March 01, 2002

Russian San Francisco

Ever since the late 18th-century, when Russian fur trappers from Alaska first hunted along North America’s Pacific coast, there has been a Russian presence in Northern California. From the first Russian settlement at Fort Ross in 1812, through large-scale immigration during the Soviet period, Russians have made their influence felt in Northern California, and particularly the San Francisco Bay Area.

Fittingly, the history of Russians in San Francisco begins with a love story. On April 5, 1806, Count Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov, a Russian nobleman and representative of the Russian-American Company, sailed his ship, the Juno, into San Francisco Bay. California was at that time a Spanish colony, Alaska a Russian dominion. Rezanov was desperate to get relief supplies for the starving Russian colony at Sitka, Alaska. He met with the commandante of the Presidio, Don Jose Dario Arguello, and the colony’s governor, Don Jose Arrillaga. They were skeptical and curious about the Russian, yet decided to help him. Rezanov, for his part, hoped to build better ties and to secure a treaty with the local Spanish government for regular provisioning of the Russian outpost.

Through Arguello, Rezanov, a 42-year-old widower, met and began courting Arguello’s 16-year-old daughter, Concepcion, or “Concha” as she was called. After several dances at the Presidio and many talks together, the dashing count and the young Spanish girl exchanged pledges. Rezanov wrote of Concha in his report:

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