Chapter Three: Historical Context by J. David McMahan

Griffin, Lion-Eagle HybridCastle Hill, and ships in the harborGriffin, Lion-Eagle Hybrid

Prehistory

Such of the outer Northwest Coast was entirely ice-free and habitable 12,000 to 13,000 years ago, although local events influenced the extent, intensity, and time of occupation (Mathews 1979; Fladmark 1982). The earliest known sites in the region coincide with a general warming trend accompanied by resultant vegetation changes, local glacial events, and receding sea levels at the close of the Pleistocene. However, most research in the region has focused on sites associated with the modern sea level and dating within the last 5,000 years. Because few prehistoric archaeological sites in the immediate vicinity of Sitka have been intensively investigated, the local cultural sequence is best understood in the context of studies elsewhere in southeast Alaska and adjacent British Columbia. Stanley Davis (1990:197), who conducted substantial work at the Hidden Falls site on the opposite side of Baranof Island, has proposed the following chronological cultural sequence for the region: (1) the Paleomarine tradition, 9000-4500 BC; a transitional stage dating 4500-3000 BC; the Developmental Northwest Coast stage, divided into an early phase 3000-1000 BC, middle phase, 1000 BC – AD 1000, and late phase, AD 1000 to European contact; and the Historic period. This scheme parallels the two-stage sequence developed by Knut Fladmark (1982) for the Northwest Coast Culture area, based primarily on work in British Columbia. Fladmark’s model consists of (1) a Lithic Stage comprised of an Early Lithic Substage (prior to about 10,000 years ago) and a Late Lithic Substage (10,000 to 5,500 years ago), differentiated primarily by the presence of microblades in the latter; and (2) a Developmental Stage which gave rise to the indigenous Northwest Coast societies which are known ethnographically. The Developmental Stage is characterized by "increased artifact diversification, the appearance of specialized fishing and sea-mammal hunting technology, woodworking, large houses, wealth-status objects, art, and large population aggregates" (Fladmark 1982:110). More recently, broader issues of northern Northwest Coast culture history have been addressed by Kenneth Ames, Jon Erlandson, Herbert Maschner, and Madonna Moss (Ames and Maschner 1999; Erlandson and Moss 1996; Maschner 1992; Moss 1998a, 1998b, 1992, 1989; Moss and Erlandson 1998, 1995, 1992). The summaries which follow are largely derived from Madonna Moss’ (1998a) recent northern Northwest Coast regional overview, which divides the prehistoric cultural sequence into three periods. The summaries also draw heavily from Stan Davis’ descriptions of sites and associated industries reported in the Handbook of North American Indians (Davis 1990).

The Early Period (ca. 10,000-7,000 BP):

The earliest dated sites in southeastern Alaska include: Ground Hog Bay 2, on the point of the mainland between Icy Strait and Lynn Canal (Ackerman 1968, 1974, 1980; Ackerman et al. 1979); Hidden Falls, on the inner central coast of Baranof Island (Davis 1984, 1980, 1979); Chuck Lake, on Heceta Island (Ackerman et al. 1985; Ackerman 1988); and Thorne River, Prince of Wales Island (Holmes et al. 1989). The earliest known archaeological components in the region, termed "Paleomarine tradition" by Davis (1984, 1980), are characterized by a well-developed microblade industry with wedge-shaped cores, few if any bifacial artifacts, and an economic pattern based on coastal marine subsistence (Davis 1990:197). Despite morphological variations, these earliest southeastern Alaska assemblages share attributes with similar-aged components in coastal and interior Alaska outside the region, suggesting a common origin in northeast Asia (Moss 1998a:100). Of recent interest is On-Your-Knees Cave, Prince of Wales Island, which has produced the oldest human bones from Alaska and some of the oldest in the U.S., approaching 10,000 BP (Dixon et al. 1997). Due to the paucity of northern Northwest Coast sites dating between 6500 BP and 5000 BP, the transition between the Early and Middle periods is poorly understood. Emerging data, however, suggest the continuation of a mid-Holocene microblade tradition in the absence of a ground slate industry (Moss 1998a:100).

