The Russian Menace
The Russian advance.—Spain had long been uneasy about upper California because of the activities of the English, Dutch, and French. Now the advance of the Russians seemed more threatening, and caused the long contemplated step to be taken. In the seventeenth century the Russians had crossed Siberia and opened up trade with China. In the early eighteenth century large portions of northern Asia were conquered by Russia in the interest of the east-moving fur traders. Before he died Peter the Great set on foot the project of sending an expedition to seek the northern passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic by going east. In pursuance of this task Vitus Bering made his stupendous expeditions into the Pacific (1725-28, 1733-41), in the second of which he discovered Bering Strait, coasted the American mainland, and made known the possibilities of profit in the fur trade.
Fur trade on the Aleutian Islands.—Bering's voyage was followed by a rush of fur traders to the Aleutian Islands. Companies were formed, vessels built at the port of Okhotsk, and posts established within a few years on Bering, Unalaska, Kadiak, and other islands, for a distance of nearly a thousand miles. The principal market for furs was China. The fur trade was attended by wanton slaughter of animals and harsh treatment of natives, who sometimes rebelled, as at Unalaska in 1761.
Decision of Spain to occupy Alta California.—Though Russian activities were as yet confined largely to the Aleutian Islands, the Spanish government feared that they would be extended down the coast. Moreover, there was a growing friendship between Russia and England, Spain's chief enemy. But these dangers, like others discussed during three centuries, might have resulted in nothing but correspondence had there not been on the northern frontier of New Spain a man of action, clothed with full authority to act. This man was the visitor-general, José de Gálvez. On January 23, 1768, Grimaldi, royal minister, sent the viceroy orders to resist any aggressions of the Russians that might arise. This order, which coincided with the views of the visitor and the viceroy, reached Gálvez while on his way to California.
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