Alaska Native history timeline

1741 to 1867

Written by Jo Antonson with additions by Barbara Svaryn and Sven Haakenson.


Russian Semeon Dezhnev sails through Bering Strait and lands in the Diomede Islands. Russians in Siberia are aware of trade between Alaska, Chukchi, and Asiatic Eskimos.

Russians M.S. Gvozdev and Ivan Fedorov in the Sv. Gabriel venture north from the Kamchatka Peninsula. Expedition members go ashore on Little Diomede Island and later sight the North America mainland at Cape Prince of Wales and King Island. Contacts with Natives are recorded.

Russian expedition under Mikhail Gvozdev sights or lands on Alaska.

Vitus Bering, captain of the Russian vessel the St. Peter, sends men ashore on Kayak Island near today’s Cordova. Naturalist Georg Steller and Lt. Khitrovo collect ethnographic items during the time they spend on the island. This is generally accepted as the European discovery of Alaska because of the records and charts kept during the voyage. A month later, Bering makes contact with Native people near the Shumagin Islands.

Several days before Bering saw land, Alexei Chirikov, captain of the St. Paul that had been separated from Bering’s vessel the St. Peter in a storm, sights land in Southeast Alaska. He sends two parties ashore, neither of which return. One day Natives in a canoe come from shore toward the ship, but no contact is made. With supplies low and the season growing late, the St. Paul heads back to Kamchatka. At Adak Island in the Aleutian Islands, Chirikov trades with Aleut men. According to oral tradition, the Tlingit of Southeast Alaska accepted the men into their community.

A Russian expedition departs from Kamchatka to trade for sea mammal furs with Native people in the Commander Islands. In 1747 fur traders reach the Near Islands in the Aleutians, and by 1759 are trading with Natives on Umnak and Unalaska islands in the Eastern Aleutians.

Russian hunters begin hunting in Aleutians

1759-August 1: First Russian party under Stepan Glotov spends three years trading on Umnak and Unalaska. [Unalaska Arts and Historical Society: 1976]

Reacting to trespass of their territory, Unangan/Eastern Aleuts destroy four Russian vessels at Unalaska, Umnak and Unimak islands and only 12 survive of the more than 200 men. The Russians retaliate and kill more than 200 Unangan/Aleuts and destroy their boats, weapons, and tools.

Conflict between Russian fur hunters and Unalaska Natives in which Unangan (Aleuts) destroy four Russian ships and kill 175 hunters. Solov’ev returns to Unalaska and directs massacre of many Natives.

Russian skipper Stepan Glotov and his crew winters on Kodiak Island. They repel several organized attacks on the camp. Glotov records information on Kodiak Islanders’ war tactics and weapons.

Russian Afanasii Ocheredin and Aleuts of Umnak Island attack and destroy villages in the Islands of the Four Mountains in the Aleutians.

Russian Navy Captain Levashov winters at Unalaska, adopts two Aleut boys, and does watercolors showing Unangan/Eastern Aleut’s tools and weapons, clothing, and houses.

Captain M.D. Levashov winters in Unalaska at Amuga{ which became known as “Captain’s Bay”. [Bergsland: 1994: 69]

Russian fur traders working for Pavel Lebedev-Lastochkin build a warehouse at Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands. Although not occupied permanently, the building indicates a sustained Russian presence in Alaska.

Permanent Russian settlement established at Unalaska [Iluula{ [Bergsland: 1994: 603]] by Solov’ev. [Partnow]

Learning of Russian activity in the North Pacific, Spanish authorities order Juan Perez and Estéban Martinez to sail north from Mexico along the Pacific coast. They reach Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. The Spanish are interested in protecting, perhaps extending, their North American empire. The Spanish send expeditions to the North Pacific over the next 15 years. They record information about Native people and collect artifacts, particularly from Southeast and Southcentral coastal areas.

Captain James Cook leaves Great Britain on his third major expedition for the North Pacific. He maps much of the southern coast of Alaska in 1778. His crew trades for sea otter pelts with Alaska Natives and sell the furs at Canton, China, on their journey home in 1779. A British fur trader leaves Canton for Southeast Alaska waters several years later. John Webber, the expedition’s artist, depicts Native people, dress, housing, tools, boats, geography, and resources of the North Pacific.

October: Captain Cook visits English Bay [Samgan Udaa [Bergsland: 1994:603]]. [Unalaska Arts and Historical Society: 1976]

Russian fur trader Gregorii Shelikhov establishes a trading post at Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island. The Russians attack men, women and children at Refuge Rock on Sitkalidak Island, the AWA’UQ, and destroy several villages on Shuyak Island.

