Imperial Rule

By Alexei Miller; Alfred J. Rieber | Go to book overview

The Russian–American Company
as a Colonial Contractor
for the Russian Empire

ILYA VINKOVETSKY

[The Russian American Company could not fail of becoming
in time of so much importance that the smaller East Indian
Companies of Europe would not be able
to stand in competition with it.]
1


INTRODUCTION

The Russian–American Company (Rossiisko-Amerikanskaia kompaniia, also referred to here, for convenience's sake, as the Company and the RAC) holds a crucial place in the history of Russia's colonialism between its founding in 1799 and the transfer of Alaska to the United States in 1867. Literature on the formation of the RAC tends to stress its evolution from the merchant-run, Siberia-based fur trading companies that preceded it.2 Ye t I would stress the Company's novelty in the Russian setting, and emphasize that only with the creation of the RAC did the Russian government commence the conscious construction of a colony in North America ([Russian America]). The Russian Empire's government viewed the RAC as a contractor to operate the Russian American colony. This contractor functioned simultaneously as a private company and as a colonial administration in the service of the Empire.


COMPANY STRUCTURE

The Russian–American Company was chartered in 1799. It was a jointstock company, placed under the Emperor's protection (pokrovitelstvo), and granted for a period of twenty years the exclusive right to manage the resources of Russian Empire's American colony.3 The charter was renewed twice, and the Company continued to exist until the transfer of Alaska to the United States in 1867. Any subject of the Russian Empire had the right to purchase Russian–American Company shares. In practice, the shareholders were merchants and nobles. Those shareholders who owned at least ten shares were eligible to vote in the annual general meeting of shareholders (obshchee sobranie aktsionerov). By majority vote, they elected four, later five, directors, who headed the Main Office (Glavnoe pravlenie) of the Company. These directors administered the Company's entire business, with the assistance of the staff of the Main Office. The Main Office was in charge of

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