Russian-American Company

In 1807 the Russian-American Company, a fur-trading enterprise with outposts in present-day Alaska, made its second attempt to explore the mouth of the Columbia River. The first, in the spring of 1805, ended in failure when the ship was unable to cross the Columbia River bar. If it had, Nicolai Rezanov, co-founder of the Russian-American Company, might have encountered Lewis and Clark. At the time the Russian ship was attempting to cross the Columbia River bar, Lewis and Clark were near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers on their eastward return journey about 80 miles upriver.

The Russians’ 1807 exploration was one of three dispatched that year from New Archangel, the company’s trading post on Sitka Island to scout possible future locations for fur-trading posts. The others went to California and Hawaii. The ship bound for the Columbia never arrived. In 1809, Alexandr Baranov, resident governor of the Russian American Company at Sitka Island, received word that the Columbia River expedition had been lost somewhere off the present-day Washington coast. Not until the summer of 1810 did the full story become known, when Captain John Brown sailed the Lydia into the harbor at New Archangel with the few survivors of the expedition. Brown was alerted to the shipwrecked crew while passing near the shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. One of the expedition’s hunters, Vassili Tarakanov, had constructed a kite and flew it regularly from the beach in the hope it would be seen by a passing ship.

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