Tag Archives: Russian America

The Boundary Dispute

Plane table and pack trainExcerpts from the article in the March-April, 2020 issue of Alaskan History Magazine:

When the United States purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire in 1867, one of the best real estate deals in history was sealed, but the U.S. government also inherited a few headaches, not the least of which was a contentious disagreement over the geographic boundaries between the southeastern part of the territory of Alaska and the province of British Columbia, which had recently joined the newly formed Canadian Confederation, whose foreign affairs were still under British authority. 

In 1871 the Canadian government requested a survey to determine the exact location of the border, but the United States rejected the idea as too costly because the border area was very remote and sparsely settled, and there was no economic or strategic interest in conducting a survey there. That was challenged with the Cassiar gold rush in 1862 and the Klondike gold strike in 1897 intensified the pressure to survey the border. 

USCGS Survey Ship Patterson 1915

The Canadian and American representatives favored their respective governments’ territorial claims, and the Canadians, outraged by what they considered a betrayal by their colonial government, refused to sign the final decision, but the question had been put to binding arbitration, the decision took effect, and the resolution was issued on October 20, 1903. You can read the entire article, and many others, in the March-April issue.

For more information:

Statement of Facts Regarding the Alaska Boundary Question, Compiled for the Govt. of British Columbia (1902) 

The Alaska Boundary Line T. C. Mendenhall (1900) 

Alaska-Canada Boundary Dispute by Murray Lundberg, at ExploreNorth 

The Alaska Boundary Dispute: A Critical Reappraisal, by Norman Penlington (1972)

March-April 2020 Cover 600Alaskan History Magazine is an independently produced magazine dedicated to portraying the colorful and important past of the Last Frontier as an interesting and exciting journey of exploration. The style is conversational, yet confident and informative, thoroughly researched to bring the true stories of the people, places and events which shaped Alaskan history to a wide readership. Subscribe, order all the back issues, or just order a single issue click this link.


The Esquimaux

Esquimaux 3 420Only published for one year, 1866-1867, The Esquimaux was Alaska’s first newspaper, edited by a Western Union Telegraph line man named John J. Harrington. The July-August issue of Alaskan History Magazine shares the story of this unique publication, and the little-known history behind it.

Twenty miles south of present-day Teller, Alaska, on a sand spit separating Port Clarence Bay from the stormy Bering Sea, a Western Union telegraph cable construction camp named Libbysville was the site of Alaska’s first bona fide newspaper.

There were around forty men stationed at Libbysville, part of an ambitious Western Union project to lay an electric telegraph line from San Francisco, California to Moscow, Russia. The route would run up the west coast of the United States through northern California, Oregon, and Washington; then 850 miles through the colony of British Columbia (the project would be known in B.C. as the Collins Overland Telegraph) and cross into what was at that time Russian America, traversing 1,800 miles across the land which would later become Alaska before dropping under the Bering Strait, coming back to land at Plover Bay, Siberia, and then crossing Siberia to Moscow, where lines would connect to Europe. The project would be an alternative to the deep-water Trans-Atlantic Cable under construction at the same time by the Atlantic Telegraph Company.

440px-Robert_Kennicott_Harriman_Alaska_ExpeditionThe U. S. Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, has made The Esquimaux available to read online, and it records much history of early Alaska, such as the death of Robert Kennicott, who had been the Expedition’s naturalist: “Kennicott.––Died at Nulato, R.A. May 13th, 1866, Maj. Rob’t Kennicott, aged 32 years, a native of Louisiana, U.S.” The second issue would carry a lengthy front-page obituary for Maj. Kennicott, whose reports on the geology, flora, and fauna of the territory were among the earliest recorded, and may have precipitated the U.S. purchase of Alaska.

The July-August issue of Alaskan History Magazine, which includes the history of the newspaper, and the history of the trans-Alaskan telegraph cable project which was its reason for being, can be ordered here.

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