The Middle Period (ca. 5000-1500 BP):

Moss’ (1998a:100) Middle Period generally corresponds to the three-part Developmental Stage originally defined by Fladmark (1982) for the Northwest Coast, and to the Early and Middle phases of Davis (1990) Developmental Northwest Coast Stage for southeast Alaska. This period is best represented by Components II and III from the Hidden Falls site, but is also known from several large assemblages from other sites in the region. A number of sites in southeast Alaska have occupations that span both the Middle and Late periods, suggesting cultural continuity (Moss 1998a:100). A major technological change during this period was the innovation of wood stake fishing weirs for mass salmon harvest, some with dates older than 3000 years (Moss 1998a:100; Moss and Erlandson 1998). The artifact assemblage from Component II at Hidden Falls, representing the early Middle Period, includes "ground stone points, ground single-edge tools, small planing adzes, abraders, unilaterally barbed bone point fragments, labrets, beads, ribbed stone, and utilized flakes" (Davis 1990:199). There was a notable absence of bifaces, burins, flaked stone points, and a microblade industry (Davis 1990:199). Faunal remains associated with the Component II occupation included dog, deer, sea mammals, and anadromous and marine fish (Davis 1984). Component III at Hidden Falls is representative of the later part of Moss’ (1998a:101) Middle Period (i.e., the Middle Phase of Davis’ Developmental Northwest Coast Stage). In addition to the artifact types found in Component II, the Component III assemblage included unilaterally barbed bone points without lashing spurs or holes, gravers, bone tubes, incised bone and stone, and drilled mammal teeth (Davis 1990:200). Present in Component III were extensive shell deposits, fire hearth areas, and evidence of structures. Faunal analysis suggested a winter-spring occupation (Davis 1990:200).

The Late Period (post-1500 BP):

The Late Period (Moss 1998a:101) provides cultural continuity between the preceding Middle Period and the following historic period. It corresponds to the Late Phase of Davis’ (1990:200-202) Developmental Northwest Coast Stage. The Late Period, primarily associated with Tlingit place names, is best known from de Laguna’s work at Daax Haat Kanadaa and Old Town, and Ackerman’s work at Grouse Fort (Moss 1998a:101). Moss and Erlandson (1992) have documented numerous defensive sites which date primarily from the last 1000 years, including Noow Tlein (Castle Hill). The large number of sites from the Late Period suggest that "the population of the northern Northwest Coast was as large during the Late Period as at any time in prehistory (Moss 1998a:103). There is evidence that this population growth was accompanied by increased raiding and warfare that might be explained by "territorial circumscription, scalar stress, and potentially Neoglacial conditions" (Moss and Erlandson 1992), and by the introduction of the bow and arrow (Maschner 1992). Based on the excavation of eight sites on Kuiu Island, Maschner has proposed that villages did not appear until the Late Period.

Davis (1990:200) associates the Late Period with a transition to larger structures believed to be an indication of winter villages, as well as defensive sites. Artifact assemblages retained many elements of the preceding period, including ground stone technology, bone technology, labrets, chisels, splitting and planing adzes, and some chipped stone (Davis 1990:200). New elements include copper tools, stone bowls and lamps, harpoons with lashing holes, the increased use of obsidian for chipped stone tools, and the introduction of drift iron for tool manufacturing during protohistoric times (Davis 1990:200).

Historical Overview of Russian-America

The conquest of Siberia by Russian cossacks in the late 16th century opened the way for exploration and expansion into North America. The Pacific port of Okhotsk, established in 1649, became an important staging area for 17th and 18th century expeditions. At the beginning of the 18th century, the Russians began exploration and occupation of the newly discovered Kurile Islands to the south. By the mid-18th century, Russian fur traders began to explore eastward along the Commander and Aleutian Island chain. These Russian fur trappers or promyshlenniki reached destinations progressively farther east as they searched for furs. The 1732 voyage of Gvozdev and Fedorov marks the first sighting of the northwest coast of America, and the first contact with Native Americans there (Smith 2000). Vitus Bering, however, is given credit as the first European to make landfall on American soil in 1741. The Russians established a settlement at Unalaska around 1770. In 1784, Siberian merchant Grigorii Shelikhov established the settlement of Three Saints on Kodiak Island. From this settlement, he launched exploratory expeditions around Kodiak and the adjacent Alaska mainland. Through force and taking hostages, he eventually subjugated many of the coastal Native groups he contacted. Aleksandr Baranov, who served as Chief Manager of Russia’s North American settlements from 1790 to 1818, is credited with much of the success of these early commercial activities in Alaska. After Shelikhov’s death in 1795, Baranov continued exploration and expansion into new coastal areas. A hallmark of Russia’s operations in North America occurred in 1799, when Paul I granted the newly formed RAC a monopoly over hunting and mining on the coast of North America, the Aleutians, and the Kuriles.

