
analyzed from different angles. The most obvious examples
are the works of Tikhmenev and Okun. Tikhmenev, who was not
only a historian of the Russian- American Company, but one
of the major shareholders, formed his work based on extensive
examination of documents. His approach, however, was more
descriptive than critical or analytical. It is mainly on
this point that Okun has criticized the work.
Okun's work can be considered a milestone in the study
of the history of Russian America. He asserts that the Russian
Imperial Government used the "puppet" Russian-American Company
as an instrument for colonization, a thread that in one way
or another has been picked up by many researchers in a number
of countries. This idea seemed to be borne out in the evidence
presented in the book. Since 1939, though, almost every point
in his argument has received the criticism of researchers,
sometimes even those working in different areas.
Although there are a number of publications of the documents
of the Russian-American Company and their analysis, there
remains much room for research. By using an interdisciplinary
approach, it is possible to shed new light on familiar documents
as well as to help find new materials on the subject.
The author proposes a thorough, detailed analysis of the
history of the Russian American Company through its economic
and financial components. The private and official correspondence
between different individuals of the Russian-American Company
provides a wealth of insight into the functioning of the
Understanding the history of the Russian-American Company
through the prism of its financial and economic development
leads to understanding the economic development of Russia
and of the United States, as well as of Russian-American
The difficulty of using this approach lies in the fact that
documents on this subject are scattered in more then twenty
different archives in Russia and abroad. Some of the documents
discussed in this paper have previously been used by a number
of scholars, although they failed to provide a thorough analysis
of the full range of financial documentation on the Russian-American
Company. For example, it seems crucial to analyze the company's
different forms of capital, explore its dynamics, and analyze
the changes in the methods of creating different financial
documents as well as to reveal the financial reasons behind
this or that decision of the Russian-American Company headquarters.
This paper could be seen as an attempt to present archival
coverage of balances, trade, and share registers, and Company
financial reports as well as to shed some light into a block
of interesting documents, many of which have never been published,
on Nataliia Shelikhova, who was a Russian-American Company
co-founder and is considered to be the first Russian businesswoman.
Little research has been done so far on the history of women
in Russian America in general.
Presently it is possible to reconstruct the balance history
of the RAC from its foundation until almost 1885 (shareholders
continued to receive dividends after the company's liquidation
with the sale of Alaska in 1867). Many of the balances have
been officially published, albeit in abbreviated form. The
period before 1840 provides the most difficulties for a reconstruction
of balance history. The documents of this formative period
for the RAC, marked by the activity of the Golikov-Shelikhov
Company and the United American Company, are preserved in
different collections of documents (hereafter referred to
as F) at the State Archive of the Irkutsk Region (SAIR),
f. 70, 380, 447; in the Archive of Foreign Policy of the
Russian Empire (AVPRE), f. RAC. The complete balances of
1799, 1804, 1810, 1812 can also be found in AVPRE, f. RAC.
It is more difficult to trace the period from 1812 until
1840, which is represented by the documents mainly from f.
18 and 994 in the Russian State Historical Archive (RSHA).
Balances give the essential and basic idea of the company's
financial activity, although in order to correctly interpret
certain balance data it is important to examine balances
together with other documents. With the balances represented
in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and mainly in the AVPRE, and
the RSHA, other financial documentation can be found in a
number of regional Russian archives.
It is necessary to note that up to the beginning of the
1820's, balances were rarely made a matter of public record.
In 1811, the Ministry of Internal Affairs issued a special
paper complaining that since its foundation in 1799, RAC
had never presented a detailed report of its financial activity.
This report was precipitated by a crisis that the Russian-American
Company faced soon after its formation. The core of the crisis
was that the RAC was not able either to pay dividends to
shareholders or service its credit obligations in a timely
fashion. This happened because of an incorrect calculation
of shares at the beginning of the company's activity (RSHA,
f. 1374, 994, Russian National Library, Manuscript Division,
f. 542.) Between 1810 and 1820, the situation with the company's
capital more or less stabilized. From 1830, the RAC started
to publish financial reports on its activity on a regular
basis (RSHA, f. 18, 13.) There are certain documents in which
the company's directors gave their understanding of the situation
in regard to the company's finances. Sometimes, these papers
were issued only for a limited number of individuals, as
was the case with Prokofiev's and Cramer's reports, currently
in the Archive of the Russian Geographical Society, f.99,
AVPRI f. RAC, and Vologda State Archive, f. 671.
There are certain archival depositaries that could be invaluable
for research on the Russian-American Company, which have
rarely or never been used by researchers.
The archive of Velikii Ustyg, f. 145, 361, 27, and the
Historical Museum f.144, provide materials on the activity
of the first General Director of the Russian-American Company
(who was coincidentally, Nataliia Shelikhova's son-in-low),
The State Archive of the Vologda Region, f. 671, 13 gives
information on certain shareholders in the Russian-American
Company, as well as essential figures on the price of shares
in the Russian market. The Historical Museum gave additional
and valuable materials on Shelikhov family activity.
In the State Archive of the Odessa Region, f.1, 88, there
are trade registers connected to the Russian-American Company's
activity, and materials which could shed more light upon
Research in regional archives also could lead to further
research in other depositories. For example, in AVPRE and
the Odessa Region Archive there are documents from which
it could be possible to learn that there is a good possibility
of finding new documents on the subject in the Kiev Region
State Archive (Ukraine) and Kazan' Region State Archive.
Even in Moscow and St. Petersburg there is still a good chance
of finding documents. For example, the State Historical Archive
of St. Petersburg holds material related to the Shelikhovs
and Russian-American relations.
The main problem of using regional depositories is the
fact that documents are usually not gathered in one particular
collection. For example, a few valuable documents can be
found sprinkled in different registers (comprised of several
large volumes) amongst a majority of documents that had no
connection with Russian America.