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Russian American Company

Last modified: 2011-06-10 by antónio martins
Keywords: russian american company | eagle: double-headed (black) |
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Russian American Company Flag
image by António Martins, 08 Jan 2004

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What was the Russian American Company?

The Russian-American Company was founded by the Russian government in the 19th century to explore the territories of Alaska and the Pacific Coast of North America belonging to or disputed by the Russian Empire, from the Aleutians to California. This company’s flag was based on the contemporary Russian flag. It was officially used until the sale of Alaska and can be found today flying at museums and monuments in the area.
Joe McMillan, 08 Jan 2004

The Russian American Company was a semi-official corporation set up by the Russian government to regulate the fur trade and other commercial enterprises in Alaska and other Pacific-Northwest parts of North America, from 1799 until 1861.
Chris Pinette, 05 Oct 1996, and Bruce Tindall, 12 Jun 1997

From 1806 they actually had forts in what is today US territory: Alaska, Oregon and California. I believe they may have had a fort or two in British Columbia but of this I am not certain.
Dave Martucci, 20 Oct 1996

They set up forts and trading posts on the Pacific Coast of North America in the early 19th century up to the time the United States bought Alaska from the Tsar in 1867.
Nick Artimovich, 20 Mar 1996

It was a colonial charter company like the English and Dutch East India Companies, and the ones that founded the colonies on the U.S. eastern seaboard. Fort Ross, on the California coast just north of San Francisco, was the southernmost outpost of Russian America, and is now a museum. I believe the Russian American Co flag flies over the fort.
T. F. Mills, 12 Jun 1997

Sitka was the captial of Russian America before it was transferred to the USA in 1867 to become the territory (and eventually the state) of Alaska. There’s a famous account of the transfer, when the Russian flag was lowered on the Sitka fort and the US flag was raised. Question: which Russian flag was lowered that day?

(I just returned from a visit to Alaska, which included a day or so in the city of Sitka.) A plaque at the fort and a sculpture at the Convention Center both depict the incident and show that it was the Russian-American company flag, with the wide white stripe and the Romanov eagle. However (according to the quote bellow) this flag was only used until 1861. The museum gift shop sold 4×6" flags which they referred to as the “Russian-American flag•, but were in fact the Russian civil flag (three stripes, no eagle). They also sold 49-star US flags.
Peter Ansoff, 24 Aug 2004


Description of the flag

This flag was in use from 1806 until 1861.
Chris Pinette, 05 Oct 1996

The flag depicted [is a modern reconstruction] produced by Jim Ferrigan of Flag Services based on a series of drawings supplied by me several years ago. A larger flag, approximately 3×5 ft., also based on my drawings, made in wool flag bunting with a linen hoist, was manufactured by the Russian Navy’s Vladimir Flag factory as per Jim’s order. Only two samples were sent. The remaining ten flags produced were acquired by the Russian American Historical Society in Moscow. I have since been able to collect four of these large Russian made flags. The smaller, nylon flags such as illustrated, were produced here in the United States by a flag company contracted by Jim.

These flags were the product of fairly exhaustive research due to the lack of concensus concerning the design on original flags. Many variations exist, so a search was made of original illustrations done between 1806 and 1840 to determine which type more prominantly appeared. A somewhat obscure article in the newsletter of the Fort Ross Interpretive Association gives a little more detail, but it is clear that as this question on flag accuracy still exists; another article may be required to clarify the situation. My feeling is still that the flag as approved by Tsar Aleksandr I in 1806 should be the correct one for use in Alaska and California, and this was the source for the flag illustrated above with the eagle near the hoist, and is the flag which most often appears in illustations of the period in Alaska.

John Middleton (Foreign Member, Centre for Research on Russian America and Russian American Relations, Russian Academy of Science), 17 Nov 1998

There are many variants of the flag of the Russian American Company I don’t know how much the actual flag of the Company varied during its use in the 1800’s, but modern reproductions differ quite a bit. All have a wide white stripe over the blue and red stripes. In some the eagle is centered on the flag, in others it is centered on the white stripe, in yet others it is offset to the hoist as in the example above. I understand that there is at least one surviving example in Moscow, and the legend on the ribbon reads «of the Russian American Company». I own a 3 foot by 5 foot cotton reproduction of this flag where the eagle is centered on the white stripe and there is no ribbon at all.
Nick Artimovich, 20 Mar 1996

Smith’s version

Russian American Company Flag
image by Chris Pinette, 05 Oct 1996

Taken from The Flag Book of the United States by Whitney Smith, 1975 [smi75], pages 17 and 23.
Chris Pinette, 05 Oct 1996

Eggenberger’s version

Russian American Company Flag
image by Chris Pinette, 05 Oct 1996

Taken from Flags of the USA by David Eggenberger [egg59], 1959, pages 173 and 176.
Chris Pinette, 05 Oct 1996


Coat of arms detail

Russian American Company CoA
image by António Martins, 08 Jan 2004

The emblem is yet a variation of the Russian coat of arms, the eagle clutching the ends of a scroll that reads "Россійской Америк: Кампа", the abbreviated form of the name of this chartered company (note the pre-1918 spelling).
by António Martins, 08 Jan 2004


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