Sitka's Contact History

At the time of first European contact in the Sitka area around 1795, Noow Tlein (Castle Hill) was occupied by the Kiks.ádi clan of the Tlingit. The rocky 60-foot-high promontory at the edge of Sitka Harbor was surrounded by water on three sides and was cut off from the mainland at high tide. In the 1960s fill was placed around the base of the hill, resulting in its present appearance.

Tlingit oral history states that four Kiks.ádi clan houses were located on the hill. Representing the major clans, these were "On-the-Point House," "Inside-the-Fort House (Nu-to-hit)," "Herring Flutter House (Yah-ooo-hit)," and "Sun House (Gagan-hit)" (Andrews 1960:24). The houses on top of the hill, due to limited ground area on the promontory for large residential structures, likely represented ownership of the area by the Kiks.ádi clan (Hall 1997). Andrew Hope of the Sitka Kiks.ádi's Point House, in relating the story an elder told to him, states that there were four "communal" houses on top of the hill and a fifth house on a natural bench toward Indian River. He stated that other houses were located "across from the cold storage (Hope 1967).

The hill, with its commanding view of Sitka Sound, was the major defining characteristic of Noow Tlein, translated "big fort" (Moss and Erlandson 1992: Table 2). The site has been described as a "rocky prominence on which the Sitkas [Sitka Tlingit] had a small redoubt" (Hopkins 1959; Andrews 1960:24) and as "a fort [that] belonged to the Kiks.ádi clan" (Sealaska 1975:386-387). Noow Tlein is typical of the Tlingit defensive positions described by George Emmons in the 1880s and 1890s:

   

Generally, villages were unprotected, and natural defense positions on bluff headlands or rocky islands near at hand were fortified, to which inhabitants might flee in time of danger... Ordinarily the forts of this people were smaller affairs not surrounding the village, but near at hand, on some rocky island or precipice headland and belonging to a single family, when they might find refuge upon a sudden attack, for the strategy of coast warfare consisted of surprise attacks... and rapid retreats, so their strongholds were not calculated to stand sieges, and were but temporarily occupied when necessity might require [manuscript of George T. Emmons, quoted by Moss and Erlandson 1992:5-6].

During the 1998 excavations at Castle Hill, a stratified midden (refuse) deposit was discovered on the northeast side of the hill, perhaps associated with the "the natural bench towards Indian River" as referenced above (Hope 1967). Samples of charcoal from the midden produced C-14 dates of 460 +/- 60 BP, 640 +/- 50 BP, and 1070 +/- 60 BP. This confirms oral tradition of a long occupation at the site by Sitka Tlingit prior to the establishment of the Russian settlement.

Founding and Destruction of St. Archangel Mikhail (Old Sitka)

Due to its strategic position, Noow Tlein was the first choice for a redoubt location when Aleksandr Baranov, Chief Manager of the Shelikhov Golikov Company, came to Sitka in September 1799 to establish a settlement (Bancroft 1959:429; Lisiansky 1814:155; Tikhmenev 1978:75). Baranov had constructed the Novorossiisk settlement at Yakutat Bay in 1796, but found that the year-round ice free harbor and other conveniences of Sitka offered a better location for a Russian settlement (Tikhmenev 1978:43, 61). Because the hill at Noow Tlein was already occupied by the Kiks.ádi, Baranov negotiated for land six miles to the north on which to build a fort (Bancroft 1959:387-388; Khlebnikov 1994:1). The settlement constructed there during 1799-1800 was named for the St. Archangel Mikhail (Bancroft 1959:390; Khlebnikov 1994:3). After Baranov returned to Kodiak in the autumn of 1800, relationships deteriorated between the Sitka Tlingit and the Russians at the Archangel settlement, apparently encouraged by English and American traders (Bancroft 1959:397, 401). During the summer of 1802, the Sitka Tlingit attacked and burned St. Archangel Mikhail, killing 20 Russians and 130 Aleuts (Tikhmenev 1978:65). The English ship Union, commanded by Captain Henry Barber, rescued several survivors and transported them to Kodiak (Tikhmenev 1978:65), where they gave detailed (albeit slightly conflicting) accounts of the incident (Pierce and Donnelly 1979:134-139; Bancroft 1959:401-420). Kiks.ádi oral history related by Herb Hope states that the attack was a concerted effort of several villages (Houston and Cochrane 1992:3). The location of St. Archangel Mikhail, called Old Sitka after its abandonment, is presently a state park. Archaeological excavations there during 1934-35 by the U.S. Forest Service produced an assortment of Native and Russian artifacts, the most notable of which is the only surviving cast metal plaque marking Russian possession (Barnett and Schumacher 1967; SNHP 1998:97).

