Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America
The Russian Empire once extended deep into America: in 1818 Russia’s furthest outposts were in California and Hawaii. The dreamer behind this great Imperial vision was Nikolai Rezanov--diplomat, adventurer, courtier, millionaire and gambler. His quest to plant Russian colonies from Siberia to California led him to San Francisco, where he was captivated by Conchita, the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Spanish Governor, who embodied his dreams of both love and empire. From the glittering court of Catherine the Great to the wilds of the New World, Matthews conjures a brilliantly original portrait of one of Russia’s most eccentric Empire-builders.
wooden spoons growing in the flesh of their lower lip.’ The highest-ranked ladies wore pieces up to five inches broad. But Langsdorff found this no more absurd that contemporary European fashion. ‘Why, when we would appear in great state, we rub the finest flour into our hair?’ The main disadvantage to the practice, in Langsdorff’s opinion, was that ‘it is wholly impossible for the fair sex to receive a kiss’. The men were no less fastidious about their appearance. For ceremonies they made their
rumour would not and could not discourage her. She doubled and redoubled her prayers and hopes . . . knowing that in the final analysis the Great Comforter alone would take care of all of them – of Nikolai and of her.’29 But as the years passed, the realization that death had separated them must have grown into a grim certainly. Conchita followed her father from San Francisco to the much larger settlement of Santa Barbara when he was promoted to comandante there in 1807, and later to Monterrey
financed by Lebedev-Lastochkin and Natalia’s dowry. It was crewed by shipmates and cronies of his new Okhotsk in-laws. The expedition was a high-risk venture: a decade previously four Russian expeditions had been massacred and their vessels burned by Aleuts angry at Russian inroads into their fur catch. But luckily for Shelikhov’s fledging business career, the ships returned unmolested and filled with pelts after a bumper season. Shelikhov was joining a rush for the fur wealth of the north
finally succeeded his domineering mother, making him the oldest tsarevich in Russian history. A dozen years earlier Paul was already lamenting, ‘I am already thirty and have nothing to do.’ When his children were born Catherine took them away to raise them herself, just as the Empress Elizabeth had taken away Catherine’s own children within days of their birth.* Deliberately excluded from government by the Empress, Paul made his Palace of Gatchina a microcosm of the empire he would one day
Skatleut had abandoned the old tribal stronghold on a natural promontory dominating Sitka Sound and moved his settlement half a mile up the shallow inlet to what is now called Indian River. They constructed a high palisade built of whole redwood trees ‘so heavy that a man and even two men could not encompass them, placed both horizontal and vertical’16 with two openings for cannon (also acquired from Yankee traders, it emerged) and a small gate for sallies. Inside were timber-covered dugouts in