Russian fur trader Gavriil Prilbylov finds the islands in the Bering Sea that bear his name. Russians took Unangan/Aleuts to the islands to hunt the Northern Fur Seals that breed there, and later moved families to the islands to live permanently.

Spain claims Unalaska [Iluula{ [Bergsland: 1994: 603]] and names it “Puerto de Dona Maria Luisa Teresa.” [Unalaska Arts and Historical Society: 1976]

Ivan Pankov (born in 1778), Unangan (Aleut) leader of Tigalda{ Island, develops the Unanga{ (Aleut) orthography with Father John Veniaminov (later glorified (the Orthodox equivalent of canonized) St. Innocent) and translates part of the Bible into Unanga{. The Unanga{ (Aleut) Russian Orthodox Catechism is the first book written in a Native language of Alaska.

First Russian Orthodox missionaries arrive at Kodiak from Russia to provide religious instruction to Native people.


The monk Makarius baptizes many residents of Unalaska Island. [Unalaska Arts and Historical Society: 1976]

Orthodox Hieromonk Makarii leaves Unalaska with six Unangan/Aleuts for St. Petersburg to protest Russian treatment of Native people. The tsar met with the two Natives who reach St. Petersburg and Makarii, but nothing comes of the meeting. The three men die returning to Alaska.

The Russian-American Company is established. Unalaska [Iluula{
[Bergsland: 1994: 603]] becomes a major station. [Partnow]

Alexander Baranov, General Manager of the Shelikhov-Golikov Company, establishes a trading post at Sitka. The site is a strategic and important trading location in Southeast Alaska and has a large Tlingit settlement.

Tsar Paul I grants the Russian-American Company, formed by Shelikhov’s heirs and other Siberian entrepreneurs, sole trading rights in North America for 20 years. Baranov remains General Manager. The third and last charter, issued in 1844, classifies Native people as dependent (Unangan/Aleuts, Koniag), semi-dependent (Chugach), and independent (Tlingit).

Tlingit attack and destroy the Russian post at Sitka.

Led by Baranov, Russians and Unangan/Aleuts return to reoccupy Sitka. They are aided by a Russian navy ship Neva. After two weeks of fighting what some call the Battle of Sitka, the Tlingit leave the area. Tlingit oral accounts describe their survival march across Baranof Island. Tlingit return to live at Sitka in 1819 at the invitation of the Russians after Baranov’s departure.

Iakov Netsvetov, Unangas Creole, the first Western Russian Orthodox priest, translates parts of the Bible and keeps daily journals from 1829-1844. He writes down an alphabet for the Yupik language.

Tlingit attack and destroy the Russian post at New Russia (Yakutat) that had been established in 1796. The Russians do not reestablish a post at the site.

The first Sitka spruce are planted on Amaknak Island and Unalaska.

For schooling, Russians & Creoles at the Russian company school in St. Paul on Kodiak Island individuals had to work 10-15 years to pay the company back. [Partnow]

1808 [-07?]
An octagonal Russian Orthodox chapel is built in Iliuliuk [Iluula{ Bergsland: 1994: 603]].

The Russian-American Company establishes Fort Ross, north of today’s San Francisco. Russians, Unangan/Aleut, and Alutiiq taken there to hunt sea otters, grow food for Alaska settlements, and establish Russian sovereignty. The company sells the post in 1841.

The Russian-American Company introduces new rules, among them to employ Natives only on the basis of voluntary contracts. The class of Creoles, persons of mixed ancestry, is created. Creoles are entitled to education and other privileges in exchange for a commitment to work for the company for a minimum of ten years.

Ivan Veniaminov, Russian Orthodox missionary, arrives in the Aleutian Islands. Assisted by Ivan Pan’kov, a Tigalda Island leader, Veniaminov learns the Unangan/Eastern Aleut language, develops an alphabet, and records information about the people and their customs. The two write a Unangan/Aleut catechism, the first book written in an Alaska Native language. Veniaminov moves to Sitka in 1834 and does similar work with the Tlingit. There he starts an all-colonial school to educate Natives and Creoles and obtains Russian-American Company support for it. Veniaminov leaves Alaska in 1845. As head of the church in Moscow, he continues support of the Alaska mission after Russia sells Alaska to the U.S.

July: Unangan, Innokenty Shaisnikoff is born. He serves as priest at Unalaska for 35 years until his death in 1883; he travels extensively, records scientific observations, and translates material into Unanga{
(Aleut). [Unalaska Arts and Historical Society: 1976]

Veniaminov lives at Unalaska. On March 25,1824, he opens school.

