The Russians wanted money and knew what to do. They set out for Alaska to hunt the valuable sea otters. After walking for two years they arrived in Alaska and started hunting. They were unsuccessful. Then the Russians forced the Aleuts to hunt for them. Their only food was fish and they didn't like it one bit. Because of their lack of vitamin C, they were getting scurvy. Sea otters were also getting scarce. Finally, when they couldn't stand it much longer, they took some Aleuts with them and, by boat, sailed down the West Coast of North America.
They made several stops to build many forts along the Oregon coast, but the farthest south they ever got was on the Sonoma Coast twelve miles north of the Russian River. There, the Russian American Company (RAC) built Fort Ross. Fort Ross was established in 1812 by Ivan Kuskov.
Besides the lack of food, the main reason to settle at Fort Ross was to hunt for sea otters. The pelts of sea otters were really valuable. They were so valuable that one could buy enough food to feed three people for one year! Why? One square inch of fur contains 1,000,000 hairs, more than a dog. The Chinese paid a great deal for the pelts.
Trading was also very important to the Russians at Fort Ross. They gathered up the sea otters and hired an American sea captain to sail and trade for them in China. The Chinese and Russians weren't friends. It's for that reason they hired Americans to do the trading. Yet they didn't trust the Americans, so they went with them. They sailed until they reached China and traded their otter pelts for porcelain, silk, tea, and china. Then they sailed to London, England. They traded for brass, steel, scissors, and other tools. Finally the Russians came to Southern California where the Spaniards lived. There they traded for crops such as corn, seasonings, beans, and squash. Whenever they got a chance they sailed back to Russia and sold what they didn't need.
The Fort in the 1800's was very different than today. It had over 50 buildings that by today have burned down. The only original building still standing is the Rotchev house. Most of the people lived outside of the fort. The only people to live inside were the Russian managers, their families, and some soldiers.
By 1840, otters were getting scarce, almost extinct. Crops were not growing well because of gophers and fog. Life at Fort Ross just wasn't going well for the Russians.So in 1841, they sold Fort Ross to John Sutter. Today the buildings have been restored and the fort is a State Park. You can visit it today!