Fourth of July Creek, Resurrection Bay

Fourth of July Creek, Resurrection Bay

by | Oct 29, 2021

Fourth of July Creek originates from a series of unnamed glaciers and snowfields on the Resurrection Peninsula in the Chugach Mountains of the Kenai Peninsula, and flows generally west for 3.2 miles (5 km) to an alluvial fan where it joins Godwin River and then flows southwest for 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to Resurrection Bay, about 53 miles (85 km) south-southwest of Whittier and 3.6 miles (6 km) southeast of Seward, Alaska. The Fourth of July Creek alluvial fan is on the eastern shore of Resurrection Bay, a fjord on the northern coast of the Gulf of Alaska, that was developed by the City of Seward as a port and industrial area and today includes the Spring Creek Campground, Seward Shipyard, and the Spring Creek Correctional Center. The alluvial fan is 832 acres (337 ha) with a braided channel near the middle that contains the combined discharge of Fourth of July Creek and Godwin River. Godwin River drains a terminal lake at the base of the Godwin Glacier. Early Russian explorers during the 18th century documented Godwin Glacier extending to near the eastern shore of Resurrection Bay. In 1910, the glacier was named by Grant of the U.S. Geological Survey, and at that time its terminus was about 3 miles (5 km) from the bay at an altitude of approximately 1,000 feet (305 m). Seward is the principal community on the northern Gulf of Alaska coast and is situated on the western shore of Resurrection Bay, opposite Fourth of July Creek. The town was established in 1903 and was named for U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward who negotiated the Alaska Purchase in 1867 that transferred the territory from Russia to the United States. The strategic location of Seward dates to the early settlement of Russian America.

The head of Resurrection Bay was within the territory of Suqpiaq Alutiiq, who inhabited historical villages at Qutalleq (now Seward) and Kanigilik; however, there was no indigenous population in Resurrection Bay when the Russians arrived in the late 18th century. In 1786, the Shelikhov-Golikov Company established Fort Alexandrovsk at present-day Nanwalek in English Bay, and in 1787, the Lebedev-Lastochkin Company constructed Fort Saint George on the Kasilof River and in 1791, Fort Saint Nicholas on the Kenai River. In late 1791, open rivalry broke out between the two companies. In 1792, Alexander Baranov of the Shelikhov-Golikov Company first visited the Chugach region while searching to expand Russian holdings. Traveling by the bay in early spring close to the date of Easter Sunday on the Julian Calendar, Baranov celebrated that visit by changing the earlier Russian name of Delarov Harbor with Voskresenskaia which translates to Resurrection Harbor or Sunday Harbor. Baranov’s earlier excursions provided him with sufficient knowledge of Resurrection Bay to choose a site for the construction of a fort. Baranov reported to Grigory Shelikhov that he would build a fort at the head of Resurrection Bay complete with barracks, blacksmith, and warehouse to block any move by the Lebedev-Lastochkin Company. Like most Russian settlements, Fort Voskresenskii was built on the coast because proximity to the sea allowed for the easy transfer of stockpiled furs from warehouse to ship. The fort incorporated many military features such as two watchtowers and a large rectangular stockade constructed of vertical logs encircled interior buildings similar to the design of Siberian forts with many buildings braced directly into the stockade. When the fort was under construction, Baranov turned his attention to building a shipyard. The Shelikhov-Golikov Company aspired to build a fleet of ships that would allow new Japanese trade routes and to expand the international market for goods from the colony. In 1792, James Shields, an English officer in the service of Russia who had served on the Billings Expedition and was fluent in Russian, had been building a ship in Okhotsk for the Shelikhov Company. In 1792, Shields sailed the ship to Kodiak Island with a supply of rigging and hardware for the construction of a new frigate at Fort Voskresenskii. Construction of the new ship began in 1793 after the completion of the fort barracks and a blacksmith shop. The ship was named Phoenix and measured 60 feet (18 m) long at the keel and had two decks and three masts. It was 73 feet (22 m) in length along the lower deck and 79 feet (24 m) along the upper deck and 23 feet (7 m) wide. The ship was referred to as a frigate and carried 24 guns. Phoenix was a patchwork of local technologies and materials. Iron was in short supply and was needed to manufacture an anchor, anchor chains, ring bolts, windlasses, nails, and tools. At first, Baranov hoped to salvage enough iron from shipwrecks and second-hand sources but decided instead to construct a smelting furnace.

On 5 September 1795, the Phoenix, under the command of James Shields, left Resurrection Bay and sailed for Kodiak Island. Later that year, Gerasim Izmailov took charge of the ship for its first official voyage to Okhotsk and subsequently made three round trip voyages between Kodiak and Okhotsk transporting passengers, furs, ammunition, and supplies. In 1799, on a return trip to Kodiak Island from Okhotsk, the Phoenix sailed into a storm in the Aleutian Islands and foundered. Wreckage washed up on shores from Unalaska Island to the Alexander Archipelago in Southeast Alaska. It was the greatest marine catastrophe in the history of Russian America. In addition to the ship itself, 103 people died, including 92 promyshlenniki, Captain James Shields, Bishop Joasaph Bolotov, head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska, along with valuable cargo. The loss greatly slowed the tempo of the Russian colonization of the Americas. Throughout the early 1800s, Baranov continued to sail between Kodiak and Prince William Sound with Fort Voskresenskii a regular port of call, and the little shipyard on Resurrection Bay saw the construction of at least two more vessels. Baranov had hopes of expanding and improving the settlement in Resurrection Bay, but in about 1808, the Russians moved shipbuilding operations to Sitka which became the Russian seat of governmental and economic activity. Fort Voskresenskii was essentially abandoned with a smaller station left in place until the mid-nineteenth century. The exact location of the Russian shipyard in Resurrection Bay is not known, but in 1880, a prospector named Henry Stock reported seeing the remains of an iron smelter near Fourth of July Creek, as well as seeing large round iron objects resembling cannonballs, and iron slag near the smelter furnace. Iron ore has since been identified further up Fourth of July Creek. Read more here and here. Explore more of Resurrection Bay here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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