1st Round-the-World Voyage and Battle of Sitka

On July 16, 1803 the first Russian round-the-world expedition departed the Russian port of Kronshtadt. Adam Johann Kruzenstern captained the Nedezhda, while the Neva sailed under the command of Yuri Lisiansky. The voyage was uneventful with some anecdotal exceptions. On February 12, 1804, on departing the Brazilian island of St. Catharine at night, the Neva ran into the body of a dead whale, and nearly lost its masts from the shock of the collision. Two weeks later both ships rounded Cape Horn, and set across the Pacific. After reaching the Hawaiian Islands, the ships parted ways. The Nadezhda headed north-east towards Kamchatka, and later Japan. The Neva continued north-west towards Kodiak Island on its mission to deliver supplies to the Russian colonists in Alaska. On July 10, 1804, after a 400-day voyage, the Neva dropped anchor at St. Paul harbor on Kodiak Island.

This was a turbulent moment in history of Russian America. The Russian headquarters in Kodiak had just recently received word of the extermination of the Russian fort in Sitka Sound at the hands of Tlingit tribes. The Chief Manager of the colonies, Alexander Baranof, was on his way to Sitka, assembling forces for retaliation. A large, well-armed sloop-of-war offered important reinforcement to Russian colonists, and Baranof ordered Lisiansky to sail the Neva to Sitka Sound. It is for the Neva’s role in the 1804 “Battle of Sitka” that she is best known in Alaska. The battle involved at least 1,000 Russians, Aleuts/Unangan, and Alutiiq/Sugpiaq peoples, as well as 500 Tlingit men, women and children. In late September, 1804, the Neva and three smaller vessels were in Sitka Sound, preparing for the battle. Two hundred kayaks paddled by Unangan and Sugpiaq men pulled the Neva to position the ship for shooting at the newly built Tlingit settlement at the mouth of Indian River. The ship’s guns were instrumental in the Russian victory. After four days of bombardment, the Tlingit withdrew from Sitka to the Peril Strait coast of Baranof Island. In the aftermath of this battle, the Tlingit Shaman Stoonook cursed the ship to perish in the sacred grounds near Sitka, the birth place of Tlingit shamanism.

After the battle, the Neva remained in Sitka for a month, assisting with re-establishing Russian colonists and charting the local waters. A number of local bays in straits, such as Neva strait, still carry Russian names given to them by Lisiansky. Interestingly, Lisiansky named one of the bays in Sitka sound after his recent military opponent – Katlian, the chief of Kiks.adi.  After wintering in Kodiak, the Neva sailed back to Russia, stopping in Canton, China, to rendezvous with the Nedezhda and to dispatch a cargo of fur seal, beaver, and other pelts. Both vessels returned to Kronstadt in August, 1806. Following his return, Lisiansky published an illustrated narrative of the voyage in Russian, German, and English.

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