Aleksandr Andreievich Baranov
Aleksandr Andreievich Baranov was born into a poor family on April 16, 1747, in Kargopol, Russia. Kargopol is a small northern town in Archangelsk Province near the border with Finland. He ran away from home as a teen and worked for a German merchant in Moscow for a few years before returning to Kargopol to marry and establish himself as a merchant. While in Moscow he absorbed the rudiments of accounting and learned to speak German.
In 1780 he left his wife in Kargolpol and moved to Irkutsk, Siberia, where he established a small glass factory and began dealing in the fur trade. Gregory Shelekov, a very important Siberian fur trader, attempted to recruit Baranov 1787, but Baranov, partnered with his brother Peter, remained as an independent trader. In 1790, after suffering the loss of all of that season's furs to Chukchi native thieves, he accepted Shelekov's offer and was appointed general manager of the Shelekov-Golikov Trading Company at Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island. On his way to his new post his ship was wrecked in the port of Unalaska. He and his crew were forced to spend the winter in Unalaska before sailing on to Kodiak Island in 1791. While operating out of Kodiak Baranov met a number of foreign traders and ship captains and got something of an appreciation of events in California and Hawaii.
In 1794 Baranov took the daughter of a tribal chieftain in Prince William Sound as his wife and named her Anna Grigorievna. Over the years they had two children. In 1794, Baranov constructed a fort at Yakutat on the southern Alaskan coast to support his fur hunting operations in that region. On his way back to Kodiak he traveled through the Alexander Archipelago and discovered Sitka Island. In 1799, he decided to move his headquarters from Kodiak to Sitka and started construction of a new settlement that he called New Archangel, after the province where he was born. In 1800, he faced a number of serious problems including rebellion by local tribes on Kodiak Island. Russian Orthodox priests associated with the tribes were seen to be leading the revolt and Baranov had all of the priests arrested and imprisoned.
In 1799 Czar Paul I granted the newly formed Russian-American Company a royal charter that gave the company a trading monopoly in North American waters from latitude 55° north to the Bering Strait. Baranov's champion, Shelekhov, had died in 1795, but Nikolai Rezanov had become interested in the fur trade. He was an influential nobel in the Russian Court and had been the one that had talked Czar Paul into granting the charter. Rezanov felt that Baranov was the right man to lead the new company. In 1802, Baranov learned that he had been chosen to manage the company's operations. Also in 1802, Tlingit tribesmen destroyed the settlement at New Archangel. In 1804, Baranov returned to New Archangel, forced the Tlingit to flee the area, reconstructed his settlement, and made it his new headquarters.
In the first years of the nineteenth century the profitability of the company's operations in northern waters began to fall off dramatically. The sea otter had been over hunted in Alaska and Baranov began looking to other areas to recoup his losses. In 1804, he began exploring the coast of California. In 1805, Rezanov was named Imperial Inspector with instructions to find out what was needed to get the profits flowing again. In 1806 Rezanov took a ship to San Francisco and attempted to negotiate a trade treaty with New Spain. During this visit he fell in love with Conception Arguello, the daughter of the Spanish Commander in San Francisco. Rezanov died in 1807, in Siberia, while on his way to St. Petersburg to report on his negotiations and to request the Czar's permission to marry Conception. In 1812, Baranov sent Ivan Kuskov to establish a presence at Fort Ross. That same year Baranov was in negotiation with John Jacob Astor's fur-trading company, but the War of 1812 intervened before a mutually satisfactory agreement could be reached.
In 1815 Baranov dispatched an expedition to Hawaii under the leadership of Georg Scheffer, Scheffer gained the confidence of High Chief Kaumualii, and established Fort Elizabeth on Kauai Island in 1816. King Kamehameha I was in the process of consolidating his control of all of the islands and Kaumualii hoped that Scheffer would assist him in resisting Kamehameha, but the Russians were forced out of the islands in 1817. In January 1818, Baranov's Alaskan daughter, Irina, married a Ukrainian noble serving in the Russian Army. Baranov had managed the company's affairs and served as de-facto Russian Governor for sixteen years, but was now being criticized by his superiors in St. Petersburg for mismanagement. In November 1818, he was replaced. He boarded ship in December for his return to Russia, but contracted malaria during a layover in Djakarta. He died on April 28, 1819, while transiting the Sunda Strait and was buried at sea.