Early Exploration and Russian America
Within 50 years, Russian fur hunters had nearly exterminated the sea otter in the Aleutians, and the fur trade moved east to Kodiak Island, Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound. Meanwhile, the Aleuts and Koniag Eskimos had been decimated through warfare, disease and enslavement as hunters.
The first permanent European settlement in Alaska was established by merchant Gregorii Shelikhov at Three Saints Bay, Kodiak Island, in 1784. In 1799 his company received a royal charter as the Russian American Company and a monopoly in the Alaskan fur trade. Manager Aleksandr Baranov moved its headquarters to New Archangel, later known as Sitka.
The warlike Tlingit Indians of Southeast Alaska dealt with the Russians on more equal terms. Other nations competed for trade, often supplying guns to the natives. Beginning in the 1830s, Russian trading posts were established on the Bering Sea cost and up the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, among the Yupik Eskimos and Athabascans. A lasting effect of the Russian occupation was the conversion of many natives to Russian Orthodoxy. The first missionaries arrived at Kodiak in 1794, and within a few decades there were missionaries throughout the territory. Russia made no sustained attempt to colonize Alaska, and there were never more than 900 Russians here at any one time. Sporadic efforts to develop agriculture, beginning at Yakutat in 1796, and at Fort Ross, California in 1812 were disappointing. Many mineral resources were known but not exploited. Coal was mined briefly in the 1850s. All economic activities were aimed toward the support of the fur trade; when it declined and Alaska became a military and economic liability, Russia decided to sell the territory to the United States.