- Matthews, Glorious Misadventures
Matthews, Owen, Glorious Misadventures. Soft bound $16.80 Hard bound $28.00. 385 pages, including index.
The subtitle of Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America tells us more. Like the Hudson's Bay
Company of England, the Russian American Company was the occupier of Alaska under the king's franchise.
Rezanov was the RAC's link to the tsar, and that's how he is depicted. This book gives us much more detail as to
how Nikholai rose from a rather nondescript beginning from a family of minor gentry to a major role in the
court of Tsar Alexander I and on to an important player in the RAC governance of Alaska.
However, there are many mistakes in the everyday life of the Company in Alaska; not all of the workers
for the company were the convicts, rough characters, and general dissolute men as portrayed, although to be
fair, when Rezanov first visited the colony, there were many. Nor is much attention given to the governors, or
the fur traders who, unlike the Russians, sold the Natives guns and ammunition, making the area far more
But this carping is rather insignificant compared to the magnificent additions to the machinations of the
royal court in Russia in this period. It is by far the most complete this reviewer has ever encountered.
Matthews puts up an excellent argument that Rezanov dreamed of annexing for Russia the whole West
Coast as far down as California. That has not been the prevailing thought, which had the simple idea of raising
wheat for the colony in Alaska. However, this asks for more information. He does deal beautifully with the fact
or legend (take your choice) of the romance, or not, of Rezanov and Consuelo, the beautiful daughter of the
Spanish commandante in California.
Of course, the author is not the first to deplore a result of the Tlingit destruction of the first Russian
settlement in Sitka. The Russians were horrified to encounter the scene and find the heads of the Russian and
Aleut defenders. In Tlingit tradition, warriors who behaved cowardly when attacked were killed and the bodies
thrown into the sea. Those who fought bravely but futilely were honored by having their heads cut off and
placed on sticks so their relatives could take those home and give them a proper cremation. It was the
equivalent of a nice burial and white headstone.
The Russian settlement at Yakutat was not of major importance. The people simply tired of the demands
of the Russians and their insistence upon complete control. When access to an important hunting area was cut
off, the people rose up and destroyed the Russian settlement.
Whatever your feelings, the writing is so good you'll thoroughly enjoy the read. even if you don't change
your mind as to Rezanov's importance.