he 1804 Battle of Sitka

Baranov, determined to reestablish a Russian fort at Sitka, returned to the area in September 1804 with several vessels and a large force of Aleuts. Landing near Noow Tlein, he occupied the hill without hostilities. He then met with a group of Tlingit from whom he demanded permanent possession of the bluff (i.e., Castle Hill) and two additional hostages (Bancroft 1959:429; Lisiansky 1814:155-157). The Tlingit did not consent to Baranov's demands. Instead they rejoined other members of the village who had already moved to a fort which they had recently constructed about a mile to the east, a location that is presently within Sitka National Historic Park. This location was better protected from cannon bombardment than Noow Tlein, as shallow waters prevented ships from approaching near shore. Assisted by Captain Iurii Fedorovich Lisiansky on the sloop Neva, the Russians attacked the Tlingit fort around the first of October [reported dates vary] (Bancroft 1959:429; Langsdorff 1993:46; Khlebnikov 1994:4; Lisiansky 1814:157). After several days of fighting, the Tlingit abandoned the fort and walked overland, settling in several locations before constructing a fort in the Peril Straits area (Andrews 1960:6; Houston and Cochrane 1992:7; Jacobs 1987:7). This overland journey, called the "Sitka Kiks.ádi Survival March," was described to Houston and Cochrane (1992:6-8) by Herb Hope. Unlike the 1802 attack which involved several villages, the 1804 battle was limited to the Kiks.ádi (Houston and Cochrane 1992:3). Numerous, and sometimes conflicting, accounts of the 1804 battle have been published or passed down through oral history. Nora and Richard Dauenhauer (1990:6-23) summarized various accounts of both the 1802 and 1804 battles at the 2nd International Conference on Russian America. A detailed analysis of documents relating to the battle is beyond the scope of this research.

Castle Hill: 1805 to 1817

Immediately upon arriving in Sitka in the fall of 1804, Baranov began constructing a fortified settlement on the hill at the former Noow Tlein village site. The Russian settlement was named Novo-Arkhangel'sk (New Archangel) to commemorate the St. Archangel Mikhail fort. John D'Wolfe (1968:37-38), an American sea captain who spent the winter of 1804-1805 at New Archangel (Sitka), described the location as "a singular round piece of land with a flat top, standing out in the sea, and bearing the appearance of a work of human hands." Lisiansky described the settlement when he returned in June 1805:

   

The next morning I went on shore, and was surprised to see how much the new settlement was improved. By the active superintendence of Mr. Baranoff, eight very fine buildings were finished, and ground enough in a state of cultivation for fifteen kitchen-gardens [Lisiansky 1814:218].

Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov, a founder and board member of the Russian-American Company, arrived at the new settlement on August 26, 1805, where he found "numerous log buildings with stone foundations" (Pierce 1990:419; Tikhmenev 1978:89). In a letter to the Directors of the Russian-American Company dated November 6, 1805, Rezanov presented a detailed description of New Archangel:

   

There is a lighthouse on one of the islands... The fort is placed on a high rocky promontory, or kekur, extending out into the bay. On the left, half way up the hill, stand enormous barracks with two sentry boxes or turrets for defense purposes. Almost the whole building is built of wood good enough for shipbuilding, on a foundation of logs and cobblestones, with cellars. The building is on a slope and the foundation reaches the water. Close to the barracks is a building containing two stores, a warehouse and two cellars. Next to it is a big shed (balagan) for storing food supplies, built on posts, and under it a workshop. Facing the fort and next to this shed is a goodsized warehouse (sarai) and a store connected with it built of logs and facing the sea. The wharf is between this warehouse and the fort. To the right, at the foot of the mountain, is a building containing a kitchen, a bath and several rooms for company employees. A big log blacksmith shop nine sazhens long [1 sazhen = 2.13 m or 7 ft.] and five wide is built in three sections on the shore. In the middle section are three forges, in the other two sections -- work shops. Then comes the barn for the cattle. On the hillside above these buildings is another bathhouse. Beneath the fort there is one more bathhouse, with a room. On the hill is a temporary log house five sazhens long and three wide with two rooms and a porch. I have one of these rooms and the two ship apprentices the other. I have enumerated to you many buildings but the men were living in tents till the first part of October. As soon as a roof is placed on a building, they move right in. There are some broken down Kolosh yurts in which live the native workers and Kadiak Americans [Rezanov 1805, in Pierce and Donnelly 1979:153-154].


