Three Saints Harbor, Kodiak Island

Three Saints Harbor, Kodiak Island

by | Sep 2, 2021

Three Saints Harbor was the location of a historical Russian settlement established in 1784 on Three Saints Bay on the east coast of Kodiak Island, about 63 miles (101 km) southwest of Kodiak and 29 miles (47 km) northeast of Akhiok, Alaska. The settlement was at the head of a deep harbor formed by an alongshore spit that partially encloses a basin with a current depth of 66 feet (20 m). This basin was an ideal harbor for the Russian vessels to anchor and was named after the ship Three Saints, which refers to the Three Holy Hierarchs of Eastern Christianity who were Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. Three Saints Bay is named after the harbor. The Alutiiq name for the bay is Liakik, which according to the linguist R.H. Geoghegan may refer to a plural form for the black-footed goose. Kodiak Island is on the southcentral coast of Alaska, separated from the Alaska Peninsula by Shelikof Strait. Kodiak Island is mountainous and heavily forested in the north and east, but fairly treeless in the south. The island has many deep, ice-free bays that provide sheltered anchorages for boats. Kodiak Island is the ancestral land of the Sugpiaq, an Alutiiq Koniag people. The original inhabitants subsisted by hunting marine mammals, fishing, and gathering. The historical Alutiiq village of Nunamiut was situated about 1 mile (1.6 km) northwest of Three Saints Harbor. The village name means “land people”. Early Russian sources included this village in the descriptions of their colonial settlement.

The Second Kamchatka Expedition lasted roughly from 1733 to 1743 and later was called the Great Northern Expedition due to the immense scale of its achievements. The goal was to find and map the far eastern coast of Siberia, and hopefully the western coast of North America. It was conceived by Russian Emperor Peter the Great but implemented by Russian Empresses Anna and Elizabeth. The main organizer and leader of the expedition was Vitus Bering. The achievements of the expedition included the European discovery of Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, the Commander Islands, Bering Island, as well as a detailed cartographic assessment of the northern and north-eastern coast of Russia and the Kuril Islands. In 1763, Stephan Gavrilovich Glotov was the first European discoverer of Kodiak Island and several other islands in Alaska. Starting in 1775, Grigory Shelikhov organized voyages of merchant ships to the Kuril Islands and the Aleutian Islands, in what is now Alaska, for fur trading. In 1783–1786, he led an expedition to the eastern shores of Kodiak Island to establish a settlement. This voyage was under the auspices of the Shelikhov-Golikov Company with Shelikhov’s partner Ivan Larionovich Golikov. This company was the predecessor of the Russian-American Company the Russian America colonial enterprise engaged principally in the maritime fur trade.

Although Russian fur hunters had established temporary shore stations in Alaska earlier, notably at Unalaska, Shelikhov intended the Three Saints Harbor site to be a permanent colonial settlement. However, the site was poorly chosen because the hillside above the lagoon was too steep to build on, and the shore area was too small for a substantial settlement. The indigenous Koniag, defended themselves from the Russian party. In what became known as the Awa’uq Massacre, Shelikhov and his armed forces, who had guns and cannons, killed hundreds of the Alutiiq, including women and children. To assert his authority, Shelikhov also took hundreds of hostages, many of them children, to force submission by any other Natives bands. In 1786, Shelikhov sailed back to Siberia, leaving a crew behind to manage the settlement. A tsunami in 1788 destroyed the settlement. The community was rebuilt and visited in 1790 by Captain Gavriil Sarychev. There were about 50 Russians and their wives living in 5 houses. The station included a barracks, a building to house hostages, a carpenter shop, a cooperage, a bathhouse, a school, and two vessels. Cabbages and potatoes were being grown and there were two cows and twelve goats. The settlement served as a base for recruiting local natives, often through coercion, to work as otter hunters, trappers, and laborers. In 1790, Shelikhov hired Alexander Baranov to manage his fur trading enterprise in Russian America. Shortly afterward, Baranov arrived at Three Saints Harbor to take charge of the colony and immediately recognized the need to move the settlement. The problems with Three Saints Bay included severe subsidence that had occurred during the earthquake of 1788, insufficient space to expand the colony, and a lack of timber for building construction. By 1793, Baranov was constructing another settlement on the northeast coast of Kodiak Island, and the new harbor was called Saint Pauls Harbor, now known as Kodiak. The settlement at Three Saints Bay was then renamed Staruigavan meaning “old harbor” and quickly languished as only a trading post. Sometime between 1793 and the mid-1800s the trading station was moved north to the present-day village of Old Harbor. Read more here and here. Explore more of Three Saints Bay here:

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