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History Spotlight: Bering Expedition

I'm a big fan of learning about the history of different places I visit so I will be trying to send out periodic historical Alaskan spotlights throughout the summer for any other history nerds like me out there. First up we will start with one of the first great voyages to Alaska; the 1741 Bering Expedition.

In 1741, Vitus Bering was selected by Peter the Great to lead an expedition to find a route from Russia to the Americas. This epic adventure would be the start of bringing the first foreign settlements to Alaska. After nearly 10 years of preparations and rough weather on the seas that separated the two ships on the voyage, Bering landed his ship, the St. Peter, on what is now known as Kayak Island. Spending only 10 hours on shore, Bering turned the ship back to head home. Unfortunately, the winter storms shipwrecked his ship before they made it back. Bering and several crew members eventually died of Scurvy while on what is now named Bering Island. Those who survived stayed the winter on Bering Island and built a new ship with the remains of the old St. Peter and made the trek back to Russia.

One notable person on this voyage was Georg Steller, a German naturalist who served as the ship's doctor. Steller documented the plant and wildlife he observed extensively while on the trip and many species carry his name today including the Steller Sea Lion and Steller's Jay. The Steller's Jay actually served as the first piece of evidence that where they landed was actually part of the Americas. Steller knew the bird he observed was a close relative of the North American Blue Jay and made the connection that they were in fact in America. 

When the surviving crew returned, they brought back with them several sea otter pelts. They were sold at a high price and thus, the sea otter fur trading industry was born which brought many Russians over to Alaska over the next several decades. The first Russians that sailed near present day Seward did so over Easter weekend which is how Resurrection Bay received its name. Still today you can see the Russian influences in much of Alaskan culture and it all started with Vitus Bering and his epic, dangerous, and ultimately life ending trip to discover the route to America. 

~ Danny