The physician and natural scientist Georg Heinrich Langsdorff, who accompanied Rezanov, also illustrated (Figures 4 and 5) and described the infant settlement:

   

The citadel hill had been fortified with cannon. Several Company ships armed with cannon lay at anchor and regular watch was kept day and night... Quarters were, for the most part unfinished and consisted of small rooms without stoves. Their roofs were so bad that the frequent rains continually penetrated them. All of the promyshlenniks had to work every day on the construction of the barracks, warehouse and other quarters that were so desperately needed... Altogether there were almost two hundred people at the settlement, including overseers and assistant overseers, naval officers, master shipwrights, promyshlenniks and Aleuts [Langsdorfff 1993:48].

Baranov and Lisiansky are reported to have made a treaty with a Tlingit envoy in August 1805, after which the chief was presented with a token of friendship consisting of "a staff on which were the Russian arms, wrought in copper, decorated with ribbons and eagle down" (Bancroft 1959:438-439). Lisiansky (1814:221-225) reported that the negotiations took place in Baranov's house, and that pewter medals were also distributed. No Russian accounts which describe the terms of the treaty have been located (Bancroft 1959:439, footnote 29). Tlingit accounts of the treaty have been presented by Alex Andrews and Mark Jacobs, Jr. In a transcribed interview, Alex Andrews (1960:6-7) explained that the Indians did not know the value of the plaque presented by the Russians, and it was believed to be a retribution or atonement for the dead. He further stated that Baranov came to Peril Straights to negotiate the treaty.

Figure 3.1. "View of the Establishment at Norfolk Sound," 1805-06 (from a watercolor by G.H. von Langsdorff)

Figure 3.2. A plan of New Archangel, 1805-06. The "commander’s bathhouse" (f) is in the vicinity of 1997-98 archaeological excavations (watercolor by G.H. von Langsdorff, California Digital Library).


Mark Jacobs account of the treaty was related in a speech at the Second Russian-American Conference in 1987:

   

It was finally decided by the Kiks Adi's to return and sit down for the peace talks. It was at this peace treaty that the present Castle Hill was given to Baranov in exchange for a double-headed eagle badge, which is depicted on the totem pole [in Totem Square, Sitka]. It was explained to mean, "From now on and forever, we will be brothers. You look one way and we the other way." The round knob on the bottom of the totem pole represents Castle Hill. The only piece of real estate ever given to the Russians [emphasis in original document]... The double-headed eagle badge, received from the peace talks, is now in the State of Alaska Museum in Juneau [Jacobs 1987:9].

Despite peace negotiations with the Kiks.ádi, tensions remained between the Russians and the Tlingit of southeast Alaska in general. This culminated in the destruction of the Yakutat settlement in September 1805 (Bancroft 1959:45). The years following the founding of New Archangel were difficult for the settlement's inhabitants. A well-founded fear of the Tlingit prompted the Russians to adhere to military discipline, with cannon always loaded and sentries posted (Bancroft 1959:451; Pierce and Donnelly 1979:157). The settlement was impoverished due to difficulties in obtaining supplies, a shortage of vessels, and an unsuccessful trade in sea otter skins (Bancroft 1959:450; D'Wolfe 1968:39; Khlebnikov 1994:7). The shortage of supplies would have been more profound if foreign ships had not, after the spring of 1805, began to frequently sail into New Archangel (Khlebnikov 1994:13, 19). Despite the difficulties mentioned above, New Archangel became the seat of the Chief Manager and the center of Russian possessions in America in August 1808 (Fedorova 1973:134). Baranov remained Chief Manager of the Russian-American Company until 1818. Advanced age, failing health, and unfounded charges of mismanagement of company affairs had prompted an investigation by Captain-Lieutenant and Cavalier L.A. Hagemeister (Khlebnikov 1994:26; Tikhmenev 1978:155-157). By authority of the Russian-American Company, Hagemeister took over command of the Russian-American colonies in January 1818, appointing K.T. Khlebnikov office manager at Sitka. In July of the same year Hagemeister made a trip to California for supplies, and placed Lieutenant S.I. Ianovskii in charge of the colony. Hagemeister returned from California to Sitka in the autumn of 1818, and in November departed for Russia.

