Letters from the Governor's Wife: A View of Russian Alaska, 1859-1862

Letters from the Governor's Wife: A View of Russian Alaska, 1859-1862

Letters from the Governor's Wife: A View of Russian Alaska, 1859-1862

Letters from the Governor's Wife: A View of Russian Alaska, 1859-1862

Excerpt

After 1830, it seems to have been an unwritten rule that anyone appointed governor of Russian America had to bring a wife with him. The Board of Directors of the Russian American Company wanted no mistresses in the governor’s house at Sitka. It was a matter of upholding the dignity and morals of the colonial administration - the representative of Russian empire and Christian civilisation in these remote parts of the world.

Governors of the colonies in Alaska were normally appointed for a period of five years, and the Board could very well imagine the privations and temptations connected with being a lonesome man at this northern outpost of civilisation, without a spouse of European upbringing and Christian belief to stand by his side. When the first Russian missionaries arrived in Alaska in 1794 to preach the gospel to the heathens, they were appalled to find their compatriots - fur hunters and merchants - living in unconjugal, or even polygamous relationships with native women. One of the early governors left behind a native mistress and their three illegitimate children on returning home after his term in Alaska.

Arriving at Sitka in 1830, Baron Ferdinand Wrangel was the first governor to bring his wife with him from Russia. “Her coming was an event of some import, for the young baroness transformed life in the rough frontier capital. The old ‘castle’ which was the Chief Manager’s residence now featured formal dinners and balls. The casual relationships of company employees with the local women gave way to permanent wedlock, and the old roistering social life of the town acquired a higher tone”. All later Russian governors of Alaska were to follow the Wrangels’ example. Married appointees brought their wives, and unmarried ones faced the task of finding a wife before their departure for Sitka.

In early 1858 Johan Hampus Furuhjelm, an unmarried Russian naval officer of Finnish birth, received a proposal from the Russian American Company to become the next governor of Russian America for a term of five years, from 1859. He was then harbour master of the Port of Aian, a gloomy place on the eastern coast of Siberia. He had served there since October 1855 (from 1856 as Captain of first rank).

1 Bolkhovitinov 1997–1999, 1, p. 268.

2 Pierce 1986, p. 11.

3 Pierce 1986, p. 13.

4 Pierce 1986, p. 40.

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