Fort Ross


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Due to a natural supply of clay in the area around Fort Ross, bricks soon became a valuable trade good for the Russians. Brickmakers made and stored the bricks in a brickworks outside of the Fort. Thousands of these bricks, as well as dried clay in barrels, were then shipped to Russia and Russian Alaska. Despite the high demand and having “excellent clay” for the job, not all of the brickmakers were entirely competent, however, causing the Fort’s manager to complain that one brickmaker “makes only 140 monstrosities per day” and “ruins the bricks.”

According to Wrangell’s report, by approximately 1832 brickmaking was more important for export to Russian Alaska than for domestic use at Fort Ross, so the brickmaking works was moved from Fort Ross to Bodega Bay (Port Rumyantsev), closer to the port of embarkation.


From The Khlebnikov Archive – Unpublished Journal (1800-1837) and Travel Notes (1820, 1822 and 1824), © 1990, University of Alaska Press. ISBN #0-912006-42-0

  • “The Chief Manager has ordered the Ross Office to send finished bricks to Sitkha on the Kiakhta, if such bricks are available. The manager of the Ross Office has reported that they have no finished bricks at the moment but that he hopes to have a large number ready by the time the Kiakhta leaves. I therefore ask you to to order that production should begin without delay and that, if possible, three to five thousand bricks should be made. In addition, please load several barrels of good clay onto the ship.” p.135

From So Far From Home – Russians in Early California, edited by Glenn J. Farris, © 2012, Heyday and Santa Clara University.
ISBN# 978-1-59714-184-0

  • “Other projects included brick-making, tanning hides, milling grains, and even building prefabricated wooden structures. When Karl Schmidt took over as the second commandant of Fort Ross, he made greater efforts toward the development of gardening, cattle husbandry, and the growing of crops, and also continued the colony’s shipbuilding industry.” p.153
  • “The brickworks was moved last year to Bodega Bay, where a spacious shed was built for storing bricks and other necessary supplies that are cargo on ships arriving here annually from Sitka with the sub-division’s supplies.” p.158
  • “As an example, I noticed during my stay at Ross that they put to work: Russians and Creoles (the Aleuts were hunting sea otters). Sentries, artisans, carpenters, cooks etc. . 49 pers[ed: persons] Indians (for reaping and hauling sheaves to the threshing floors, hauling clay for bricks, etc.) . . . 161 pers at work 210 pers” p.163
  • “Various items of industry that bring benefit to the Company, apart from grain cultivation and stock raising, include: … 3. the supply of Novo-Arkhangelsk Port with a small amount of tar, good quality bricks, and sturdy timber (laurel) necessary for various articles on ships.” p.162

From Russian California, 1806-1860, A History in Documents. Volume I, edited by James R. Gibson and Alexei A. Istomin, © 2014, The Hakluyt Society, ISBN# 9781908145062