Castle Hill: 1817 to 183

Baranov departed New Archangel for Russia on Hagemeister's vessel in November 1818, after paying a farewell visit to the colony at Kodiak (Bancroft 1959:513-514; Pierce 1990:186). Before reaching his final destination, however, he died at sea. Ianovskii served as Chief Manager until the renewal of the Russian-American Company charter in 1821, at which time he was replaced by Naval Captain M.I. Murav'ev (Bancroft 1959:534-535). One of Murav'ev's first orders of business was to invite the Sitka Tlingit to return to their former village, separated from the fort by a palisade. Under Hagemeister's management, and that of his interim successor S.I. Ianovskii, virtually all of the decaying buildings from Baranov's tenure were replaced (Khlebnikov 1994:30, 138). Khlebnikov (1994:30) reported that the barracks was so dilapidated that it was on the verge of collapse, for which reason the employees had built five small houses outside the fort. Khlebnikov (1994:138-140) reported new construction for the years 1818 to 1830, as follows:

1818.

Tower No. 1, with two stories, octagonal, with eight cannons.

1819.

(1) Tower No. 2, two-storied, octagonal,with eight cannons; (2) pier near the shore; (3) windmill.

1820.

(1) Chief manager's house in the upper fortress, eight sazhens [56 ft. or 17.04 m] in length; (2) tower No. 3 in the upper fortress, the same size as the others, with six cannons; (3) a battery on the seaside, with eight cannons; (4) lower barracks, divided into three parts by hallways (with a mezzanine on both sides) these rooms can house 80 men, they are nine sazhens [63 ft. or 19.17 m] in length, there are three rooms for officials upstairs; (5) an apartment house, two-storied, nine sazhens [63 ft. or 19.17 m] in length, they house the priest, the doctor, two officials, the office, pharmacy and hospital; (6) house of the office manager; (7) bathhouse for officials; (8) bathhouse for the garrison; (9) spinning (weaving) shop; (10) bakery; (11) a new harbor on pilings to replace the old one, eaten by worms; (12) three stairways to the upper fortress and a reviewing stand; (13) a two-storied arsenal for small arms; (14) gates and a wall for the middle fortress from the barracks to the priest's house, with a battery of two cannons.

1826 to 1828.

(1) A three-storied store 18 sazhens [126 ft. or 38.34 m] in length, the lower floor contains a section for storage in general, there are two rooms for storing materials, and two for storing goods and supplies, the central floor is for materials and furs and supplies, the floor under the roof is used for storing various types of goods; (2) a two-storied house for apartments of officials, downstairs there is a barracks, a school, three separate apartments for officials, upstairs six separate rooms and two kitchens, both buildings are covered with metal roofs.

1830.

(1) Two new pilings... for the building of the harbor area; (2) a large warehouse 18 sazhens [126 ft. or 38.34 m] long...; (3) some of the old buildings can still stay up awhile, others are falling apart, these include: in the central fortress: general store, trading store; inside the fort: workshops, blacksmith's shops, quarters for the shop workers and a metalwork shop, the general kitchen, the stable, three kazhims for the Aleuts, the carpentry shop and saw shed [Khlebnikov 1994:138-140].

In 1822, the Chief Manager's new residence (begun in 1820) in the fort was finished (Fedorova 1973:222). Its roof was covered with iron from St. Petersburg, and the lower walls and adjacent floors were sheathed with flattened lead to deter rodents (Fedorova 1973:222-223). Only the Chief Manager's house and the barracks were covered by iron. Other buildings were covered with tree bark bartered for from the Tlingits (Fedorova 1973:223). Frederic Litke, who visited Sitka in 1827 described the settlement:

   

The settlement is at present made up of two parts -- the fortress and the outlying areas. The first encloses the governor's two storied house, situated on the highest point of the rock, at around eighty feet above sea level, surrounded by towers and by batteries armed with thirty-two cannon, which makes it like a citadel... All of the structures in the fortress are company property; they are well maintained, although not without difficulty for the magnificent wood of conifers and saplings used here, because of its poor quality and the effect of the climate, does not last very long. One of the towers along the fortress walls houses the arsenal, with enough firearms and hand arms for over a thousand men, kept in good order [Litke 1987:46].

