Fort Ross was established as a Russian outpost to hunt sea otters along the coast after overfishing them in Alaska. The settlers built the fort to resemble those in Alaska and Siberia, and when it was finished in 1812, they called it “Selenie Ross”. The Russians brought Native Alaskans to the fort to hunt and to work for the company. According to the information inside the museum, “before 1820, they were conscripted into Company service and paid according to the number of their catch. After 1820, they were designated Company employees with guaranteed civil rights.”
After the sea otters became scarce, Russia wanted to pull out of the venture. Baron von Wrangell, the manager-in-chief of the company at the time, was not willing to withdraw and attempted to seek Mexico’s formal recognition of the legitimacy of Russian’s claim to Fort Ross. “The Mexicans were willing to yield on this issue, but only in return for Russia’s diplomatic recognition of their own national independence as a republic. Tsar Nicholas I rejected this condition.”
Alexander Rotchev, the last administrator of Fort Ross who personally opposed the decision to sell the colony, faithfully carried out his orders, attempting to sell to France, then Mexico. Both governments declined the Russian terms. Fort Ross was eventually sold to Captain Sutter in 1841.
Fort Ross is registered as a National Historic Landmark and is also the site of the first Russian Orthodox Church in the U.S., which is commemorated every July Fourth by the the Orthodox Church of America.