Fort Ross

A Russian Presence in California

Just as the Spanish Empire spread across the Atlantic to the new world, the Russian Empire expanded across Siberia and the Pacific. The two spheres intersected, briefly, on the North Coast of California.

fort-rossThe Fort Ross settlement was the southernmost outpost of the Russian Empire on the North American continent. The settlement was founded in 1812, and disbanded in 1841. The primary business ventures of the outpost included fur trading, lumber, and shipbuilding.

Meanwhile, the California Mission system reached Sonoma in 1823 with the establishment of Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma, just 65 miles from Fort Ross.  It was an effort by the Mexican government to prevent Russian expansion to the south.  (Note that the Sonoma mission was to only mission built after Mexican independence from Spain.)

However, the Russian and Mexican settlements, both far from their home countries, established regular trade to meet their day-to-day needs.

In fact, the disbanding of the Fort Ross settlement was triggered, at least in part, by the secularization of the California missions and the subsequent loss of essential trade. The Fort Ross land was eventually sold by the Russians to John Sutter, whose subsequent discovery of gold in Sacramento triggered the California gold rush.

The buildings at Fort Ross gradually fell into decay. Several of the remaining structures collapsed in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

Today Fort Ross is operated as a California State Historic Park. The fort walls and several structures have been rebuilt, and there are regular tours and living history demonstrations.