The Baroness Wrangell, wife of the chief manager in the early 1830s also provided an account of the manager's house:

   

...the town consists of small houses, dwarfed by the imposing appearance of the fort, in which our house plays a great role. It stands on a knoll, surrounded by four small towers, from which cannon look in all directions... [1831 letter from the Baroness Wrangell, quoted by Pierce 1989:30].

By some accounts, apparently based on oral history, the house was constructed of "bricks... acquired from a passing ship," and torn down in 1833 due to damage from an earthquake (Hanable 1975:2; Hall 1997). The bricks are described as yellow bricks, engraved "Stenwick," from Holland (DeArmond 1995). While the OHA excavations produced no Stenwick bricks and only a small number of yellow brick fragments, examples of collected Stenwick bricks were observed in Sitka during 1997-98. Written descriptions of the period mention bricks only in the context of their scarcity, and their use in the manufacture of Russian stoves (Fedorova 1973:223). Also, an 1827 engraving by F. H. von Kittlitz (Figure 3.3), who accompanied Litke on his voyage to New Archangel, seems to depict a log or frame building with a gabled roof (Henry 1984:55). By the 1830s, this house -- sometimes called the "original castle," was already deteriorating. Wrangell obtained permission from the main office at St. Petersburg to build another, in the meantime moving into the port headquarters (Pierce 1989:32). Construction efforts were generally less profound before the

1830s, when the shareholders of the Russian-American Company confirmed a decision to transfer the colonial capital back to the Kodiak settlement (Fedorova 1973;143). The transfer did not occur, largely due to a lack of manpower for new construction on Kodiak (Fedorova 1973:145).

Figure 3.3. "Novo-Arkhangel’sk on Sitkha Island," 1827. Illustration by Friedrich Heinrich Baron von Kittlitz. (courtesy
the Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana).


Castle Hill: 1836-1867

Construction of a new two-story residence on the hill finally began in November 1836, under the management of the next governor, I.A. Kupreianov (Pierce 1989:32). The structure measured 12 by 7 sazhens (84 by 49 ft., or 25.56 by 14.91 m)(Pierce 1989:32). It is this structure, the largest and last of a series of Russian buildings to occupy the hill, that was popularly called "The Castle." Ironically, it is often referred to as "Baranov's Castle," even though its construction was initiated some 18 years after Baranov's departure from Sitka. By April 1837, workers were ready to place sheet iron on the roof, and work had begun on new towers and batteries (Pierce 1989:32). Kupreianov modified the construction plans to add a small observatory and lighthouse to the pitched roof of the house, said to be visible from a distance of 20 miles (Pierce 1989:32). Captain Edward Belcher, on the British vessel Sulphur, visited Sitka in 1837 while construction was in progress. Although he exaggerated the structure's dimensions, Belcher otherwise described it as follows:

   

The building is of wood, solid; some of the logs measuring seventy-six and eighty feet in length, and squaring one foot. They half dovetail over each other at the angles, and are treenailed together vertically. The roof is pitched, and covered with sheet iron. When complete, the fortifications (one side only of which at present remains) will comprise five sides, upon which forty pieces of cannon will be mounted, principally old ship guns, varying from twelve to twenty-four pounders. The bulwarks are of wood, and fitted similarly to the ports on the maindeck of a frigate [Pierce and Winslow, eds. 1979:21].

The Castle, which stood until 1894, has been described in detail by a number of visitors, and graphically documented in a numerous sketches and photographs. Various portrayals indicate that the Castle occupied all available space on top of the hill. The building was outfitted with furniture of sufficient quality to impress foreigners (Pierce 1989:32), and was the center of social life in Russian Sitka. The Castle was the location of the transfer ceremony through which the United States acquired Alaska on October 18, 1867. The often recounted ceremony has been described by Bancroft as follows:

   

On Friday, the 18th of October, 1867, the Russian and United States commissioners, Captain Alexei Pestchourof and General L.H. Rousseau, escorted by a company of the Ninth Infantry, landed at Novo Arkhangelsk, or Sitka, from the United States steamer John L. Stephens. Marching to the governor's residence, they were drawn up side by side with the Russian garrison on the summit of the rock where floated the Russian flag; "whereupon," writes an eye-witness of the proceedings, "Captain Pestchourof ordered the Russian flag hauled down, and thereby, with brief declaration, transferred and delivered the territory of Alaska to the United States; the garrisons presented arms, and the Russian batteries and our men of war fired the international salute; a brief reply of acceptance was made as the stars and stripes were run up and similarly saluted, and we stood upon the soil of the United States [Bancroft 1959:599-600].

