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A small ink drawing of the Novo-Arkhangelsk waterfront attached to the Ivan Vasiliev’s 1807 chart of Sitka Sound is signed with the last name Chernyshov, which was – and still is – a popular Russian surname. The Russian Letter “P” with colon following it stands for “drawn by” and not for the initial “V” as Lydia Black mistakenly interpreted in her monograph Russians in Alaska, 1732-1867.

At least two different unrelated Chernyshovs – Nikifor and Ivan - served in Russian America at the beginning of the 19th century. Nikifor Alekseevich Chernyshov was a citizen of Nizhnekamchatsk, who came to Alaska around 1786, and initially worked for the Lebedev-Lastochkin Company. In 1787, he participated in an expedition which established the first Russian fort on the Kenai Peninsula. Located at the mouth of the Kenai River, it later became known as Nikolaevski Redoubt. A hunter and navigator, he must have felt at home in Alaska: after the Lebedev-Lastochkin Company was forced to close its operations, he entered the service of the Russian-American Company, married a Native woman, had two sons, and starting from 1800s, served in Kodiak. His name is mentioned in Rezanov’s 1807 list of individuals petitioning the Russian Crown for permanent residency in Alaska. The petition was declined in 1808, and not much is known about Nikifor’s life after this date.

Ivan Chernyshov was a merchant from Tumen’. References to his activities in Russian America start in 1807, when he arrived in the colonies on the round-the-world ship Neva, and culminate with his participation in a conspiracy against the chief manager of Russian America Alexander Baranov. The plot was discovered and the conspirators were sent to trial in St. Petersburg.  In 1817, Chernyshov was convicted and exiled in Siberia. Ivan Vasiliev, to whose chart Chernyshov’s drawing is attached, was a navigator on the Neva’s 1806-1807 voyage to Alaska, which makes Ivan Chernyshov a more likely candidate for the artist’s identity than Nikifor.   

Chernyshov’s drawing is apparently a copy of the same view by Ivan Vasiliev, which is more detailed, but damaged, making it is possible that this second image was a later copy made in St. Petersburg by yet another Chernyshov.


Sources and Literature:

Arndt, Katherine L. and Richard Pierce. Constructional History of Sitka, Alaska, as Documented in the Records of the Russian-American Company. Sitka national Historical Park, 2003.

Black, Lydia T. Russians in Alaska, 1732-1867. University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks, Alaska, 2004.

Grinev, Andrei. Kto est’ Kto v Istorii Russkoi Ameriki [Who is Who in the History of Russian America]. Academia, Moscow, 2009.

Pierce, Richard. Russian America: A Biographical Dictionary. The Limestone Press, Kingston, Ontario and Fairbanks, Alaska, 1990.