Commander Rezanov
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§ Russian-American Ñompany

The foundation of the Russian-American Enterprise (RAC) was a unique phenomenon in the Russian history of the XVIII — early XIX centuries. A large exclusive organisation with essentially new forms of commerce conduct taking into account the specifity of the Pacific fur trade had developed within one merchant union for a rather short historical period. This specifity consisted of close cooperation between furriers, second-hand merchants and the state power.

The necessity of this three parts scructure was caused not only by large distances lying between hunting and selling regions, but it was also advisable viewing the arising practice of share capital functioning, where large money resourses of those not directly related to fur trade were involved. Only state authorities could support them under the existing conditions. Many thousands merchant’s fortunes as well as lives of people who had found themselves in the ocean in order to get their “soft gold” depended on their position.

I. L. Golikov, a merchant from Kursk, and G. I. Shelikhov from Ruylsk were people who laid the foundation of an exclusive organisation that decided the fate of northern territories in the Pacific ocean for decades. A. E. Polevoy became Golikov’s trustee in Siberia. Together with G. I. Shelikhov they were responsible for ships departures. A. E. Polevoy was also an accountant of the enterprise.

This curious triangle I. L. Golikov — A. E. Polevoy. — G. I. Shelikhov was a sort of “necessary and sufficient” alliance in the 1790ies. One element out would let to the break up of the construction. Polevoy was a link between Shelikhov and Golikov. Inspite of some contradictions the “trio” left behind in their activities all other merchants who didn’t have representatives in the capital. N. P. Rezanov became Shelikhov’s son-in-law on January 24th 1795 (it should be pointed out that it happened not after his death, but in his life-time).

The idea to marry their daughters to influential and useful people seemed to originate from Shelikhov. In N. P. Rezanov’s person the Shelikhovs had acquired an important defender of their interests thanks to Rezanov’s access to the highest governmental circles especially as after Shelikhov’s death the events were not sometimes favourable to his widow Natalia Alexeevna. The state of the affairs after Shelikhov’s death was stated in the decree of the Itkutsk City Council from September, the 6th 1795 sent to the Irkutsk City Duma.

The decree was based on N. A. Shelikhova’s application to the Irkutsk vicegeral board. The widow emphasized that she was capable to run her husband’s business as she was quite well informed thanks to her long-time “maritual life with the deceased husband and his instructions made during his illness.” Irkutsk City Council confirmed N. A. Shelikhova’s words that besides fur trade her husband had business in numerous offices controled by his salesmen. Irkutsk Duma was ordered to inform the vicegeral board, the state chamber and both Yakutsk and Okhotsk commandants of the legality of all her husband’s business conduct in the City Council opinion. The state chamber had doubts about the reasons for trusting N. A. Shelikhova. În one hand, the distrust was provoked by numerous merchant’s petitions. They had their own affairs with G. I. Shelikhov and wanted to solve some financial questions in their benefit. On the other hand, the Commerce-Collegiate indicated the absence of the G. I. Shelikhov’s written will as well as there were ambiguities bound up with his desease.

It is necesarry to do justice to N. A. Shelikhova who revealed a great courage and persistance in such a difficult for her situation. Understanding that the state of things was not in her favour she decided to send a petition to Catherine II.

In her petition the widow took a special notice of her husband’s achievements. According to her, after having always worked for the good of mankind he “has either acquired new fur-taking islands near american lands and has enlarged his capital”. N. A. Shelikhova asked Catherine II to give her the right to control all G. I. Shelikhov’s business.

A sort of will was attached to the petition. After N. A. Shelikhova’s words it had been dictated by Shelikhov’s personally and had been written down by his daughter Anna. The role of his wife was accentuated there “And as my wife (N. A. Shelikhova) accompanying me (G. I. Shelikhov) in the sea voyage in order to acquire property and taking part in children education and house keeping is worth of my complete and fair trust…”

These papers were sent to N. N. Demidov to transmit them to P. A. Zoobov, who, in his turn, submitted them to the empress Catherine II. N. A. Shelikhova allotted 10 thousand roubles for the submission of the papers on the royal name. N. N. Demidov hastened to inform an active widow that he “didn’t renounce to serve her (N. A. Shelikhova) and her children with both all his possible and depending on him protection and reinforcement of her well-fare, being also on her side where on decency applications required, so he confirmed it on this time”. In this letter Demidov had prophetically adviced to lean on N. P. Rezanov while solving different problems. He insisted on “not getting into useless personal and ordered arguments with both Golikov and Polevoy, unless she is doing this in order to protect herself in the case of a serious and inevitable offence”.

N. A. Shelikhova didn’t follow Demidov’s advice and took a very tough position regarding both A. E. Polevoy and I. L. Golikov. In view of Shelikhov’s death many secrets of his business got unknown. It meant for Polevoy either resignation or attempt to obtain some financial profit from the widow, because he was the only to know “who owed capitals in the office and the office itself”.

Polevoy didn’t succeed in “negotiations”. He wasn’t simply let into the office — Alexey Evseevich had been driven out with the help of a non-commissioned officer and a kazak while trying to get in. Had Polevoy and Shelikhova come to an agrrement that day, there were not then those dramatic events that were about to result in failure for Natalia Alexeevna. Favourable for trade, the year 1795 didn’t become the same for Shelikhova. Her first attempts to settle with merchants and indudtrialists without any assistance failed. At the same time her refusal to Polevoy to solve all financial problems suggested him an idea to address to N. N. Demodov with a petition: “Although I haven’t had the honour to receive your merciful decision to my numerous reports to You, Dear Sir, but as you have been pleased to see in my complaint on madam Shelikhova that through her incompetence she was involved in by her clerk Zelensky, and she offends not only me but all the friends of the deceased husband and him as well. Moreover she is not only ruining the business, but pushes it to a complete collaple and destruction“. A. E. Polevoy considered I. L. Golikov his person:” Ilya Larionovich will bring You this petition and you will be also pleased to know the details ether from him or from this bearer”. But Golikov refused to collaborate with Polevoy after having known about Shelikhov’ death from his widow. In his letters to Shelikhova I. L. Golikov informed her that A. E. Polevoy assumed fraud and betrayed his companions’ confidence. I. L. Golikov asked not to let Polevoy into the office where the business was run.

They summoned A. E. Polevoy to the Urkutsk High Court where he was obliged to give an explanation of some G. I. Shelikhov’s office affairs and “to reveal the state of his capital in the Golikov’s company on account of the recovery”. The sum of money due to Polevoy for the fulfillment of his uncle’s commission had also become known.

Here it is important to note why Golikov resisted so much to the publicity of his capital. He was buying wine in Siberia and it looked like he wasn’t very successful as by the 90ies of the XVIII century he owed to the state a rather big sum of money for his activity in different offices. It was that recovery supposed to be obtained from his share in the trade. With the Shelikhov’s death there was a possibility to revise relationships between the main figures in the company. Shelikhova’s had no intention to pay Golikov’s debt to the state from her owm pocket. Golikov, in his turn, hoped to gain profit from the fur trade. Polevoy dreamt not to find himself in a loss as well as to consolidate his position, if possible, using information about the real situation in the office. This elucidation resulted in his provisional removal from participation in the fur trade profit division. In the end of 1795 G. I. Shelikhov’s relatives got the key roles in the following events, related to the establishment of the Russian-American Company.

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