Commander Rezanov
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§ A Travel to California. Conchita.

The first Russian ship departed to California on the 26th of February in 1806. Nickolai Rezanov — one of the heads of Russian-American company, the commander, honored with the order of Big St. John of Jerusalem Maltese Cross — was on the board of the “Juno”. The “Juno” staffed “with inexperienced people and the ones suffering from scurvy” under the command of lieutenant N. A. Khvostov departed from New-Arkhangelsk to California and reached the San Francisco Bay, a month later.

That time California belonged to Spain, Spain in its turn was the ally of Napoleon for whom Russia was an enemy. At any moment France could declare the war to Russia, it would have also meant the beginning of the war between Russia and Spain. That is why the travel to California was very dangerous, but Rezanov was ready for the risk.

He introduced himself as the head of the Russian colonies in America. The commander started negotiations with the local government. In April the governor of Upper California Jose Arillage came to San Francisco to meet him.

The task given to Nickolai Petrovich was exceptionally complicated. The court of Madrid was not satisfied with any kind of contacts with the foreigners and nipped them in the bud, in spite of the difficulties experienced by their own colonial possessions as the result of following such a policy. But within his six weeks being there, Rezanov managed to exhibit extraordinary diplomatic abilities and to win the sympathy of the local Spanish government. The Tsar’s chamberlain found a common language with proud Spaniards very quickly, listening with sympathy their complaints about the “impudence of bostoners”, whose ships were constantly running and trading secretly along the sea-coast.

Concepsion de Arguello (Conchita) Rezanov’s visit to California and the negotiations with the Spanish government proved to be closely connected with one of the most romantic stories not only of the past, but also of the present time. Being treated kindly in the San Francisco commandant’s house (Jose Dario Arguello), the commander became close to his young daughter, who was known as “the beauty of California”, Concepcion (Maria de la Concepcion Marcella), or as she was called in the family Concha, Conchita.

In the front hall of the commandant’s house, while he was acquainting with the inhabitants, Nickolai Petrovich saw HER for the first time. “My sister, Maria de la Concepcion” — said Don Luis (the son of the commandant Presidio, who was in Monterey, visiting the governor of California Don Arillage) at the moment, — and the guests (Resanov and naval officers) bowed politely to the girl, who curtseyed to them. New names were called, … the voice of Don Luis was heard, …but they hardly understood what was going on after they had been introduced to Maria de la Concepcion (1791-1857).

Concepsion de Arguello (Conchita) She was undoubtedly the Beauty of two Californias. She arrested attention of everybody, who had a happy chance to see her. The nature gifted her with superior qualities: surprisingly fluffy eye-lashes, big shining black eyes, curved lines of eye-brows, slim, beautiful and long legs, rare golden color of skin and black silk hair. In contrast with others Concepcion was remarkable for her liveliness and cheerfulness; wonderful white-teeth smile, slim figure: soft womanly outlines of her magnificent body could drive everybody mad. Her eyes fascinated with gentle velvet shine, they radiated some heaven spirituality…they set fire of love. She looked at other people with assurance and superiority of a queen.

Young George Langsdorf, the naturalist and Rezanov’s personal doctor, who fell in love with Conchita at first sight, describes her in his diary in this way: “She is distinguished by a majestic bearing, her features are beautiful and expressive, her eyes charm everybody. Moreover she has a fine figure, superb natural curls, wonderful teeth and thousands of other extraordinary fascinations. Such beautiful women can be found only in Italy, Portugal and Spain, and even there — very rarely”. She had absolutely natural, not artificial manner to behave — the feature that is peculiar for clever and confident people.

Conchita, like every girl of her age all over the world, dreamt of meeting a fairy prince. It was naturally that N. P. Rezanov, the commander and the senior servant of His Emperor`s Majesty, a strong, tall and handsome person, made a profound impression on the young Spanish beauty. Rezanov was the only person from the Russian delegation who spoke Spanish, so he could participate in any topic with Conchita. He often told her, in many respects for her own desire, about St. Petersburg, Europe, Catherine the Great`s court…

She was delighted with his generosity, education, tact, self-control and didn’t even try to hide her admiration. He also understood how clever she was (too clever for her age): Conchita gave him much practical advice and explained the political situation in California. The more they learnt the more they found out about each other during their meetings.

