02
Feb
09

On This Day, February 2: Fort Ross

February 2, 1812

Russians establish Fort Ross

Staking a tenuous claim to the riches of the Far West, Russians establish Fort Ross on the coast north of San Francisco.

As a growing empire with a long Pacific coastline, Russia was in many ways well positioned to play a leading role in the settlement and development of the West. The Russians had begun their expansion into the North American continent in 1741 with a massive scientific expedition to Alaska. Returning with news of abundant sea otters, the explorers inspired Russian investment in the Alaskan fur trade and some permanent settlement. By the early 19th century, the semi-governmental Russian-American Company was actively competing with British and American fur-trading interests as far south as the shores of Spanish-controlled California.

Russia’s Alaskan colonists found it difficult to produce their own food because of the short growing season of the far north. Officials of the Russian-American Company reasoned that a permanent settlement along the more temperate shores of California could serve both as a source of food and a base for exploiting the abundant sea otters in the region. To that end, a large party of Russians and Aleuts sailed for California where they established Fort Ross (short for Russia) on the coast north of San Francisco.

Fort Ross, though, proved unable to fulfill either of its expected functions for very long. By the 1820s, the once plentiful sea otters in the region had been hunted almost to extinction. Likewise, the colonists’ attempts at farming proved disappointing, because the cool foggy summers along the coast made it difficult to grow the desired fruits and grains. Potatoes thrived, but they could be grown just as easily in Alaska.

At the same time, the Russians were increasingly coming into conflict with the Mexicans and the growing numbers of Americans settling in the region. Disappointed with the commercial potential of the Fort Ross settlement and realizing they had no realistic chance of making a political claim for the region, the Russians decided to sell out. After making unsuccessful attempts to interest both the British and Mexicans in the fort, the Russians finally found a buyer in John Sutter. An American emigrant to California, Sutter bought Fort Ross in 1841 with an unsecured note for $30,000 that he never paid. He cannibalized the fort to provide supplies for his colony in the Sacramento Valley where, seven years later, a chance discovery ignited the California Gold Rush.

“Russians establish Fort Ross.” 2009. The History Channel website. 2 Feb 2009, 10:51 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=tdihArticleCategory&id=4417.

On This Day

1536 – The Argentine city of Buenos Aires was founded by Pedro de Mendoza of Spain.

1848 – The Mexican War was ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The treaty turned over portions of land to the U.S., including Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, California and parts of Colorado and Wyoming. The U.S. gave Mexico $15,000,000 and assumed responsibility of all claims against Mexico by American citizens. Texas had already entered the U.S. on December 29, 1845.

1848 – The first shipload of Chinese emigrants arrived in San Francisco, CA.

1887 – The beginning of groundhog day in Punxsutawney, PA.

1913 – Grand Central Terminal officially opened at 12:01 a.m. Even though construction was not entirely complete more than 150,000 people visited the new terminal on its opening day.

1935 – Leonard Keeler conducted the first test of the polygraph machine, in Portage, WI.

1943 – During World War II, the remainder of Nazi forces from the Battle of Stalingrad surrendered to the Soviets. Stalingrad has since been renamed Volgograd.

1971 – Idi Amin assumed power in Uganda after a coup that ousted President Milton Obote.

1989 – The final Russian armored column left Kabul, Afghanistan, after nine years of military occupation.

1998 – U.S. President Clinton introduced the first balanced budget in 30 years.

February 2, 1848

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is signed

On this day in 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is signed, ending the Mexican-American War in favor of the United States. The Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo added an additional 525,000 square miles to United States territory, including the area that would become the states of Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, as well as parts of Colorado and Wyoming. Controversy during and after the war pitted President James K. Polk in a political war against two future presidents: Zachary Taylor and Abraham Lincoln.

Polk, a Democrat, ignited the Mexican-American War when he sent his Commanding General of the Army Zachary Taylor and his troops to claim territory along the Rio Grande River between the U.S. and Mexico. Polk insisted Mexico had invaded the U.S. when an earlier skirmish between American and Mexican troops erupted over the ill-defined territorial boundaries of Texas. Polk’s action was immediately denounced by Abraham Lincoln, then a leading Whig member of Congress, who described the resulting war as unconstitutional, unnecessary and expensive. While Taylor performed his military duty in Texas, Polk wrestled with Congressional opposition led by Lincoln in Washington.

Polk was a firm believer in America’s “Manifest Destiny” of increased U.S. territorial expansion in order to bring democracy and Protestant Christianity to a “backward” region. Lincoln and his cohorts protested not so much expansionism itself, but Polk’s justification of the war. Although the war ended favorably for the U.S., Lincoln continued to attack Polk after the signing of the treaty for his lack of an exit strategy that clearly defined citizenship and property rights for former Mexican citizens. Lincoln called the president “a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man.” Although Polk’s war was successful, he lost public support after two bloody years of fighting during which the U.S. lost 1,773 men and spent a whopping $100 million.

Meanwhile, Taylor earned national popularity for his heroic actions during the war and for the camaraderie he shared with even his lowliest subordinates. When the war ended, Taylor decided to run for the presidency. One of his political mentors happened to be Abraham Lincoln, who wrote a note to Taylor after the war ended advising him of what he ought to say regarding the Mexican-American War and the question of slavery in any newly won territories. Lincoln suggested that Taylor should declare “we shall probably be under a sort of necessity of taking some territory; but it is my desire that we shall not acquire any extending so far south as to enlarge and aggravate the distracting question of slavery.”

Polk chose not to run again for the presidency, and Taylor barely won the popular vote in a race that included former President Martin Van Buren and Democratic nominee Lewis Cass. Van Buren, the Free-Soil Party candidate and former Democrat, acted as a spoiler, siphoning off Democratic votes that would likely have gone to Cass. Unfortunately for Lincoln, Taylor and his immediate successors failed to address the issue of slavery during their terms, leaving the question to Lincoln to solve over a bloody civil war a decade later.

“Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is signed.” 2009. The History Channel website. 2 Feb 2009, 10:50 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=173.

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