During this time, Veniaminov builds and consecrates the Church of the Holy Ascension.

Iakov Netsvetov, a Creole and graduate of Irkutsk Theological Seminary, arrives at Atka where he serves until 1844. He is the first Alaska Native Orthodox priest in Alaska. He moves to Ikogmiut on the Yukon River in 1844 and serves there until 1863. He develops an alphabet and translates church materials into Yup’ik.

In the autumn of this year Veniaminov with the help of Ivan Pankov, Chief of Tigalda, develops an alphabet for Unanga{ (Aleut). They translate material together and publish the first books in Unanga{ (Aleut).

Russian Orthodox church was built at Little Afognak by the Seleznev brothers.

Smallpox epidemic starts at Sitka and over the next five years spreads throughout Alaska and kills many Native people. As a result, many Native people accept vaccination.

Smallpox, measles, chicken pox, and whooping-cough epidemics reduce the Unangan population.

The British Hudson’s Bay Company leases the Southeast Alaska mainland from the Russians. This reduces competition and lowers the prices paid to Native people for furs.


Russian Petr Malakhov establishes a trading post at Nulato along the Yukon River. It is the Russians’ farthest upriver trading post. Parties travel from Nulato to trading fairs on the middle Yukon.

Lavrentii Salmatov from Attu, moves to Atka.


All Unangan (Aleuts) in the Fox district (Veniaminov’s) have some ability to write.

Measles epidemic

Russian Lavrentiy Zagoskin starts a two-year expedition to explore the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers. He trades with the people he meets and keeps a detailed diary with much ethnographic and scientific information. Along with the explorations led by Ivan Vasilev, Semen Lukin, Fedor Kolmakov, and Andrei Glazunov, the Russians start trading for furs in Southwest Alaska and the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.

Lavrentii Salmatov is ordained a priest and succeeds Father Iakov Netsvetov as parish priest in Atka. He translates the entire New Testament into the Atkan dialect and writes a beginning reader in Unangas.

Hudson’s Bay Company trader Alexander Hunter Murray, aware he is in Russian territory, establish Fort Yukon at the mouth of the Porcupine River. British and Russian traders compete to get furs from the Athabaskan people.

Iakov Knagin (Jacob Johan Knagg) a Lutheran Finn and his family of four were sent to Alaska with Kvasnikov. They were joined by Yakut Petr Osipov and his family, Simbirsk peasant, Ivan Andreev with his family of four, and the Creole, Leontii Ostrogin with his family of five. These families formed the nucleus of the Russian American Company’s first permanent settlement at Ninilchik.

Establishment of retirement communities for Russian American Company employees at Afognak, Ouzinkie, and Ninilchik.

U.S. hunters take the first bowhead whale near Big Diomede Island in the Bering Strait. Commercial whaling continues along the arctic coasts for the next seventy years. Whalers conduct an active trade with coastal Native people, introduce alcohol and spread diseases, and decimate the whale and walrus populations. In the 1880s, traders establish shore-based stations and hire Native men to hunt whales, changing trading patterns, and introducing wage labor.

The Great Age of Unangan (Aleut) Literacy
1. most writing and almost all publication was in Unanga{
2. some linguistic books were published in Unanga{
3. journals were written in Unanga{

Nulato Massacre. [Miranda Wright; Simeone

Surveyors work in northwestern Alaska for the Western Union International Telegraph project to link the United States and Europe by a line across Siberia. The company sends scientists to collect information about Alaska’s Native people, natural resources, history, and geography. Work stops in 1868 when a telegraph connection across the Atlantic Ocean is successful. Expedition members Frederick Whymper, William Healy Dall, and Henry Wood Elliott write books about Alaska and its people.

Unanga{ (Aleut) population is ¼ of what it was before contact.

September 6: U.S. Revenue Cutter Lincoln makes first official visit to Unalaska during which the first ascent of Makushin volcano is made.

October 18: U.S. “purchases” Alaska from Russia without consulting Unangan (Aleuts). Russia signs a treaty with the United States selling Alaska. American administration begins October 18. The treaty refers to “inhabitants of the ceded territory” and “uncivilized tribes”. The “inhabitants” are to be citizens. The treaty states, “The uncivilized tribes will be subject to such laws and regulations as the United States may, from time to time, adopt in regard to aboriginal tribes in that country”. No Alaska Natives are granted citizenship. [Unalaska Arts and Historical Society: 1976]