Everything would have been nice, if not Rezanov`s sincere pain for settlements and people left there in the north of American continent, who had been waiting for him… with food-stuffs. The main task was to establish commercial relations with California not to let famine-struck Russian settlements die out. Rezanov was a very responsible person, he knew that Russia (People!) needed both him and his help. So, understanding that the situation connected with the delivery of bread by the “Juno” hadn’t changed for the better and expecting the information about the beginning of the war between Russia and Spain, that would have destroyed all the plans concerning the agreement (the exchange of bread and goods brought by the “Juno”), Rezanov decided to take extreme measures.

From the report for the Minister of Commerce: “Waiting for the governor we spent in the house of hospitable Arguello every day and were on friendly terms with them. Among the commandant’s beautiful sisters donna Consepsion is known as California`s beauty. So, Sir, you might agree that we were greatly rewarded for our sufferings and had a good time. Sorry, gracious master, for some romantic things in such a serious letter…

Here, Sir, I should make a confession about my private adventures. Realizing that my situation is not getting better, expecting great troubles and giving up hopes for the support of my own people, I have decided to change my civilities for the serious tone. Daily making court to the Gishpan Beauty, I have noticed her enterprising character and absolute ambitions. She at the age of 15 is the only from the whole family for whom the native country seems to be unpleasant. ‘Nice land, warm climate. There is a lot of bread and cattle, and nothing more’. I’ve described Russia as severe, but very rich country, and she is ready to live there. Finally, insensitively I roused her impatience to hear something more serious from me, so when I asked her to marry me, she immediately agreed”.

Too much depended on Rezanov at that time, he couldn’t, he didn`t have any right, at least according to his conscience, to miss the lucky chance to rescue all Russian settlements in America. And, of course, experienced, grown wise with life, he guessed about Conchita’s love to him.

Translated by Olga Eglis

She got loved Rezanov with all her ardent Spaniard heart. When he made the proposal to marry her, she accepted. “My proposal struck her parents (Conchita’s), brought up in the spirit of the fanaticism. The difference of religions and the parting with their daughter afterwards were thunderous news for them. They turned to the missionaries for help, they didn’t know what to undertake. They took poor Concepcion to church, confessed her, persuaded her to repudiate, but finally her determination calmed down everybody.

Holy fathers left it up to the permissionof Roman Catholic Church to decide about our marriage and as I was not allowed to marry her I forced them to engage us secretly. Since then ran I the Catholic Majesty’s port for my benefits, pretending to the commandant to be his close relative. The governer was utterly amazed seeing that his assurance about sincere intentions of that house was not appropriate and, he appeared to be among my guests himself…”

Count N.P.Rumjantsev It was obvious from Rezanov letter to Minister of Commerce (N. P. Rumyantsev), that Conchita’s parents were shocked having learnt about Nickolai Petrovich’s intention to marry their daughter. They had been horrified when realized that Conchita would never give up her love, in spite of all the holy fathers’ persuasions, who insisted on the impossibility of marriage because of differences in their beliefs and hoped to make the stubborn girl obedient, appealing to her sense of devotion and fidelity to the Catholic religion. Conchita, selflessly defending her love to Rezanov, had no intention to “betray” the faith as she sincerely believed that God would understand their feelings. The difference of beliefs was not an obstacle for the marriage. In the end it was decided to “solicit the permission of holy Roman Catholic Church” for such a “mixed” marriage (i. e. between a catholic and an orthodox). But Rezanov didn’t surrender and insisted on the immediate engagement, which unlike betrothal wasn’t a church ceremony.

Of course, Rezanov had much to think over, before making a proposal. The age difference troubled him less than rumours. Material incentive marriages were flourishing in Russia at that time and the age difference didn’t count. So, the commander didn’t worry about it. There had been a greater age difference. As for the rumours they were of paramount importance. The opinion of the society weighed much in Russia, therefore it was necessary to take more care about them. That is s why Rezanov would write in the letter to his supervisor and friend, count Nickolai Petrovich Rumyantsev, Minister of Commerce, that the only reason urged him to propose “hand and heart” to a young Spaniard was the benefit for Motherland for the sake of it he could sacrifice much in his personal life. It was a partial truth…

Sincere love for 40-years Real Chamberlain brought beautiful Concepcion too little gladness and too much sorrow, but on the other hand it helped Russian America to overcome one of the most difficult period in its history: various goods in great abundance stuffed the “Juno’s” holds. Thus, the initial experience of trade with California turned proved to be very successful.

