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Traders and Soldiers in Russian America

Before 1867, Alaska was a Russian fur-trading colony, its values and laws derived from Moscow and, in part, from the European Enlightenment. Ernest Sipes looks at the relations between the colonists and the native peoples.

Few places seemed as distant from his native England, for Edward Adams, surgeon of the HMS Enterprise, as he sat writing his diary in his room in the port of St Michaels, Norton Sound, north-west Alaska, 'my thoughts running to a far distant land'. It was 9 o'clock in the evening of April 24th, 1851. Suddenly an Indian messenger burst into the room bearing a dispatch from Lieutenant John Barnard, who was at that time in the Russian-American Com pany trading post of Fort Nulato. It read:

Dear Adams,
I am dreadfully wounded in the abdomen – my entrails are hanging out. I don't suppose I shall live long enough to see you – the Koiukak natives made the attack whilst we were in our beds. Bosky is badly wounded and Deriabin dead – I think my wound would be trifling if I had medical advice. I am in great pain. Nearly all the natives in the village are murdered. Let out for us with all haste.


John Barnard

Barnard's message to Adams and his death from his wounds the next day dramatically illustrates the results of the periodic conflicts which marked early to mid-nineteenth-century European contacts with Alaskan native warrior cultures.

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