  • “From local granite, syenite, and sandstone, millstones and grindstones were made. Much good clay was discovered in the vicinity of Ross, and the clay itself (in dried form in barrels) but especially as clay bricks was exported to Sitka.” p.29
  • “New construction was undertaken. The finishing of a new manager’s house inside the fort (left unfinished by Shelikhov), the building of a small windmill ‘with one pair of millstones on the creek close to the settlement’, and other works date from 1831–2. In 1832, on Governor Ferdinand Wrangell’s orders, the brickworks was moved to Bodega, where a small shed – a storehouse for bricks and other ‘colonial goods’ destined for shipment to New Archangel – was also built.” p.44
  • “The Russian transports departed New Archangel in the autumn (after hunting in Alaska and reaping in California had ended), usually for Monterey (where permission was obtained from the governor) and San Francisco (where the provisions were embarked), and returned in the spring; often they called at Port Rumyantsev, too, in order to unload supplies and passengers for Ross Counter and to embark local output (wheat, bricks, furs) and passengers for New Archangel.” p.107
  • “Finally, the sale of Ross (and the lease of St Dionysius Redoubt) deprived the colonies of two local sources of bricks. So an order was given to expand output at the brickworks of Nikolayevsk Redoubt on the Kenai Peninsula in view of the ‘good quality of clay and its large amount’, and a brickmaker, Yefim Abyshev, together with an assistant, Ivan Kichin, was posted there to help do so.” p.159
  • “As you have good clay, it would not do no harm to make bricks.” p.414
  • “Fairly good bricks have been prepared, and two stoves have been constructed for the use of the workers, who formerly had none.” p.499
  • “Zyryanov [is requesting] clay and sand for bricks. Ch[echenev?] himself remembers everything that is needed all of a sudden. Really, we had less breakage on the [wrecked] Il’mena than there is now. Funniest of all [is the fact] that Budilov – or, as our rogues have renamed him, Khitrov [‘wily’] – does not know how to make bricks: he has ruined at least 600 of them. Several times he has come to me to say that he does not know how to make them. At first I did not believe it. Finally, seeing how badly [they were made], I asked him the reason why he is lazy and makes only 140 monstrosities per day, while Zyryanov makes 250 units daily. He told me that he had never made them and had only supervised 7 Aleuts who make them on Kodiak. What is to be done here? – vamos [we go] to the ploughland, he comes back from there to say that he does not know how to reap grain at all but only how to ruin the sheaves? Grudinin will not take him. He is not fit for the ploughland, and he is not familiar with the axe. And he ruins the bricks. Judge for yourself whether or not I am to blame. I tell him to learn, and this is his reply: he got only 350 [rubles in salary] from us upon arrival, i.e., in 1811. Now the question is this: what has he done until now, and the answer is: we do not know. My advice is to send him back [to Russia], for here he will find it hard to support a family. Zyryanov alone will soon finish 5,000 bricks, and 2,800 have already been prepared. I await your decision on this, for he [Budilov] intends to start a vegetable garden.” p.538
  • “About 3,000 bricks are now ready, and we will try to make as many more as possible.” p.540

From Russian California, 1806-1860, A History in Documents. Volume II, edited by James R. Gibson and Alexei A. Istomin, © 2014, The Hakluyt Society, ISBN# 9781908145079

  • “Bricks, sole leather, oak and laurel timber for shipwrightry, sheep’s wool, and a dozen goats and sheep were brought from Ross on the brig Kyakhta, and five head of the last have already been sent to Kodiak for propagation, and I intend to propagate these useful livestock in the other colonies.” p.89
  • “On the same brig send as many bricks as are ready, and on subsequent occasions in the autumn send hides, pitch, 100 puds of salted beef, butter, and vegetables. Last year all of these items were of very good quality, especially the bricks and hides, attesting your indefatigable efforts in all of the sectors of the economy of the colony entrusted to you, and I will bring this to the attention of the Board of Directors.” p.95
  • “Also send 200 puds of salted beef and, if they are ready, some bricks, too, as well as some lengths of laurel wood for finishing the cabins of the ship that was recently built here;…” p.120
  • “Among other tasks, I direct the counter to strengthen the operation of the brickworks, so that next year without fail it will be possible to send up to 10 thousand bricks to New Archangel.” pp.129-130
  • “Try to make the bricks in accordance with the governor’s prescription.” p.141
  • “Clay and bricks. A considerable number of bricks are made from excellent clay and not infrequently sent to Sitka. Various qualities of clay occur.” p.183
  • “The supplying of the port of New Archangel with a small amount of pitch, bricks of good quality, and hardwood (laurel) necessary for various articles aboard ships. It is impossible to obtain more of these items from anywhere but Ross, and they are important to us, of course, on account of the vital need of them.” p.267
  • “Indians for reaping, hauling sheaves, at the threshing floors, hauling clay for bricks, and so on…” p.268
  • “Bricks are made at Ross exceptionally badly; it is necessary to make them better, even if fewer in number.” p.425
  • “The brickworks and tannery were in a fairly satisfactory condition; in particular the latter produced a considerable number of good tanned hides. Coopering was improved as much as possible. On the brig Kyakhta, which arrived at New Archangel in 1826, 50 shoe-upper hides, 10 yuft hides, 100 sea lion skins, 150 chamois skins, 4 thousand bricks, 10 barrels of clay, and 5 barrels of pitch, besides a thousand puds of wheat, were shipped from the settlement.” p.475
  • “For this [prospect] I can mention beforehand the need for 25 laurel logs, as much pitch as possible, 6 barrels of ordinary clay and fireclay, and as many bricks as can be made, but they are not to be sent on the Yelena. These utter trifles would only cause difficulties in loading and unloading.” p.492