The name "Sitka" was most likely modified from Sheet'ka, the Sitka Tlingit People's name for their traditional territory (Polasky 1997). Use of the term "Sitka" or "Sitcha" (e.g. Langsdorff 1993) apparently was in common usage throughout the Russian occupation, along with "New Archangel," although it is doubtful that the Native population ever used the latter (cf. Hall 1997). There is apparently no precise date when the name "Sitka" began to replace "New Archangel," but Bancroft (1959:599 footnote 17) is of the opinion that "Sitka" came into general use sometime around 1847.

Castle Hill: 1867 to Present

Following the transfer of Alaska to the United States, General Jefferson Davis (Chief, U.S. Army Department of Alaska) used the Castle as his residence and headquarters (Pierce 1989:42). Some of the earliest photographs of Sitka, in the Bancroft Library’s Eadward Muybridge collection, depict Sitka in August 1868 less than one year after the transfer. The images depict U.S. Army personnel on the Castle grounds, although the structure itself is not shown. The U.S. Army departed Sitka in 1877. In May 1878 the building was reported to be in dilapidated condition (Pierce 1989:42). During the 1880s the building served as offices for the Signal Service, and is mentioned in the papers of Fred Fickett housed at the University of Alaska Anchorage archives. The 1890 census reported that:

   

the castle or governor's residence has been let fall half to ruin, the ill usage and vandalism of the past ten years leaving it stripped and despoiled of every portable feature of its interior finish and sadly defaced. Different attempts to have the building preserved and repaired for government use have failed entirely, and as the castle plot was not made a government reservation its site may be taken up by any claimant, if the building should burn to the ground. [Eleventh Census 1890:52].

A number of photographs from the 1880s to early 1890s illustrate the deteriorated condition of the building (Figure 3.4). In 1893, the U.S. Government began to repair the structure for use as offices. On March 17, 1894, just before officials moved in, the building was destroyed by an early morning fire (Pierce 1989:42). This dramatic event was captured on film by an unknown photographer (Figure 3.5).

On July 18, 1898, President McKinley reserved Castle Hill for agricultural research and weather service reporting (Pierce 1989:42). On the site the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) constructed a building which served as the headquarters of the Office of Experiment Stations in Alaska. Photographs of the facility depict a two-storied frame structure, smaller than the Castle, with columns on the north side and a gabled roof (Figure 9). A map of the facility shows stairs on the north side of the hill in the same location as those present today, as well as a harbor light and water tank on top of the hill (Georgeson and Evans 1899:41). The headquarters moved to Juneau in 1931, and in 1932 both the Juneau and Sitka offices closed (Hill 1965:12). A 1939 writer (Colby 1940:169) described the building as a private house owned by the Department of Agriculture. The building was demolished in 1955, after which time the site became a grassy territorial and later a state park (Hanable 1975:2).

Castle Hill by Winter and Pond

Figure 3.4. 1889 Photo of Castle Hill by Winter and Pond.
(photo courtesy of Candy Waugaman)

Castle Burning in 1894

Figure 3.5. Photo of the "Castle" burning in 1894, by an unknown photographer. (Isabel Miller Museum, Sitka)

Castle HIll, Circa 1940's

Figure 3.6. Photo of Castle Hill, circa 1940s or early 1950s,
by The Photo Shop Studio, Sitka (photo courtesy of Candy Waugaman)


On October 18, 1959, after Alaska was a state, one of the first official raisings of the new 49 star flag took place on Castle Hill at the scene of the 1867 transfer ceremony. In 1962, the site was designated a National Historic Landmark as the scene of the formal transfer of Alaska to the United States, the seat of the Russian-American Company from 1806 to 1867, and the place where one of the first official raisings of the forty-nine star flag occurred. In 1965, in preparation for the 1967 centennial celebration of the Alaska purchase, a stone wall was constructed with spaces for six cannon, six interpretive plaques, and a flagpole (Hanable 1975:2). Also during the 1960s, fill material was placed around the base of the hill for road and parking lot construction. Since statehood, the site has been operated as a unit of the Alaska State Parks system, and is the locus of a formal flag raising ceremony on October 18th each year.