On the 11th of June (8, May), 1806 the overloaded “Juno” sailed off hospitable Spanish land and notable finance was following with his eyes the disappearing California coasts. He saw them for the last time and he was not destined to meet Consepsion again.

«Golden Gate», author Thomas Kinkejd Inspired by the hope a young Spaniard girl had been counting the days waiting for her beloved return. She used to go to a cape, sat down on the stones and stared at the ocean for hours with the hoped to see the ship under the Russian flag. Today the supporting piers of the world-wide famous bridge “Golden gate” set against this cape. There is a museum on the territory of the military base of the 6th army in Prezidio, where a model of military settlement used to be 200 years ago is exhibited, and besides, two figures on the cape at the entrance of San Francisco bay — they are Nickolay Resanov and Conchita. By the way , it was not until 1846 when Yerba Buena meaning good grass in Spanish was renamed San Francisco.

Translated by Galina Popova

«Golden Gate» and San Francisco in a fog But days, weeks and even months were passing by. Parents were persuading Conchita to be wise. Sailors brought the news from Russia that Rezanov had caught a bad cold in Alaska but was still going on his trip to Petersburg. He was in a great hurry, dogs were changed by deers, deers were changed by horses, people were also changed. Rezanov’s heart couldn’t stand any more. He died in Krasnoyarsk. There is his grave located there till the present time. Conchita didn’t believe these stories, she kept on waiting, she hoped for miracle to happen.

After visiting Presidio in 1806 Nickolai Rezanov had an idea to establish a settlement in California to make it the granary of agricultural products for New-Arkhangelsk and the whole Russian America. That time according to the agreement signed by England, Spain and Russia the territories northward San Francisco Bay were considered to be free. Fort Ross. 1841. Ilya Voznesensky (water color). Rezanov had breath-taking plans. Being in Presidio, he felt that Spain was overburdened with its colonies in Northern California and was ready to negotiate about its Fortune. In his dreams Rezanov saw California as Russian territory. He wrote to the directors of Russian-American Company after coming back from California to Alaska: “Step by step our country can move farther to the South, to San Francisco Port. Within ten years we may become strong enough to include the California coast into the number of Russian territories, if the circumstances permit. Spaniards are very weak in this region.”

According to Rezanov’s instruction the head of Russian America Alexander Baranov sent squads of his people to the South to find a suitable place for a settlement. In 1812 such a place was found. The squad headed by Ivan Kuskov started the construction of the settlement on March, 15. September, 11 was the official date of its birth. It consisted of a small fortress called Fort Ross and a few houses beyond its boundaries. 95 Russian workers and 80 aleuts-hunters were the first inhabitants there.

Church in Forte Ross Later small squattings were built in Rumyantsev’s Bay and on the river Slavyanka. However it was not the right place for the settlement. The bay couldn’t harbor ships well; it was open to winds and waves from the ocean-side. The narrow soil belt between the ocean and the mountains couldn’t yield grains and vegetables enough to feed Russian population of Alaska either. Frequent fogs from the ocean brought all the efforts of farmers to nothing. In 1842, 30 years later, Fort Ross was sold to Satter.

Conchita had been waiting for her fiance three decades. She received proposals from the best admirers of California, but all of them were rejected. After the news about Rezanov’s death Donna Consepcion devoted herself to charity and teaching Indians. Tomb Arguello Concepcion in California In new California she was given the name of La Beata (Blessed). At the beginning of 1840 after the foundation of a convent (abbey) Donna Consepcion joined the third Order of White Clergy and took the veil with the name of Maria Dominga. Consepcion died at the age of 67 on December, 23, 1857, and was buried in the cemetery of the convent. In 1897 it was replaced to the special cemetery of The Order Of Saint Dominic. Here next to her grave the historical association of California built a monument in the memory of this romantic love.

There is a little island called Arguelo on Alaska near Sitka, a former capital of Russian America. Giving her name to the island was the last regard sent by Nickolai Rezanov to his bride.

There are such words about the first California beauty in the novel “The Lost Empire” by Hector Shavinji: “Consepcion appeared to be not only a very beautiful, self-willed and passionate woman, but also spiritually-strong, able to stand everything and to come to her bitter end proudly, without any complaints and compromises.”

Translated by Olga Eglis